LAS VEGAS – On his way to Las Vegas a week ago, Leighton Berry started showing flu-like symptoms. By the time he arrived, his fever was high.
Body aches and other nastiness came. He still wasn’t feeling well when the first round began Friday night. He wasn’t much better Saturday, Still, he placed in both rounds. He started feeling like himself Sunday, just in time for the eliminator pen of bareback horses.
“We got about six or seven hours into our 18-hour drive – I can usually drive all day and all night, and when you’re driving to the bright lights of Las Vegas, you’re just wanting to get there,” said Berry, 24, a four-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Weatherford, Texas. “It’s just me and my lady, and I usually don’t have her drive too much.
“I ended up noticing I was running a fever, so she drove more than normal. We got out to Vegas, and I instantly just started trying to pump medicine in me.”
His health and his mentality are even better after posting an 87.5-point ride on Frontier Rodeo’s Painted Smoke to win Monday’s fourth go-round. That was worth $30,706. All told, he’s earned just shy of $50,000 during the first four nights in Las Vegas. That’s pushed his season earnings to $206,751, and he sits third in the world standings.
“It’s awesome to get a go-round win here,” Berry said. “It really boosts your confidence moving onto the next round, especially when you’ve got the ones you dream about coming up the next day. We’re fixing to get on a lot of horses in the next five days.”
That’s true. Because the opening round was delayed a day after the shooting on the UNLV campus last week, the sixth go-round will take place Wednesday morning; the seventh round will occur at its normal time that night. That means all contestants in the field will compete twice that day.
“We’ve got our hands full, so to get some momentum rolling before all that and before the TV pen (Tuesday) helps me feel like I’m on top of the world. I’ve finally got some strength in my body and a clear mind and a full heart,” Berry said. “In the E pen, I finally had some strength, but I didn’t quite have the dancing partner I wanted.
“Tonight, I was feeling normal, feeling like I had the dancing partner that I would pick a million times over.”
Painted Smoke is a powerful palomino paint from Frontier, the Oklahoma-based firm that is the eight-time and reigning PRCA Stock Contractor of the Year.
“That horse gave me everything I expected and more,” he said. “Just watching that horse, I know he leaves the box hard, and I know he kicks hard for 10 seconds. You don’t have to worry about that horse weakening. When you come to the NFR and you get the One-Pen horses (the easiest-to-ride broncs at the NFR), you’re looking for that horse that’s going to start and finish strong.
“When I had my name next to the paint horse, I just knew I was damn sure going to have a chance, and I knew I just needed to keep my chin down and set my feet and do my job. When things are on your side, they’re on your side, so we’re just going to keep that momentum rolling.”