Aug 20, 2021
What You Don’t See
For every barrel racer, at every level, in every arena, and every circumstance, their success fully depends on the four-legged athlete underneath them.
No one ever takes that for granted. For the women who ride these horses, it means long hours, caring for their animals, riding when no one is watching, and working to know what their horse’s needs are. From feed and water that are life sustaining to the simple movements that cue them to do their jobs, to treats and pats that are rewards just for trying, every horse has different requirements and knowing what those needs are is a skill in itself.
The rodeo road is never easy, in any discipline. Are the rewards worth it? Are the highs high enough to keep them going and the lows few enough to keep them from quitting? Those are never ending questions for rodeo athletes. From the outside looking in, they often make it seem effortless, but we all know there is a lot of work behind the scenes that goes into every competition.
For barrel racers with horses with different personalities and different needs, their workload and routine is always changing. Just ask Lisa Lockhart. Lisa is one of the winningest barrel racers in history. She is closing in on $3 million in career earnings and has 14 consecutive Wrangler National Finals Rodeo® qualifications to her credit. The bulk of those have seen her riding a buckskin gelding, An Oakie With Cash that we all know as Louie. He has been one of the most consistent barrel horses of all time and took her to two NFR championships for having the fastest total times on 10 runs (2014 and 2016). Although a world title has eluded her — she finished second in 2014, 2015 and third in 2016 — she is second in career earnings records behind Sherry Cervi.
So, 2020 rolls around, Louie has been in retirement, Rosa’s Cantina “Rosa” has stepped up as Lisa’s main mount and in spite of limited rodeo opportunities, she squeaked into the NFR at Globe Life Field in 13th place. She and Rosa earned $78,962 on the baseball field and she finished the season in 8th place.
Everyone had high hopes for 2021, hoping the pandemic would be under control, rodeos would get back on schedule and a little normalcy would return to our world. Lisa too. Several winter rodeos cancelled and she wasn’t able to cash in at the ones she went to like she’d hoped. She has traditionally made most of her money in the summer and been able to spend most of the school year at home with her family. This year has been different all the way around.
She entered her usual rodeos over the Fourth of July knowing that Rosa likes big, outdoor pens. Her best check came out of Livingston, Montana with a fourth-place finish. Prior to that she had less than $3,000 in earnings. She more than doubled it with a $3,240 check. She continued to pick up small checks until she and Rosa entered the arena at Cheyenne Frontier Days for the barrel racing qualifier. After 234 barrel racers were done, Lisa and Rosa were at the top of the leaderboard and added another $7,637 to their earnings.
They left Wyoming and headed to Ogden, Utah where they finished second and won more than $7,000 again. She came back to Cheyenne to compete in the rest of the rodeo and when it was all said and done, she and Rosa had earned $15,153. Her plans for the fall were about to change.
“I told Grady (her husband) maybe this would be the year I would be home in December. I had come to terms with it,” she said. “Then came Cheyenne and Ogden. I was on the bubble last year too, but it was different with all the rodeos that had cancelled. Now I’m going to rodeos that I haven’t been to in years.”
As of August 20, Lisa is 25th in the world standings and is less than $8,000 out of the top 15 who qualify for the NFR. She loaded up her horses and headed out when normally she would be sending her children off to school. Alyssa and Thane are off to college and Cade is in high school.
And then there is Rosa. Lisa has had the 11-year-old buckskin mare for five years. Owned by Woodbury Performance Horses, Rosa – like many barrel horses – has a lot of quirks. And when their jockey/caretaker figures out the quirks and they put things together, magic happens. For Lisa and Rosa, that also includes dealing with visual impairment. Rosa is completely blind in her right eye.
“We are always putting pieces of the puzzle together,” Lisa said. “The puzzle keeps getting mixed up. Sometimes it’s easier than others. When the horses can’t talk we have to listen to them to the best of our abilities. It’s a complicated game.”
Calling Rosa’s success in the arena mind boggling, as Lisa does, is really accurate. Rosa’s vision issues started when she was two. When Lisa got her, she had a spot on her eye and they knew there was an issue but she still had some vision. Through the years, the spot grew and even with two surgeries on her eye, now Rosa is completely blind in that eye.
The similarities in Rosa and Louie’s looks initially had rodeo announcers scratching their heads and wondering which horse she was riding. They became easier to distinguish because Lisa started Louie with a right turn first and Rosa with a left. That meant that Rosa’s first barrel was on her left side and the next two were on her right.
What Rosa is able to do in the arena would not come without an extreme amount of trust in Lisa. She is easy to be around, laid back and well mannered. But she is also very sensitive and is protective of her right side. When she is around other horses, she likes to keep them on the left side so she can keep her eye on them.
Lisa’s biggest responsibility is keeping Rosa calm. She learned that Rosa is more comfortable warming up being ponied, so she rides another horse and leads her to get her ready to run. And, Rosa has taught Lisa to be more patient.
“I’ve always tried to fit the horse and do what’s best for the horse,” she said. “I wanted to do things my way, but Rosa’s way was different than mine. She absorbs more walking than with speed. It’s different, accommodating her. It’s a roller coaster and I’ve tried to learn to be better about the lows. I was so spoiled with Louie. It’s hard on a person’s confidence. Sometimes I start grasping when I’m riding out the storms. I’ve gotten better about that.”
As Rosa’s vision got worse, Lisa tried switching her pattern and running her to the right first so that her final two turns would be on the left. While it made sense on paper, it didn’t make sense to Rosa and she didn’t clock like she does going the other direction.
Lisa listened to Rosa. This year, Cheyenne’s rodeo had a tournament-style format. After winning the qualifier, they came back and won their quarter finals. In the semifinals, Rosa caught a shoe, stumbled and still got them a fourth-place check and got them back to the Finals where they finished in fifth.
“She is so capable. She is a fleet-footed athlete. Her acceleration is unbelievable,” Lisa said. “She can be running as fast as she can, slide to a stop, turn and go again. She is all or nothing.”
That all or nothing gives Lisa hope but also is part of the puzzle. And while she knows how capable Rosa is, she also has Prime Diamond “Cutter” in the trailer who has returned from injury. Cutter is the horse that took her to the 2019 Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo championship. And while she is working hard to keep her horses confident, she has an awesome support system to encourage and keep her going. When she and Rosa put things together and have a picture-perfect run, it’s a reminder that sometimes what you don’t see is not nearly as important as what you do.