One year ago at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo barrel racer Lindsay Sears set rodeo fans on fire by winning five out of 10 rounds riding her great horse Martha.
While she had a huge amount of success and finished the year in second place behind Brittany Pozzi-Pharr, it wasn't what she set out to do. Sears, from Nanton, Alberta, had her heart set on a world title and ventured back onto the rodeo trail in 2008 with a vengeance.
She won RodeoHouston, Cheyenne Frontier Days, The River City Roundup in Omaha and The Wrangler ProRodeo Tour Championship in Dallas, and entered rodeo's championship event in the number one spot setting a new record for regular season earnings with $184,567. She won the $100,000 bonus round at the Calgary Stampede and is the first one to give credit where credit is due, to her phenomenal horse Martha.
Sears and Martha-registered as Sugar Moon Express, the AQHA Barrel Racing Horse of the Year-started their journey together in 2006. Martha was just six years old and helped qualify Sears for her first NFR. However, Martha was injured and didn't get to show her talent in the Thomas and Mack Arena until 2007, where the duo won $119,255.
They bettered their earnings this year at $139,002 and again won five out of 10 rounds and placed in another three. While their trip didn't start out the way that Sears had hoped, it finished better than she could have planned. A solid run in the first round saw them in the middle of the 15-woman field. Round two saw a tipped barrel and five-second penalty. Sears didn't let the disappointment keep her from coming back and if anything it set a fire in her and Martha.
They came back in the third round with the fast time of 13.91 seconds. That was the first of five rounds that they would win. Their fastest run, a 13.53 in the ninth round, was one tick off the arena record, and the fastest of the rodeo. Rounds four and five went to Pozzi-Pharr; six, seven, eight and nine were all Sears and Martha.
"I can't say enough good things about Martha," Sears said. "She is an amazing horse and we have a unique partnership. I'm so blessed to have her. There are no words to describe her, I'm just speechless when it comes to Martha."
Sears has a huge support system in friends, family and people that have helped her to keep Martha healthy, happy and sound. They carefully chose the rodeos that they entered during the year and worked hard to win money at those.
From the outside, it looks like a fairy tale season. While things did go her way, the fairy tale was part of a carefully constructed plan that happened to come together.
"A lot of things went right," Sears said. "We worked really hard all year, and had a great NFR. It's satisfying and rewarding to see that work pay off."
After winning the eighth round of this year's NFR, the title was all theirs, but it wasn't until the rodeo was over that Sears wanted to acknowledge it. Instead, she preferred to take it one run at a time and concentrate on the action.
"I didn't keep up with the money or do any figuring," she said. "I just wanted to focus on my runs and keep the end goal in sight."
At the rate they are going, Sears and Martha have the potential to go down in history as one of the great barrel racing duos in rodeo. Martha is just eight years old and has many more wins ahead of her. Rodeo has seen Charmayne James and Scamper, Kristi Peterson and Bozo, Sherry Cervi and Hawk, Kelly Kaminski and Rocky. Lindsay Sears and Martha could definitely join the list and have the potential to win many more world titles.
"Martha matured so much in 2007," Sears said. "She now allows me to make mistakes and compensates for them. That in a barrel horse is what you need."
Sears and Martha will go down in history books for all the new records they set in 2008. Sears will also be recognized for being the first Canadian to bring back the title.
Jill Moody from Letcher, S.D., won the average title with a total time of 140.11 seconds on ten runs. She and Meagan Riechert were the only two women to have 10 clean runs. She and her great eight-year-old mare Dolly also won the first round for the second consecutive year.
One of the biggest surprises in the competition came in the fourth round. Brittany Pozzi-Pharr and Stitch were at the top of the leader board. While it's not unusual to find them in first place, it was a surprise to find out that this was the first NFR go-round buckle that they ever received.
There was not a lot of drama to this year's world championship. Sears set out to win it, entered in first place and left in first place. That's not to say that it wasn't exciting. With over 17,000 screaming fans cheering for the women of rodeo, the money at stake and the electricity that surrounds the NFR, this year's barrel racing was super charged.