DODGE CITY, Kan. – At just 16 years old, Morgan Kessler has already developed a keen understanding of what it takes to excel in rodeo.
She’s using that ability to make a run for the breakaway roping championship at the Kansas Professional Rodeo Association Finals, set for 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23-Saturday, Sept. 24, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, at Roundup Arena.
“Winning first is always good, but for all these rodeos we go to, being consistent is the most important thing,” said Kessler of Callaway, Neb. “Scoring sharp and roping right when you get there is very important. You’re trying to set everything up for the next run, especially when you’re on the road and don’t have time to practice.
“When you have a good calf, you need to take advantage of it.”
That approach has worked quite well this season. She sits No. 2 in the KPRA’s breakaway roping standings with $7,485 in earnings and trails the leader, Teddi Winslow, by less than $800. She can make up ground with a solid performance at the finals.
It will mark her first time compete in Dodge City, which is now hosting the championship for the second straight year. An injured horse forced Kessler to upgrade a younger horse to her primary mount, and it took a little time for the tandem to find success.
“Last year I just started the horse I’m riding,” she said of Shorty, an 11-year-old sorrel gelding that stands just 13.2 hands tall. “It’s teamwork. It took a lot of time for me to figure out how to ride him and for him to conform to me.
“He’s short, but he’s pretty stocky.”
He’s also pretty talented, as Kessler has proven in 2016.
“Just getting him seasoned was the primary thing,” she said.
She is getting “seasoned” herself, but she’s been part of the rodeo game for most of her life. She won her first championship buckle at a dummy roping when she was 5 years old. She competed at her first junior rodeo when she was about 8 years old and won the title.
As an eighth-grader, she was the Nebraska Junior High champion, and at 14, she was named the KPRA’s Rookie of the Year and earned a trip to the finals. That school year as a freshman, Kessler was the 2015 Nebraska High School Rodeo Association’s top rookie and qualified for the National High School Finals Rodeo in cutting; she was also the alternate in breakaway roping.
She is homeschooled and has just begun her third year of high school, but she has big rodeo dreams; her first goal is to leave Dodge City with the breakaway roping title.
“It would be great; that’s the goal I’ve been working for all year,” Kessler said. “I have a piece of paper in my rope can that has five or six goals on it, and that’s the No. 1 goal.
“I’ve had a pretty good summer, and it’s been pretty fun to be in the lead. I’m just going to try to catch three calves and finish in the average, and it’ll work out the way it needs to in the end.”
She has a strong faith, and she leans on it often. She reads a daily devotional and points to her favorite verse as a way of building herself: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13.
That focus and that drive can come from a higher power, but there must be an inner focus to guide each competitor through each run. Morgan Kessler has it, and she plans to use it as she chases her rodeo dreams.