"If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be a top professional barrel racer with a reality TV show, I would have said you were crazy," reports Darcy LePier. Yet, here she is with Rodeo Girls set to debut soon on A&E TV and a bucket full of belt buckles attesting to her success in the sport. The show is about Darcy's realities and those of her fellow rodeo circuit pro barrel racers, but it's really about the fact that you can do whatever you want to do.
"I am living proof of that," she asserts.
Darcy made her first barrel run in 2004 and went on to be that year's top rookie money earner. It marked the start of a second career and, in many ways, her coming out party in a new life.
An Oregon native, Darcy began as a model and actress. She was a "Hawaiian Tropic girl" and later married the suntan lotion company's founder, Ron Rice. A second marriage to actor Jean-Claude Van Damme kept her in the tabloids. Her third marriage, to Herbal Life founder Mark Hughes, ended when he died, in 2000, just a year into their union. Reeling from that, Darcy moved back to Oregon and now lives half an hour from Portland on her Bellerive Ranch in Newburg.
On returning to Oregon, Darcy attended a rodeo with her father and, not long after, she had horses and was hauling them 125 miles to Rocky Top Arena in Washington for lessons with Viki Freidrich. She had very little riding experience and, at 36, some fear to cope with, especially about going fast. "You have to take that part in steps," she explains of learning to ride and race almost simultaneously. "But once you have your foundation, then speed becomes technical and it comes naturally."
She's now raising and training her own horses. Darcy's homebreds include babies from Dash Ta Fame mares and the stallion, Frenchmens Guy, both famous names in the barrel racing world. At the moment, she has four colts at home, in keeping with one of her convictions: "I don't want any more horses than I can physically work with myself. If I have any more they would become somebody else's horses. If it's babies, I want to be the one to put my hands on them, put halters on them, load them in and out of the trailer over and over again. If it's my rodeo horses, I want to ride them everyday."
"We barrel racers are almost psychotic about making sure our horses have everything they need," she continues. Youngsters often spend time on the racetrack learning to run, but the main goal for her seasoned barrel racers is keeping them relaxed and fit in between rodeos. Long-trotting is a preferred means of conditioning, often done on Bellerive's riverside trails.
Rodeo Girls has eight episodes in the can and is set to air at the end of this year or early next year. While filming those episodes and doing the public relations tour that followed, Darcy hasn't had much time to keep up her standings. "As the captain of this ship, it's been hard to barrel race and rodeo this summer," she explains. Letting others keep her horses tuned up is not Darcy's preferred modus operandi. "At the level I like to and can ride at, you really need your rear end to be in that saddle with your horse. We are putting our lives in each other's hands, so you really need to know what's going on in your horse's life and to be in synch." Even in that ideal mode, barrel racing is a dangerous sport. Darcy's injuries include a broken arm and a neck injury fixed with a plate and six screws.
The Renew Gold-sponsored racer's PR circuit for Rodeo Girls included interviews on the Jimmy Kimmel Show and with People Magazine. The most frequently asked questions stem from wondering why Darcy chooses to work so hard at the sport and perceptions that rodeo riders are not too smart.
"A lot of people can't get over the fact that I actually get out there and have calluses," Darcy relays. "My answer is that we love our horses and we take care of them. That's a big part of the sport. And, we aren't dumb." Her barrel racing friends include lawyers, business owners, philanthropists and plenty of educated and sophisticated women.
The show focuses on the whole of a barrel racer's life. It's not fixated on competitions leading up to the National Finals Rodeo or another event, but will look instead at the day-to-day realities of the lifestyle: caring for their horses, hauling them long distances, the impact of being on the road so much, etc. In Darcy's case, two of her three children, daughters Sterling and Maddy, understand her passion very well because they are barrel racers themselves. (Her son Nicholas is an actor.)
The show has been on Darcy's drawing board for some time, and she's thrilled to have the Weinstein Company and A&E behind it. She acknowledges that they are plenty of shows about women. "But there's never really been a show about kick-butt women," she states. "Rodeo Girls is it and we are really excited about it!"