EDITOR’S NOTE: This story appears in the January 2016 issue of Women’s Pro Rodeo News, the official publication of the WPRA. It is republished on my website with the WPRA’s approval.
Callie duPerier had the simplest of game plans during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo: Leave all three barrels up in all 10 go-rounds.
That’s harder than anyone might imagine, but the 22-year-old cowgirl did it. What is more impressive is that she did it in her first appearance on ProRodeo’s grandest stage in the middle of all the bright lights Las Vegas and the pomp and circumstance that comes with the Wrangler NFR.
It paid off for duPerier, who not only won the average championship with a 10-run cumulative time of 140.41 seconds, but she also placed in six go-rounds. In all, she pocketed $126,923 during the week and a half in Sin City and earned her first Montana Silversmiths world championship gold buckle.
“I wasn’t real focused on placing in the rounds,” said duPerier, who earned nearly $60,000 by finishing among the top six on six nights. “If I won a go-round, that would be awesome. I was making sure we kept the barrels up. That average was really important.”
Behind the gold buckle, the Wrangler NFR average title is the second-most important championship in ProRodeo. Of course, the payout of $67,269 also played an important role in the overall outcome in the race for the world championship. There are many cowgirls who have been part of the Wrangler NFR’s history that have never claimed the aggregate crown.
“When I got done (in the 10th round) and was running to get on the horse for winning the average, I was just so excited to win the average,” she said. “I didn’t even know I’d won the world, but I was excited about keeping up barrels all 10th nights. When I found out I won the world, it was incredible. Winning both is just amazing.”
Days later, it had yet to sink in. The reality, though, is it won’t finally hit the young cowgirl from Boerne, Texas, until her name is etched on that gold buckle and it’s in her grasp.
He is Rare indeed
Rare Dillion is a 16-year-old gelding out of Rare Class and by Firecracker Fire. His venture to Las Vegas this past December marked the fourth time the talented buckskin has run inside the Thomas & Mack Center for the Wrangler NFR.
Over the last eight years, Dillion has qualified to compete in Sin City with three cowgirls – Annesa Self in 2008, Carlee Pierce in 2011-12 and duPerier this past December. He has guided them to nearly $286,000 in earnings with four go-round wins.
His biggest runs, though, came over the course of 10 days to close out the 2015 season with duPerier.
“Dillion is just an amazing horse that is very consistent,” she said. “Going into the NFR, it’s always nerve-wracking because of all the things that are going on. I wasn’t too nervous, mainly because he’s been there before.
“He knew just where the first barrel was and did great each night. He’s definitely one in a million.”
He’s run that pattern 40 times in his lifetime, so he should know exactly where that first barrel is. The key factor was for the cowgirl to stay focused on task while also providing the greatest care possible for her talented mount.
“I just try to keep him happy,” duPerier said. “Being away from home, he sometimes doesn’t eat very good or doesn’t drink water. I make sure to let him out of his stall so he can roll around and play. I’d put my Back on Track cover on him at night, both the blanket and boots. And I’d also put him on the TheraPlate; he loves that.”
It all worked. Dillion and duPerier staked claim to the most prestigious titles in rodeo in the same season, and she earned the championship over two-time reserve champion Lisa Lockhart of Oelrichs, S.D., who was $18,787 behind.
When they placed, duPerier and Dillion finished more toward the middle of the pack. She was riding with as little risk as possible as to not hit any of the barrels. Still, she posted three sub-14-second times – she was 13.86 seconds on the fifth night to place fifth in the round, then followed that with back-to-back 13.87s to finish second in Round 7 and tie for fourth in Round 8.
Lockhart and her great horse, An Oakie with Cash, made a run for gold through the first six nights of the 10-day championship. Tipped barrels in Rounds 7 and 8 made it a stretch for Lockhart to win her first world title.
Sarah Rose McDonald, who won at least a share of the title in three go-rounds, finished in a close third place in the year-end standings behind Lockhart. She and Fame Fling N Bling were consistent until a downed barrel in the ninth round dropped them from in the average-title race; they finished sixth in the aggregate.
“It was a really cool barrel race to watch,” duPerier said. “It was really awesome. All the girls were amazing all week.”
The attention, though, returned to Dillion. He was one of just four horses to register 10 clean runs over the course of the rugged championship.
“I watched the replays but never added up the money,” duPerier said. “I just wanted to go out there and do my job. If I know how much money I have to win or how I have to do, I would worry too much about it. I just wanted to focus on what I was doing and let Dillion do his thing.”
