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Berry Building on a Family Legacy

In some ways, Leighton Berry was destined to be one of the world’s greatest bareback riders.

He is a second-generation bronc buster. Twenty years ago, his father, Kirby, was wrapping up a pretty steady career. Now, Kirby Berry is busy watching both Leighton and younger brother Kade spur bucking horses across the county.

As the oldest of three children, Leighton Berry has set quite a standard. He finished his fifth regular season in ProRodeo fifth in the world standings, having earned $157,955 through the rigors of the campaign. He will now embark on his third qualification to the National Finals Rodeo, which takes place Dec. 7-16 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

“I just really enjoy making my dad proud and making my family proud,” said Leighton Berry, 24, of Weatherford. “I know whenever I make the NFR, it’s a dream that my dad had; he just didn’t have the support system that I’ve had growing up to get there. I know when my dad is up in the stands for 10 nights in a row watching me perform on the highest level of rodeo that I’m making him proud.”

It probably doesn’t take that much to make is father beam, but Berry is an overachiever in that regard. During his inaugural season in 2019, he finished third the Bareback Riding Resistol Rookie of the Year race, then qualified for the NFR for the first time in the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign.

“My biggest achievement is knowing that I took what my dad didn’t have and built on it,” he said. “My dad made sure that his ceiling was my floor, and he gave me all the opportunities to grow and get better and perfect the skills I need to have in this sport that I’ve grown to love since I was 15 years old.”

He’s done that and more. Just weeks after his initial NFR – which took place in Arlington, Texas, because of the worldwide pandemic – Berry was eager to get his third year rolling. Everything quickly came to a halt, though. He was smashed in the chutes in Odessa, Texas, and suffered a serious mid-back injury that forced him to injured reserve.

He had surgery, then went through months of rehabilitation. He finally returned to action the opening week of August and quickly proved that he was not only healed but was also a force in bareback riding. He battled through the final two months of the season and finished the campaign 23rd in the world standings – only the top 15 on the money list in each event at the end of the regular season qualify for the NFR.

“Missing out on going to Vegas that year really lit a fire under me,” said Berry, who attended Weatherford College and Tarleton State University. “So going to Vegas last year, I felt more like a rookie. Now, I have two NFRs under my belt, but I have two totally different experiences, two totally different vibes.”

He fully understands what it’s like to ride bucking horses for 10 nights in the Nevada desert. He has felt the energy that flows from nearly 18,000 fans packed around a dirt arena about the size of a hockey rink. In fact, he finished the 2022 season third in the world standings with almost $270,000, half of which came last December.

“I think God had a plan for me all along this year,” he said. “Coming off the NFR last year I felt really strong, really confident and capable in my abilities. Coming out third in the world, I just knew I was close to getting a gold buckle and doing it at my first NFR in Vegas. I really understood what it’s going to take, and that’s the way I approached it this year.”

Like many professional sports, a rodeo season can be like a roller coaster with many ups and downs. He went to the Fort Worth (Texas) Stock Show and Rodeo in February with big plans and big intensions, but he was bucked off and left wanting something more. He got that as the winter months continued into spring, making a highlight reel as the Texan rolled through the Texas swing of indoor rodeos.

First he won the title in San Antonio, then he snagged the $50,000 and more at Houston. He concluded it all with the championship in San Angelo. By the time May arrived, he was the No. 1 man in the land, and he had a glimpse of what things looked like from atop the bareback riding mountain.

“I started drawing some good horses when it counted,” Berry said. “Leading up to the four-man in Houston, it was basically a grind for me to even get there. If it wasn’t for one round win in San Antonio, I wouldn’t have moved on. If it wasn’t for one round win in Houston, I wouldn’t have moved on.

“It was still a battle, but once I got to the end, it always shook out the way it needed to, and I ended up having just the right horse to win the rodeo.”

While earning victories in Houston, San Antonio and San Angelo was amazing, he may have done something just as sweet a few weeks later. In June, he won the Parker County Sheriff’s Posse Frontier Days and PRCA Rodeo; it was the third time he’d been crowned the champ in Weatherford.

“No matter how vibrant it feels winning the $50,000 in Houston or tying the arena record in San Antonio on the former world champion bucking horse, those feelings mix right in with being 91 points at my hometown rodeo,” he said. “Even though I’m not going into the NFR No. 1 in the world, I was going into the summer and going to that rodeo.

“I always look forward to my hometown rodeo, which I think is super-underrated. The stands were packed to capacity, and you’ve got everybody from the area coming to support the Parker County kids.”

Berry was one of them, and he was joined by Kade and their sister, Maci, a breakaway roper. All three were in the field that final night in Weatherford.

“The icing on the entire cake of that night was having my family there and my beautiful girlfriend there to watch it,” said Leighton Berry, who credits a great deal of his success to his sponsors, Resistol, Hooey, Capri Campers, Community Coffee, Kyle Zanetti Trailers, Dimond Cain Ranch, Tesky’s Tack Store, and Triple W Metal Buildings.

“Everybody got to watch all three Berry kids. For me, I got to watch my brother go out and make a good ride, then go down on the other end and push my sister’s calf for her. That was a pretty special night for me and for our family.”

The Berrys were raised in nearby Peaster, Texas, an unincorporated town 16 miles northwest of Weatherford. The oldest of the three children – they are separated by two years each, with Maci in the middle – Leighton Berry was always active and involved in rodeo. He was so plugged in that after eighth grade, he asked his folks if he could be homeschooled so he could dedicate more time to roping and rodeo.

“I would rope all week, and then once I got to be 15 or 16 years old, I started craving a roughstock event, so I started riding barebacks and broncs,” he said. “That obviously took off, and I get to do my one true passion, which is bareback riding. I still rope a little bit, but I’m definitely a cowboy at heart.”

It’s a passion, and it’s a lifestyle, on that Berry epitomizes every time he gets ready to ride, especially when it’s time to compete at the NFR.

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