Amber Moore won the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo barrel racing competition in Las Vegas earlier this month. The NFR is the premier rodeo event in the nation. (Submitted)

Amber Moore won the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo barrel racing competition in Las Vegas earlier this month. The NFR is the premier rodeo event in the nation. (Submitted)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

In September, most of the women who were headed to the 2016 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) earlier this month had already secured their spot. Keizer’s Amber “Amberleigh” Moore was still on the bubble.

“I was ranked about 16th or 17th and only the top 15 get to go. It’s all based on total winnings from the last year,” said Moore.

She didn’t expect to be as close as she was. This year was supposed to set up a run at the “Super Bowl of Rodeo” in 2017, but her horse Paige, who competes as CP Dark Moon, had been defying expectations all year long.

Moore, who grew up in Eugene and moved to Keizer about 16 years ago, has been riding barrel races competitively for as long as she can remember. For just as long, she’s held tightly to a dream of making it to the big stage in Las Vegas, which hosts the NFR.

“It’s the thing that every little girl who starts out riding dreams of,” Moore, 48, said.

Moore turned pro three years ago, about the same time that she bought Paige, who was 3 years old at the time, from a friend-of-a-friend in Blackwood, Idaho.

“You move up when you get a horse that comes along that takes you where you want to go. It’s not easy and it’s highly competitive. You have to make sure you have a horse that’s ready for that when you head out the door,” Moore said.

In the years since, Paige has become a beast of the barrel racing circuit. Starting this past spring, Moore and Paige have won or placed in nearly every competition they set their sights on.

“Through her career, she has broken records and done everything I could ask her to do. This year, I wanted to position her for all the things I wanted her to do next year, like going to the NFR. They say the first year is the learning curve, and you learn what is going to be needed for the second year. Paige skipped that and went right to the top,” Moore said.

All of it led up to being on the bubble when Labor Day rolled around earlier this year.

After learning how close she was to making it to the NFR, Moore and Paige set out on a journey that took them to 19 rodeos in 23 days and covered more than 6,000 miles, mostly through the midwest and southwest.

“It meant picking up our lives and hitting the road, but that thought is always at the back of your mind when you have a horse like Paige. When you have a chance like this that only 15 other people get each year, you have to take it,” Moore said.

Moore and Paige led the aggregate score heading into the seventh round, but tipped a barrel in the penultimate race. They spent some time working together in the early morning hours before the final race and came back to win the eighth lap with a time of 13.37 seconds – tying the Thomas & Mack Center record set in 2013 – and winning the whole thing. In addition to a $26,000 purse and a Super Bowl-like ring for winning the NFR, Moore racked up nearly $160,000 in other winnings just to make it to the NFR.

The reality of her accomplishment is still setting in, but Moore said she’s never felt anything like it.

“This is the hardest rodeo to make it into. It’s the big stage in Las Vegas and there is nothing more thrilling than running down that track. Now we get to compete against the biggest and best there is,” she said.