Every year in early December, hundreds of thousands of people flock to Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo. What many of those spectators don’t know is that the NFR is only one of the attractions taking place over the course of those ten days.
Behind the scenes of the Super Bowl of rodeo, a wide variety of high-stakes jackpots are held at various other venues. Team ropers and barrel racers, especially, have many reasons to make the trek to Vegas, as Darren and Leeann Ridley of Las Animas, Colo., know.
Loading up Leeann’s barrel horses and Darren’s rope horses, the Ridleys hit the road to make the nearly 14-hour trip to Las Vegas where Leeann would compete in the All-In Barrel Race, and Darren would compete in a variety of United States Team Roping Championships jackpots and qualifiers.
Darren had the cards stacked just right to make for a great week.
“I won the number 12 with Lance Allen at the South Point qualifier, outside, which qualifies me to go back to Vegas next year. They have those qualifiers every day. Then I won third in the number eight with Marty Miller, then tenth in another number eight which was a draw pot,” Ridley said of his week.
The number 12 paid $23,760, which left Ridley and Allen with $11,880 a piece once split. Ridley said this was one of his most memorable within the team roping to date, and capped off a very successful year of team roping, adding to the $12,000 he took home in September from Amarillo, Texas.
“Jason DeVore and I won second in World Series of Team Roping’s ADVO Roping which was pretty cool. That is a big roping, and there was a lot of tough ropers there,” Ridley explained. “Earlier in the year, me and Kevin Morlan won a couple of saddles in Loveland (Colo.), and I have been able to keep that going all fall. It has been good.”
Darren rode his go-to mount, Broadway, for all of these winnings. The twelve-year-old brown gelding has been Darren’s favorite since he bought him six years ago from his friend Scott Morlan who started and trained him.
The duo has their sights set next on the American Cowboy number ten, which Ridley qualified for from his win in Amarillo, as well as the upcoming semi-finals for the RFDTV’s American Rodeo. Ridley attributes his success to Gary Haynes and the entire Morlan family, who have been there to help and support him anytime he needed it, and push him to be better every day at practice.
Though they were in Las Vegas together, Darren only got to watch his wife Leeann run barrels twice over the course of the eight days they were there, and Leeann just got to watch Darren rope a few time as well.
“The most exciting part of the week, hands down, was getting the call that Darren had just on the ten. He works so hard at his roping, and he truly deserves every win he gets,” Leeann said of her husband.
Leeann also had a great week running barrels, winning 4th in the 4D in the second All-In race on Ed, a 14-year-old gelding. She also earned a few checks in the second and third go-rounds, both on Ed and Frenchie, a 14-year-old mare. With her entries in the All-In race, the Ridleys also got to stay and keep Leeann’s horses at the Orleans hotel. Towards the end of their stay, they capitalized on their location and went to a Cirque Du Soleil show.
“The show was completely in the water,” Leeann elaborated on their night out. “It was absolutely incredible to see, Darren thought it was the best show we have been to yet. That was our only real night out, but after eight days we were ready to get home.”
The Ridley’s two youngest kids, Denton and Roree stayed with Leeann’s parents for the week, as they drove straight through to Las Vegas, but next year they hope the kids will be able to jump on a plane with their grandparents and at least come for a weekend while they are there. The Ridley’s got home in time for Darren’s oldest daughter, Paige, to come up from Houston for the Holidays.