Special to Rocking M Media
[DODGE CITY, Kan.]
It’s been a long seven months for bareback rider Leighton Berry.
In January at Odessa, Texas, the 22-year-old cowboy was smashed in the bucking chutes and suffered torn ligaments in the mid- and lower region of his spine, between the T12 and L1 vertabrae. He followed that with surgery and rehabilitation, but he’s been missing something: Rodeo.
On Wednesday night during the first performance of the Dodge City Roundup Rodeo, the Weatherford, Texas, bronc buster returned to the sport he loves for the first time since that fateful night in west Texas, and he didn’t miss a beat. He rode Frontier Rodeo’s Short Night for 89 points to take the early bareback riding lead and has assured himself a spot among the top 12 for Sunday’s championship round.
“I got to watch my traveling partner be 88 (points) right before I nodded my head, and that lit a fire under me,” Berry said, referring to Mason Clements, a three-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Spanish Fork, Utah. “We want our rig to win. I got to one-point him today, but this is awesome.”
Berry himself was just coming off his first qualification to the NFR, where he pocketed just shy of $80,000 in 10 days. He had big plans for the 2021 season, but he understands the things that can happen in the rough-and-tumble sport of rodeo.
“It was disappointing in the day whenever it happened, and I knew I was going to have something fixed,” he said. “I knew right then and there that I’ve overcome adversity before, and every time I’ve been hurt, I’ve been able to come back a little better and a little faster and a little stronger mentally.
“I took it right then and said, ‘God, this is you’re plan, and I’m just going to follow You, and I know it will all work out in the end.’ Here we are, and I feel like I’m on top of the world again.”
With seven months on injured reserve, Berry knows he’s behind the eight-ball to make back-to-back trips to ProRodeo’s grand finale, but he’s still got it on his mind.
“Since January, I’ve thought, ‘Don’t ever count me out, because I’ll change your mind and make it right,’ ” Berry said. “I know I’ve still got a chance, from what my traveling partners and buddies have been telling me.
“I’m just out here riding bucking horses, making a living doing it and having fun with my best friends. If I can continue to build my bareback riding back up … if I can come back stronger and better than ever, that’s all I can ask for.”
If he stays as hot as he did Wednesday night, he might just walk away from western Kansas with one of the most coveted prizes in rodeo: The Roundup Rodeo trophy buckle. He’ll have to match his skills and where he is physically and mentally on the final night of the rodeo against some incredible horsepower.
“Dodge City has one of the rankest short rounds there is,” he said. “There are top horses like Gun Fire, Showstomper and Full Baggage that are going to be out, and I’d like to see my name next to theirs. Riding rank bucking horses is what I’ve prided myself on; I haven’t had one underneath me in a while, so I’m excited for it.”