EDMOND, Okla. – Carlee Pierce and her family needed a breather from the rigors of the rodeo trail.
The Oklahoma cowgirl took it.
That was in June 2013, when Pierce was the third-ranked cowgirl in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association’s barrel racing standings. Instead of chasing the world championship at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, she packed up her trailer and headed home.
“I took a break last year when I was on my way to a third consecutive NFR,” said Pierce, who was born in Alberta and raised in northwest Oklahoma. “I always said when my family was worn out with it, I’d stay home. After several months at home, everybody decided staying home and being ‘normal’ wasn’t exactly fun.
“This year I spent more time on the road with and without them with no expectations of making the NFR, so it turned into a successful year.”
Yes, it was. Pierce earned $90,431 through the regular season and heads to ProRodeo’s premier event next week No. 13 in the world standings – only the top 15 contestants in each event earn the right to compete at the NFR, set for Dec. 4-13 in Las Vegas. Now she will take a shot at the biggest play in the game with a purse of $6.375 million; go-round winners will earn $19,000 per night for the 10-round affair.
But it meant more time away from her family: husband, Steve; son, Kale; and daughters, Makala and Jacy.
“The rodeo trail hasn’t changed,” Pierce said. “It’s still a lot of hours and a lot of driving. It doesn’t bother me as much when my family goes, but when they were at home, it seemed like I was gone for years.”
Still, she took advantage. She had key wins through the season and collected a lot of checks, but her biggest two victories came in Red Bluff, Calif., in April and Hermiston, Ore., in August. She won both rounds and the two-run average title at both, pocketing $5,442 in California and $8,247 in Oregon.
That money went a long ways to helping her reach the goal of returning to the NFR, where she has excelled. In her first appearance in 2011, Pierce raced to two round wins while placing in three others to win $50,769. A year later, she earned $79,802 and finished the 2012 campaign as the reserve world champion with $204,322.
“Sometimes I ask myself the question, ‘Why do I rodeo?’ ” said Pierce, who earlier this year moved her family from Stephenville, Texas, to Edmond, though the Pierces will keep their Texas ranch. “I guess it is a passion I have. I can’t go one day without thinking about it, and I feel like I am so far from accomplishing all my goals in rodeo.”
She will have another chance in the City of Lights, where she plans to ride a couple of young horses inside the Thomas & Mack Center.
“I am running both of my girls in Vegas,” she said. “Tiny is 5, and Lolo is 6. Both are pretty green in the rodeo world, but I have faith in them, and I know this is a good experience in preparation for the 2015 season. I am really excited about how talented they are.”
She will need all the talent the two sorrel mares can muster. The NFR field is loaded with NFR regulars like Kaley Bass, Lisa Lockhart and Christy Loflin, as well as world champions Mary Walker and Sherry Cervi, the latter of who owns four gold buckles.
“The NFR is always the best of the best,” Pierce said. “I know there are some amazing horses in that mix. It’s definitely going to be a great horserace.”
That’s the way it should be when the world title is on the line. Pierce is about $65,000 behind Bass, the world standings leader from Kissimmee, Fla., but she can make up that ground quickly in Las Vegas. With the payouts so high, the Oklahoma cowgirl can catch the leaders in just four rounds.
It will take a lot of talent and a little bit of luck, but Carlee Pierce is ready for it all.