T.J. duPerier has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, but the 27-year-old man has never let it define him. Callie duPerier loves that about her older brother.
“With the disease, it’s like their muscles weaken over time,” she said. “As he got older, his muscles have deteriorated.”
Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a genetic disorder; it’s one of nine types of muscular dystrophy. Despite his condition, T.J. duPerier has continued to be an outdoorsman and live life to the fullest.
“We’re very close, and he’s such an inspiration to me,” Callie duPerier said. “No matter what his condition was, it has never stopped him. It’s awesome to watch.
“It puts my life in perspective. Because of him, I know to never give up.”
It’s a sentiment she shares with her entire family, including younger sister Lydia, mom Cheryl and dad Trip. The latter is a prominent Hill Country ranch real estate broker who owns Texas Landmen. In fact, Trip duPerier was with his daughter through every run inside the Thomas & Mack Center, guiding her and Dillion down the alley.
“It means everything to me,” she said. “My dad and I are very close, and Dillion loves my dad. Having him there with me at the most important part of my life is amazing.
“Dillion gave me some trouble in the alley, but since my dad was with me, it kept me calm down there.”
When the runs were over, there was plenty of support in Las Vegas. Besides her immediate family, she also shared the special experience with her fiancé, Kaleb Apffel, who proposed during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo this past March.
“We get married in May,” she said. “We met in college. We just started daring and dated for two and a half years.
“He’s not a cowboy, but he’s a hunter and fisher. We get along really good. He also is a big supporter. I was away from him a lot this year being on the road.”
The rodeo road was the toughest part of duPerier’s 2015 season. Like her veteran horse, she likes to be home. She likes the comforts that come with it, but she also needs to have those connections that have formed her into the world champion she now is.
“Whether you’re winning or losing, I still miss my family,” she said, noting that she won’t travel as extensively in 2016, choosing instead to stay home more with her new husband. “Them not being out there with me the whole time was very hard. I hate being away from my family.”
But those sacrifices were rewarded in gold on the final night of the 2015 season.
A solid foundation
When Annesa Self was a little girl, she loved her buckskin, Hank. Even after he died, she still held a strong fascination with horses of that color.
In the early 2000s, she began looking for another buckskin on which she could run barrels. When she saw there was a young one for sale by a lady in Oklahoma, she drove up from her north Texas home to check him out.
“She whistled at all of her babies, and they all came running over the hill,” Self said. “He was in the lead and was biting and kicking at the others to keep them back.
“I liked his demeanor. He was gritty.”
He also had the right pedigree. Dillion’s grandfather on his sire side was Firewater Flit, with Rare Jet a grand-sire on the bottom. She purchased the then-2-year-old and sent him trainer Karla Roberts, who put the first 30 days on Dillion.
“Then he came to my house to boot camp,” Self said. “I just started doing like I’ve always done them, putting the pattern on them and getting them broke to what I like.”
It worked. As a 5-year-old, he placed at every futurity in which he competed. He began his tenure in ProRodeo in 2006 at the Fort Worth (Texas) Stock Show and Rodeo. He and Self placed there, and with the earnings, the tandem got into RodeoHouston.
“That little turd will definitely let you know if he doesn’t like you,” she said. “He absolutely loves Callie and Trip. They came here and stayed, and it was his first time he was back in his old pen since I sold him in 2011. He rolled and jumped up and bucked and kicked and carried on. He definitely knew where he was.”
The last year hasn’t been the best for Self. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery. She’s cancer free now. She also suffered a broken ankle and lost her step-father in 2015.
“With Callie and Dillion doing what they made this year so much better,” she said. “We texted each other every night. It eases your pain, her doing what she was doing and living her dream. She made me feel like I was out there with her.”
Self made it clear to duPerier that this was her show and that Self enjoyed watching all the action from north Texas.
“Knowing that I put that kind of love and foundation and try into Dillion for him to keep doing his job like he did for Callie is awesome,” Self said. “I know how many girls have that little-girl dream. For me to have produced a horse that satisfied my little-girl dream, Carlee’s little-girl dream and now Callie’s little-girl dream, I just feel like a million bucks.”
She should. Dillion always will be a big part of her life. They had a decade together, and that affection will remain. But Self has seen first-hand just how close Dillion is with the duPerior family.
“I think he has a forever home with Callie, Trip and their family,” Self said. “Their family has been absolutely wonderful, and he deserves to be there with them.”
Yes, he does.