LAS VEGAS – Kylie Weast’s first run at the National Finals Rodeo will always be memorable.
Sprinting down the alleyway and into the Thomas & Mack Center floor is an exhilarating experience for any barrel racer who has ever done it, but Weast made the most of her first experience by rounding the cloverleaf pattern in 13.86 seconds to finish sixth in Thursday’s first go-round.
“I was nervous all day, but once I got in the car at the hotel, I took a deep breath and felt better,” said Weast, a first-time NFR qualifier from Comanche, Okla. “When I got to the arena, everything was fine.”
Yes, it was, and so was Hell on the Red, a 6-year-old sorrel mare she calls Reddy. In fact, the speedy mount reared a little as they entered the alley, then went to work.
“She took off with me a little bit in the alleyway, but I think I have her a little bit under control now,” Weast said. “I think just a tick down the pen a little bit going into the first barrel, and she didn’t burn off the first turn like I prefer. She turned her last two good enough. I was happy with her performance.”
It’s not easy on horses inside that environment, either. The animals can feel the pressure that comes with the NFR, and nearly 17,000 fans were packed into the coliseum to witness ProRodeo’s grand championship.
“The atmosphere is just so incredible,” she said. “I realized it was just another rodeo, and my nerves went away.
“Placing is such a relief. That’s all I wanted to do, and thankfully I got the last (place) in the round. I just wanted to get in the groove of things here, so to get a check was icing on the cake.”
There’s a great amount of pomp and circumstance that comes with competing on the biggest stage in the game. By getting the first round under her belt, Weast now can find time to relax and get into a rhythm.
“I’m starting to get a smidge tired, but I got up pretty early this morning and rode both horses I brought,” she said, referring to Reddy and her backup, Wolfy, a 9-year-old sorrel gelding. “I can go out there and let my hair down and relax. I think that’s going to help a lot. I just need time with my orses and know that I’ve done everything I can to help Reddy perform at her best.”
Weast pocketed $4,231 on Thursday night and pushed her season earnings to $114,946. She is eighth in the world standings, but she has nine more nights to improve on that – go-round winners earn more than $26,000 per night.
“It’s cliché, but I’m just going to try to focus on one run at a time,” Weast said. “I can’t think about the nights ahead of me. We’ll take each run, then go from there and adjust how we need to after that.”
That’s a solid game plan, one that could play huge dividends.