Kenneth Springer photo
Lisa Lockhart of Oelrichs and her spectacular gray gelding, Levee, left all 30 barrels they ran at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas earlier this month standing, helping them finish second there, as well the runners-up in the world standings for 2023,
By Con Marshall
OELRICHS – Lisa Lockhart’s 17th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas from December 8 through 16 proved to be one of the best for the Oelrichs barrel racer. She and her splendid dappled gray gelding, Levee, left all 30 barrels in the cloverleaf pattern standing upright, they placed among the top six in seven of the 10 go-rounds, won the averages for having the best aggregate time and finished as the world’s reserve champions.
Often called barrel racing’s most consistent and persistent contestant, she also set the event’s all-time earnings total and seemed overwhelmed by her good fortune.
“I am at a loss for words,” Lockhart was quoted as saying last Saturday night after she has won the final go-round and moved from fourth to first in the averages. “There was a lot that transpired in a short amount of time for all of us tonight. This is all pretty surreal right now.”
“I could never have scripted this,” she continued. “I just had all to gain and nothing to lose. Winning the round, average and reserve in the world was totally unexpected.”
Lockhart went to the NFR in fifth place among the 15 qualifiers with $134,591.65 in earnings during the 2023 season. She seemed to be holding Levee back a bit during the first go-round, when their time was 14.16 seconds for what turned out to be their slowest by 22 hundredths of a second. However, all the barrels were left standing while a half dozen others knocked at least one over, adding 5 seconds to their aggregate time.
After that, Lisa and Levee earned paychecks during seven of the nine runs. Their placings, in order, were third, first, sixth, sixth again, tied for fifth, second and first. They did not place in the sixth or seven go-rounds, but also never picked up any 5-second “speeding tickets” that are disastrous in the averages.
They were the only duo to not tip over or, in some cases, send a barrel crashing into the arena dirt.
With $30,706 paid to each go-round winner, $24,262 to the runners-up and even $4,953 for sixth place, the earnings added up. Those checks amounted to $120,349. And, with Lisa and Levee’s 10 runs minus any 5-second penalties, and therefore totaling the fastest time of 137.180 seconds, they were the average winners, good for another $78,747.
Lockhart has called Levee, who is just a seven-year-old, “extremely consistent.” He runs fast, but doesn’t seem to hurry. At least, it looks that way on television. The pair generally made it around each barrel by only inches. Some viewers said they saw Lisa lift her leg in the stirrup a time or two to avoid brushing against a barrel and none of them ever moved.
The final go-round on Saturday night was a “difference maker.” Lockhart was the first to complete the pattern, and was timed in 13.54 seconds. It was announced that she was fourth in the averages. However, each of the three cowgirls—Kassie Mowry, Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi and Jordon Briggs—who began the go ahead of her in the standings sent a barrel tumbling.
That’s why Lockhart told reporters she was surprised when she learned she was the averages winner.
Pozzi Tonozzi, who is from Lampasas, Texas, went to Las Vegas having already earned $270,563, nearly $110,000 more than Briggs, who was in second place. Pozzi Tonozzi also won the most money at the NFR, some $225,835. Lockhart was next with $209,096.
She also was the runner-up in the world standings in 2014 and 2015, placing second to Texas contestants Fallon Taylor and Callie DuPerier, respectively, neither of whom has returned to the NFR to compete in recent years.
This also was third time Lisa and her partner have not knocked over at least one barrel during their 10 runs. The others were in 2015 and 2016. All four years, Lisa was riding the incomparable Louie, the buckskin gelding who in 2019 was named the barrel horse of the decade and is now living in retirement on the Lockhart ranch east of Oelrichs.
Levee has been a terrific replacement. It’s not a surprise that he ran so well in Las Vegas this year. A year ago when Lockhart barely qualified for her 16th consecutive NFR, the dappled gray with a lighter gray on his head and splash of white on his rump had come on strong late in the season and helped make the trip possible.
The pair began the finals in 14th place for 2022, but moved up all the way up to fourth in the final standings by placing in seven of the 10 go-rounds and winning more than $168,000. They toppled just one barrel and finished third in the averages. This year they were great again.
The remaining event world champions and their earnings follow:
Bareback riding—Keenan Hayes, Hayden, Colo., $434,050; saddle bronc riding—Zeke Thurston, Big Valley, Alberta; $456,356; bullriding—Ky Hamilton, Australia, $595,414; team ropers—Tyler Wade, Terrell, Texas, $325,284, and Wesley Thorp, Throckmorton, Texas, $308,057; tie down roping— TD Riley, Denton, Texas, $452,852; and steer wrestling—Tyler Waguespack, Gonzales, La., $303.576.