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Lisa Lockhart

Circle native Lisa Lockhart will be competing at her 12th consecutive National Finals Rodeo. The NFR begins Thursday in Las Vegas. Lockhart is fourth in the world standings.

BILLINGS — If Lisa Lockhart was a team coach, she would call it a “Game day decision.”

And in a sense, Lockhart is the coach.

She is the leader of “Team Lockhart,” a collection of family and friends who have helped and supported to 12 consecutive National Finals Rodeo qualifications.

Now the world-class barrel racer is grappling with a decision that probably won’t be finalized until Thursday, the first round of the NFR in Las Vegas.

Does she ride Louie, her 15-year-old wonder horse that has carried her to the bulk of her almost $2.4 million in career earnings and more than a $1 million at the Thomas and Mack Center …

Or does she opt for Rosa, an eight-year old mare that got the call most of this summer as Lockhart enters the NFR fourth place in the world standings with $123,515 won for 2018?

“That is the million-dollar question,” said Lockhart, managing a laugh about her dilemma. “Do I stick with sameness in Louie or do I go with Rosa, who deserves the chance?”

The two buckskin horses are similar in color — but differ in direction. Louie goes to the right at the first barrel, while Rosa turns left.

And the two offer different talents.

Louie offers metronomic delivery, having gone 80 consecutive trips around the barrels since in his NFR debut in 2010. Louie carried Lockhart to NFR average titles in 2014 and 2016, along with the NFR average record in 2016 and runner-up finishes in the world standings in 2014 and 2015.

“Louie, what he’s done speaks for itself. His consistency,” Lockhart said.

Rosa, according to Lockhart, is a tick faster in the arena. “She’s more all or nothing,” added the barrel racer.

Lockhart rode Rosa during her heavy competitive months of July and August and won the Badlands Circuit average title again on the horse in November.

“I did split them up this summer,” said Lockhart. “I did run Rosa more, to season her up. She got the call and definitely came into her own. Either horse will get the job done. It’s kind of nice to have the problem.”

Lockhart vaulted into NFR contention early with a strong winter, which included big checks in San Antonio, Houston, San Angelo and Austin, Texas. She won Austin for $9,400.

“Oh my gosh, I had an amazing winter,” she said. “It’s always nice to get off to a good start. It enabled me to stay around home until the end of June.”

Lockhart pulled off the road for the spring, focusing on her children’s activities. She and her husband also expanded their place in Oelrichs, South Dakota, purchasing some additional land across the border in Nebraska.

“We have cattle and 30 horses, from young ones to geriatrics, all hanging their heads on the fence looking for a job,” Lockhart said.

She and her daughter Alyssa spent June together, competing at circuit rodeos in South Dakota and North Dakota. Alyssa Lockhart competed on her WPRA permit.

“It was so much fun. It was so special to do that with her,” said the mother.

The two parted ways on July 5 with daughter heading back home and Lockhart hitting the road. She finished third at Cheyenne Frontier Days for another $7,145. Lockhart also won her hometown rodeo in Circle for the second straight year and fourth time in her career.

She entered just 43 rodeos in 2018, second fewest among the top 30, and headed back home at the end of August.

“It was a busy time,” she said of her final two summer months. “It was nice it came together at the right time.”

Lockhart enters her 12th NFR $69,319 behind standings leader Hailey Kinsel of Cotulla, Texas.

While not sure what horse she will ride, Lockhart’s approach remains the same.

“It’s unnerving right now not knowing,” she said. “But it’s the same game plan like every year. One run at a time.”

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Email Joe Kusek at joe.kusek@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJoe

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