LAS VEGAS – It took a few nights for the lights to flicker in Carlee Pierce’s eyes.
For three go-rounds to open the 2012 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the Stephenville, Texas, cowgirl watched overturned barrels diminish her expectations at the sport’s grand championship. She finished last the first three nights, and after some soul-searching and time with her horses on Sunday, Pierce found the way top of the heap.
Pierce and her great horse, Rare Dillion, blistered the cloverleaf pattern inside the Thomas and Mack Center in 13.75 seconds to finish second in the fourth go-round. That was worth $14,429.
“I hated to admit that the problem I was having was me, but once I did, and once I got back on Dillion, I knew we were headed in the right direction,” Pierce said. “He was so ready to go. When it was our turn and they opened the gate into the alley, he just burst through there and was on his way.”
Pierce ran the 12-year-old buckskin gelding during Thursday’s opening performance, and the pair knocked down all three barrels. She opted for her backup horse, a 5-year-old sorrel gelding she calls Hammer, for Rounds 2-3. But it wasn’t much better. Three more barrels over two nights.
The Alberta-born, Oklahoma-raised cowgirl spent Saturday night and part of Sunday working through the runs and watching video of them. She realized that her experienced mount didn’t need quite as much help as she was providing.
“Dillion knows what to do, and if I leave him alone, we’re a lot better off,” she said. “On Thursday night, I was trying to ride him like I do the colts, and I just can’t do that.
“Tonight I let him do his thing, and it worked pretty good. I’m just super excited to run him again. I think he’s going to continue to be ready to go, and I will be, too.”
A year ago on in the fifth round, Pierce and Dillion set an NFR record with a 13.46-second run. Times at the 2012 championship have been blazing fast, so there’s plenty of reason for excitement heading into Monday’s round.
“I’m not concerned at all about records,” Pierce said. “I just want to focus on each barrel and not worry about anything else. As long as I do that, the times will take care of themselves. There’s a lot of money to be won in the go-rounds, and we’re going to go after it.”