RODEO: Berry rolls into Pecos lead

PECOS This time of year is a busy one for cowboys and cowgirls that make their livings in rodeo.

It’s the start of the summer run, when they leave their homes and venture off to lands known and unknown chasing their gold-buckle dreams. For most Texans, it a chance to escape the heat, but before they do, they make sure to be part of the West of the Pecos Rodeo.

Take Leighton Berry, a bareback rider from Weatherford, Texas. His initial plans had him at a rodeo up north, but things didn’t work out. When that happened, he turned the tide and put his name in the hat for the “World’s First Rodeo.” During Thursday’s second performance, he rode Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Fox Hole Gunner for 87 points to take the lead.

“When our plans changed and we saw a day that not very many guys were out on a Thursday, we thought we’d see the Pete Carr crew out in west Texas,” said Berry, a three-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier and the No. 3 man in the 2024 world standings with more than $93,000 in earnings. “Me and my traveling partner plucked two of their buckers, so we dang sure made the right decision to come out here.

“This is my first one back since Weatherford (three weeks ago), and to get it kicked off like this – feeling good, body feeling good and mentally feeling strong – and now we just need to get the good draws going. We sure did that tonight. It feels good to be on top.”

This isn’t the first year he’s been toward the top of the world standings. He first qualified for the NFR in 2020 and ended the campaign ninth on the money list. An injury sidelined Berry early in 2021 and he sat out six months. Once he returned that August, he went on a heater and finished 23rd. He returned to the NFR in 2022 and ’23 and finished among the top six.

Born and raised in Weatherford, he’s a proud Texan who has had great success in the Lone Star State. This past March, he won RodeoHouston for the second straight year, adding $50,000 to his bankroll. It’s a nice payday, but even better, it allowed Berry a bit of comfort heading into the busiest time of the season.

“It’s been a whirlwind of a year,” he said. “I got the repeat in Houston and got married to my wife, Kodi, and, man, things are rolling. I got a new business going, so God’s been really good, and I’ve been blessed to keep moving forward. And do what I’m doing. We’re ready to do the rodeo trail.”

The wedding was followed by a nice honeymoon in Mexico. He and his bride were able to enjoy their time together before getting back to the business at hand. For now, Berry’s focus is strictly on rodeo’s world championship.

“I’ve been in talks of a world-champion race every year I’ve been to the NFR, and the best I’ve done is third,” Berry said. “It’s a blessing that I can even get to the NFR. This year is just different in my mouth. I really want a gold buckle at the end of this thing, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”