December 5-14, 2024


Leighton Berry

Mar 28, 2024

Leighton Berry

 By Susan Kanode

Horses have definitely shaped Leighton Berry’s life. He spent his childhood around them and as soon as he was big enough, he started competing on them. Leighton grew up roping and learning horsemanship. When he was in high school, he wanted to try his hand at the other end of the arena in the rough stock events. 

His father, Kirby, had ridden bareback horses professionally, so that influenced what Leighton wanted to do. He started getting on bareback horses in high school and while he still ropes and rides saddle horses, he found his calling with the rigging. 

Leighton’s rodeo journey started at the roping end of the arena. He won a saddle in the ribbon roping in 2011.

After high school, he stayed in Texas to compete for Weatherford College and then Tarleton State University. He qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo and finished fifth in 2019. That was his rookie year in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association where he finished 29th

The next year, he was fully committed to being among the best in the PRCA. He accomplished that goal by qualifying for the NFR which was held at Globe Life Field in Texas. He finished the season ninth in the world standings and was looking forward to 2021 and hopefully a year of rodeo less influenced by the pandemic. 

That next January, he was at the Sandhills Stock Show and Rodeo in Odessa, Texas. Every bareback rider’s nightmare is having a horse flip in the bucking chutes. That nightmare became his reality. He had compressed vertebra and torn ligaments in his spine that required spinal-fusion surgery. He missed seven months of the season, returned to action at the Dodge City (Kansas) Round-Up with a new perspective and more determination. In spite of his limited season, he still finished the year 23rd.

The past two years have seen him at sixth and third in the world standings. He has won many of the biggest rodeos and got to check RodeoHouston off his list in 2023. He went back to Houston this year and defended his title. Now he is sitting at the top of the world standings and looking forward to competing in Las Vegas next December. 

He has a lot to accomplish before he rides for the gold buckle that is high on his goal list. On April 15th, he and Kodi Smalygo are getting married and starting a future together. His win at Houston will let him enjoy this special time in their lives before he takes off for summer rodeos. 

Leighton is the oldest of three children. His younger brother Kade is making a run for the bareback riding rookie of the year this season. Their sister Maci is a breakaway roper and as they were growing up, they spent a lot of time going to rodeos as a family.

Leighton and his younger brother Kade posing behind the bucking chutes. 

One on One with the Wrangler NFR Contestant Leighton Berry 

Favorite movie:  Lonesome Dove has always been my favorite. 

What superpower would you like to have: Super strength – Because that’s what I work to achieve and maintain. I try to get stronger, faster and better every day of my life. 

Dogs or cats: Dogs. I just got a new Jack Russell puppy a few weeks ago. His name is Blade. I think barn cats are good to have around too. 

Favorite dessert:  I’m not a sweet eater. My idea of dessert would be a bowl of fruit with honey and cinnamon on top. 

TV show that you binge watch: Ozark on Netflix is my favorite. 

Favorite card or board game: I haven’t played a lot of board games. There is a card game called 31 that I like. It doesn’t take much brainpower and you can pass the time. 

Famous person you’d like to have lunch with: I would say Matthew McConaughey. I think we would have a pretty good conversation. 

Favorite thing to do away from the arena: I spend a lot of time working out. A hobby would be bow hunting or hunting of any kind really. It’s a good release that is right up there with working out. 

Favorite spectator sport, other than rodeo:  I’ve never been to a professional football game, even though it’s what I watched growing up. It’s hard to beat a Rangers game and if I’m going to a live game that would be it. 

If you weren’t in rodeo, what would you be doing: I would probably be competing in ultra marathons, any kind of running, biking and swimming, I would go hard at being an extreme athlete. If it was just about money, I would probably pursue boxing. Being a fit athlete and a fighter. There’s always the option of being a cowboy. I’ve done a little picking up in the arena and that is one of my favorite things to do. I can see myself doing some of that in the future. 

Best childhood memory:  I think times when I was a kid and me and my dad would be in his shop at the house, building or fixing something. Had good company around. Now when I smell burning welding rods, it’s a familiar scent that brings back memories. 

Tea or coffee:  Community Coffee all the way. 

Favorite thing about Las Vegas: The energy. There is no place like it. Big things happen in that city. The atmosphere and electricity of that city brings out different things in you. When Vegas turns into cowboy town is the best.  

Music or podcast on your playlist: 90% of the time I’m listening to Rock and Roll. It covers music from the 60’s to today. My favorite genre is 70s rock music. Led Zepplin, 90s grunge a bit. I like Texas Country too. When I’m traveling I also listen to Joe Rogan’s podcast. 

Dream bucking horse to get on:  One that I haven’t been on yet is Virgil. He is at the top of my bucket list – he’s getting some age on him, but I think he’s the best bucking horse out there. 

What champion buckle do you wear and why: I wear my Houston buckle from last year. I’ve had a thing for the small square buckle and honestly, I’m proud to wear it. I have two now, but I’ll still wear the first one until I get a gold buckle. 

What’s your strong point as a competitor: My mental capacity when I’m competing. I feel like I’m at my best, peak performance then. It’s not like I have to turn anything around or do anything different, I just love the feeling of competing. When it’s time to ride, I want to win and find myself feeling confident in my skills. I rely on my faith in God and do my job to the best of my ability. That makes me strong. 

If you could give advice to a young rodeo competitor, what would it be:  Trust the process, trust God and trust yourself. I’ve never met or talked to anybody who truly worked hard at something that hasn’t been able to accomplish goals. 

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be: Texas, honestly anywhere in Texas. I’m fond of the north central Texas area obviously. I’m building my life here. Eventually I want to have a good chunk of land, some cows, find some seclusion and be a cowboy. 

Most memorable rodeo win: That’s a tough one. I’ve won my hometown rodeo all three times that I have ridden there. Last year, my brother, sister and I were all up on Saturday. That was fun. Then the feeling that I had when I had Gunfire at San Antonio last year was amazing. I was last out and on the reigning bucking horse of the year. I had a feeling I was going to be more points than I have ever been. When I heard that I tied the arena record I looked back at my brother by the chutes. He lit up and that was a feeling I’ll never forget.  

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