Like a hot roller at the craps table, Carlee Pierce is going to keep rolling down the road from rodeo to rodeo as long as the paychecks keep coming.
And right now, the Freedom High School graduate is on a hot streak.
Pierce, 31, is now the top barrel racer in the country. She is leading the world standings after finishing second and winning $27,200 earlier this month in Houston.
At the Houston Rodeo, she came within 1/100th of a second of winning the barrel racing, which would have earned her an additional $30,000.
She already has won $68,000 since January and is a cinch to qualify for her second National Finals Rodeo this season.
Competing in her first NFR last year, Pierce set an arena record with a run of 13.46 seconds. She finished fifth in the average and fifth in the world standings.
Now, she is making her first appearance in the National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City. She was second after Thursday's opening round and will make her second run Saturday.
“It's an honor just to make it,” she said of the National Circuit Finals Rodeo, which takes the top two barrel racers from each of 12 regions or “circuits” in the country. “It's tough to be in the top two in any circuit.”
Rodeo always was a part of Pierce's life while growing up in Freedom. But only in the last two years has she and her husband, Steve, really lived the rodeo life of constant travel and hauling horses from one rodeo to the next.
“Now, it's just kind of consumed our lives,” Pierce said. “I paid my dues. Some people think you just jump in the truck and go. It's a lot harder than that.”
They keep traveling because Pierce keeps winning. Since buying Rare Dillion last April — a horse that Anesa Self qualified to the NFR on in 2000 — Pierce has been riding high.
The 12-year-old buckskin gelding has run harder and faster for Pierce than for any of his previous owners.
“He and I just clicked,” Pierce said of Rare Dillion. “We have had a really tight bond since the day I bought him. He is probably the most important part. It takes a real good horse to get (to the NFR).”
She already has won almost $136,000 on Rare Dillion and will get a shot to win another $100,000 at this year's Calgary Stampede. Pierce has been invited this year for the first time to compete in the prestigious Canadian rodeo.
But before that, she will try to win this weekend's rodeo in Oklahoma City and become a national champion. Pierce and her family moved to Stephenville, Texas, in October, but she will have a big cheering section of family and friends at State Fair Arena on Saturday.
Even though she now lives in Texas, Pierce always will call Oklahoma her home.
“That's something that can never change,” she said.