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Lisa Lockhart and Louie

Lisa Lockhart and her faithful buckskin gelding, Louie, will begin their 2016 schedule this week at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver.

After being one of rodeo’s most successful contestants the past decade, Oelrichs cowgirl Lisa Lockhart is ready to ride again, and says the success she has had is “way beyond anything I ever expected.”

Lockhart has been among the 15 barrel racing qualifiers at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas 10 consecutive years and has placed at least fifth in the final world standings eight of those years, including the last six in a row.

After finishing third in 2013, her top placing at the time, she’s been the runner-up each of the past two years. She’s earned a paycheck by placing among the top six in eight of the 10 go-rounds in Las Vegas each of the last two years. No other barrel racer has done that both years.

“People ask me if I’m surprised how well thing had gone for me,” Lockhart said. “I certainly am. How could anyone ever imagine things working out so well?”

Lisa and her faithful buckskin gelding, Louie, will begin their 2016 schedule this week at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver. They’ll also run the cloverleaf pattern at the Black Hills Stock Show in Rapid City that begins Jan. 30 and goes through Feb. 6. The schedule also includes several of the winter rodeos that have rich payoffs in Texas in January and February.

In addition, they’ll defend the championship they won at the Wrangler Champions Challenge in Scottsdale, Ariz., last February and seek a three-peat at the American Rodeo, the richest one-day rodeo of them all, inside AT&T Stadium at Arlington, Texas, on Feb. 28.

For most of the barrel racers, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, but if Lisa and Louie do as well as usual, they’ll be back on the ranch east of Oelrichs much of the spring before heading out to several of the larger rodeos during the summer.

In 2015, two of her biggest wins were at the Calgary Stampede and Cheyenne’s Frontier Days in July. Through the years, she’s also had plenty of success at other Canadian rodeos, winning four Canadian barrel racing titles.

“As long as I’ve got the horsepower, I will keep going,” Lockhart said. “That’s the plan. When you’ve got the horses, you either use them or sell them.”

Louie, the horse has used to run the barrels in Las Vegas the past six years is 13 years old, but “still has a lot left,” Lisa believes. She also calls Chisholm, 18, “the old guy who is still pretty amazing,” in her words, and she said he does particularly well in big arenas that have deep soil. Waiting in the wings in case he’s needed is Turbo, a nine-year-old.

Despite her passion to compete, Lockhart feels blessed that she has been able to qualify for the National Finals without having to enter every rodeo that comes along. As the mother of three young rodeo contestants, she likes to be there as often as possible when they compete.

One of the highlights for the Lockhart family in 2015 was when daughter Alyssa, a senior at Hot Springs High School, won the senior girls barrel racing title at the National Little Britches Rodeo in Pueblo. Colo., last summer.

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Last year while earning the $285,059 that the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association’s official results report she won, Lockhart competed at just 39 rodeos. Seven of the other 15 National Finals Rodeo qualifiers entered at least twice that many and all but one of the others went to a minimum of 64.

The biographies of the 2015 national qualifiers are an interesting study. Only one of them, Sheri Cervi of Marana, Ariz., had competed in Las Vegas more times than Lockhart. It was her 18th appearance and she’s been the world champion four times, including 2013. Cervi finished ninth in 2014.

Third in finals’ seniority was the flamboyant Fallon Taylor of Whitesboro, Texas, who qualified for the seventh time after winning the championship in 2014 and was sixth in this past year’s standings.

But none of the others had been to the finals more than four times, six of them were making their first appearance and four others were just two-time qualifiers.

The top contenders for the WPRA’s barrel racing rookie of the year in 2015 were Jackie Ganter of Abilene, Texas, a 2014 high school graduate who eventually won the honor, and Vickie Carter of Richfield, Utah, who is 60 years of age but had never competed on the pro circuit before.

The 2015 world champion, Callie duPerier of Boerne, Texas, also was riding in Las Vegas for the first time, but she had purchased a horse that two other finals qualifiers had ridden there a total of three times previously.

Sarah Rose McDonald of Brunswick, Ga., who finished third in the standings this past year, also made her first trip to Las Vegas after an uncle and his friend bought a special horse for her four years ago when she was 15,

The essence is, there are lots of cowgirls out there who, if they have the right horse, can ride well enough to qualify.

But none of them rides better than Lisa. Several times during the recent National Finals Rodeo the TV announcers commented on how well she rides. In particular, she drew lots of attention during her final run when she “reached back” and steadied the last barrel so it wouldn’t upset after Louie had brushed against it.

During the last decade as one of the rodeo’s elite contestants, there’s only one thing that Lisa has not accomplished. That’s winning the gold buckle that goes to the world champion. Naturally, that would be a great honor, but it doesn’t consume her.

“It’s fun and exciting to pursue, but if it never happens, I’ll be OK,” she said. “I expected it would come down to the National Finals this past year. Maybe if I’d have gone to a few more rodeos I would have won it, but that’s not really the most important thing now. Family comes first.

“This year, I will try to go fast and keep them (the barrels) upright again, and we’ll see what happens. That’s the plan.”

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