Leighton Berry is trying to take the next step in his young professional rodeo career and 2020 provided a strong stepping stone towards that goal.
The 22-year old from Weatherford is coming off of a year in which he won three rodeos and qualified for the National Finals Rodeo for the first time in bareback riding.
As he begins the 2021 season, Berry said the goal is to build off of a breakthrough season and one of those stops was making a return to compete at the SandHills Stock Show and Rodeo at the Ector County Coliseum.
“It’s awesome and that’s been a lifelong goal for me,” Berry said prior to his ride Friday. “I’ve accomplished that goal and now we’re drilling into the 2021 season with the same goal in mind.”
Another goal for Berry entering the year: become a stronger all-around cowboy and eventually have a chance to earn the Linderman Award. The award — first handed down in 1996 — is from the PRCA and the website states “a cowboy must win at least $1,000 in three events, and those events must include at least one roughstock and one timed event.” There was no award winner in 2020.
To achieve that, Berry is attempting to go back to where he got his start in rodeo with roping.
“My dad rode bareback horses for about 15 years and I roped calves and grew up rodeoing that way,” he said. “Once I got into high school, I started getting on some barebacks and really enjoyed it. It’s still been a goal of mine and this is going to my first year doing both events.”
Berry was able to line that up for this season after finishing No. 9 in the world rankings and earning $132,065 over the course of the year. He finished in second place on three different performances at the NFR in Arlington in December to provide that financial stability.
On top of that, his younger siblings are making their ways up the ranks as well. Younger brother Kade, 17, is a high school senior and is slated to compete in bareback riding at the collegiate level.
Sister Maci Berry, 19, is a top break-away roper and also competes in barrel racing. Older brother Leighton hopes to see them compete in Odessa one day and beyond that.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “I think they’re following right behind and I push them to be successful just like they push me. One day I hope that we can all have an NFR back number.”
There are adjustments being made to his schedule with most of them being out of his control due to the COVID-19 pandemic either postponing or canceling rodeos altogether.
“We’re still going to have to go to some smaller rodeos but as long as the slate’s clean, everybody’s having to hustle and go to the same ones,” Berry said.
Friday’s performance was the third time that Berry has competed in Odessa. He performed during last year’s event and competed at Weatherford College when they came to town for the Odessa College Rodeo.
Berry said that he was confident entering the night to put on a good show. Unfortunately for him, some of his plans were put on hold after being injured while competing in his bareback ride. He did not return for the tie-down roping event.
Berry said prior to competition that the goal remains the same even if things didn’t go according to plan.
“I’m still really focused on my bareback ride and I feel like a lot has changed,” he said. “Coming off my first NFR, I feel like I have a lot more experience now. The goal is to try and win a gold buckle at the end of this year.”