EDITOR’S NOTE: This story appears in the January issue of Women’s Pro Rodeo News. Unfortunately the interview that I had hoped to do with Lindsay Sears a week after she’d won didn’t happen, but I hope we were able to tell a good story anyway.
For anyone who has ever been in the heated battle of competition, the pressure to win is incredible. To be successful, to win, is like bursting that bubble and feeling the air explode from it.
For the 15 cowgirls in the field of the 2011 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the golden yellow chutes and blue fencing intensifies the pressure. The heat turns up as each lady prepared to take a shot at $17,885 each night and a chance to fasten a Montana Silversmiths gold buckle at the end of the 10-day marathon.
Nobody, however, realized how much pressure was on a tiny blonde from Nanton, Alberta, the only Canadian in the field of 119 contestants in ProRodeo’s grand championship event, held in the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
As she sprinted around the arena each night during the grand entry, Lindsay Sears was carrying the weight of a nation fanatical about rodeo, about champions. Donning the gold buckle earned three years prior, the 30-year-old cowgirl who spends a good portion of her time near Lubbock, Texas, knew much was expected of her.
But there’s so much more to the back story of a world champion. You see, Sears left Las Vegas in December 2010 with an injured horse and a ton of questions. Sugar Moon Express, an 11-year-old sorrel by Dr. Nick Bar out of Babys Blue Jeans, has been Sears’ driving force since she purchased the mare nearly six years ago.
“We left here last year with my good horse, Martha, being seriously injured and not knowing whether or not she would come back and be able to compete,” Sears said. “I just have to thank all the people who have helped Martha get better throughout the year, all my veterinarians.
“Everybody knows Martha, and that’s the most awesome thing about it. I’m just lucky I get to be part of her life. To have Martha is the most unbelievable thing that’s ever happened to me in my life. She’s the reason I have a career in this sport.”
Martha also is the reason Sears dominated the NFR. The tandem won the average, rounding the cloverleaf pattern 10 times in a cumulative 139.50 seconds, earning $45,865 for that feat alone.
In addition, they placed in eight go-rounds, including two wins – she shared the opening-round victory with front-runner Brittany Pozzi of Victoria, Texas, clocking in at 14.03 seconds; they each won $16,010 and made a statement about the race for the world title. Sears also won the seventh round, posting a 13.56 to win the go-round buckle outright.
“There is no game plan,” Sears said on opening night, Dec. 1. “Every night is a new night. It’s great. It makes for our sport to be great watching.”
It was great watching, with high speeds and fantastic finishes. Whether the rounds were defined by a mere 1-100ths of a second or watching Carlee Pierce and Rare Dillion clear the pattern in a new record 13.46, the 2010 Wrangler NFR was a showcase of tremendous athletic talent.
“You’ve just got to know your horse and know what it takes to get it accomplished,” said Lisa Lockhart of Oelrichs, S.D., who won two rounds and finished fourth in the final world standings with $159,710, with about $79,000 coming at the NFR.
That has worked for Sears, who has had some incredible wins on her main mount, including four straight championships at the tour finale in Omaha, Neb. – 2011 marked the first time in five years she and Martha didn’t leave Nebraska with the title.
“You are as good as your horse is in barrel racing,” said Sears, who spent much of the year on another horse, Ima Guy Of Honor, an 8-year-old bay gelding she calls Moe. “We’re like peas and carrots. She is the one for me. If I wasn’t going to get to get on her again, I’m not sure if I wanted to continue doing this for a living.
“I got to the finals on my backup horse, and Martha got to come here and be the star. She got to prove herself here in this arena again. It’s indescribable.”
So is their run through the finals. After their seventh round win, Sears admitted she was a little shocked at how fast the two clocked.
“Martha’s been kind of easing along all week, and I was wondering when she was going to realize we’re in Vegas,” Sears said Wednesday, Dec. 7. “She did tonight, thank goodness.
“She stepped up to the plate tonight, and she felt like Martha. She felt like she’s always felt in this pen.”
It was important to make a statement at that point in the championship while remaining consistently fast.
“When you only have a 10th of a second between first and sixth, and some nights five-100ths, how do you even talk about that,” she said. “It’s just a blink of an eye … less than the blink of an eye.”
This season marked the sixth time in Sears’ career she’s played for the biggest prize money in the game, and she likes to ride in Las Vegas. She may not play the table games or punch the slots, but she understands how things work. Early in 2011, she didn’t like her odds of winning that prestigious gold buckle, but she knows how to cash out money ahead.
“In 2008, everything went perfectly,” Sears said. “This year, it was a job. It was hard work and a lot of struggles to get here, to be sitting here. I feel like I worked so much harder to win this one than I did in 2008.”
Sears understands what it means to live up to the pressure of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and work through a season of limitations by one of the world’s greatest racehorses. Her 10th-round run of 13.75, worth second place that night, is proof.
“I don’t have safetying-up in my vocabulary, and neither does Martha,” she said that Saturday, Dec. 10. “I wouldn’t have been satisfied any other way.”
Sears realizes what it means to handle the expectations of a nation. She knows what it really means to be the 2011 world champion.