By Neal Reid
It’s not often a second-place finish can be a monumental moment for a barrel racer, but that was exactly the case for Keyla Polizello Costa in Rapid City, South Dakota, on Feb. 6.
The native Brazilian—perhaps known by most in the rodeo world as the wife of 2017 World Champion Tie-Down Roper Marcos Costa—finally earned her long-awaited breakthrough with a runner-up finish at Rodeo Rapid City. Riding an 11-year-old mare named Spotlight, Polizello Costa stopped the clock in 11.91 seconds to take second behind Randee Prindle (11.80), pocketing $4,347 in the process.
The money for the career-best finish was far from the most important aspect of what occurred at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center for Polizello Costa, who had been struggling to adjust to U.S. rodeos after years of success in her home country.
“In Rapid City, there were a lot of emotions for me because, when I left my family [back home], I cried a bunch,” said Polizello Costa, who was 24th in the WPRA World Standings through Feb. 22. “When you start in a new country and you’re not winning anything, it’s so, so hard. I think God made me strong, hard-working and to never give up.
“It was so, so good for me. After my run, I put my knees on the ground and said, ‘Thank you Lord, because you put me here.’”
Fate brought her to the United States after she and Marcos fell in love and tired of dating long distance after three years. The couple was married in November of 2018, and they initially lived in a guest house on the ranch of 2008 World Champion Tie-Down Roper Stran Smith and wife, Jennifer, as Marcos trained and competed and Keyla adjusted to life in a new world.
“Stran and Jennifer were so good to us and helped us a lot,” Polizello Costa said.
She left everything she’d known, including a successful horse-selling business, to be with her new husband and admits it was a tough transition.
“When I left Brazil, it was pretty crazy,” said Polizello Costa, who has a journalism degree from Sao Jose do Rio Preto University in Brazil. “I left 24 horses, the ranch, everything in Brazil. When I moved, I didn’t have a horse for barrels.
“When I sold everything, I said, ‘Marcos, I need to start slow here and learn, because this is another country and I don’t know anything.’ It was very, very hard to start here.”
Polizello Costa filled her permit in 2017 and was a rookie the following year, learning the ins and outs of American-style barrel racing, along with the language and customs as she went.
“After a year, I was not winning anything,” said Polizello Costa, who will celebrate her 35th birthday on March 12. “I was just learning, and there was a lot of disappointment. I learned a lot about how to ride here, what the ground and arenas were like, everything.
“It’s so different running here than Brazil and was hard for me to learn. Here, arenas have alleys, but in Brazil, 95 percent don’t have alleys.”
Luckily, she received a warm welcome from her fellow WPRA competitors, including the elite barrel racers who have dominated in recent years.
“All the girls here, like Hailey Kinsel, Nellie Miller, Dona Kay Rule, it’s unbelievable how good these cowgirls have been for me,” Polizello Costa said. “Everybody helped me with a word or something, and I have a really good relationship with everyone here. I’m blessed. I’ve learned a lot from these cowgirls.”
She learned a lot about riding horses and competing as a young child, along with her older sister, Kelly, and brother, Luiz Augusto, as their parents, Maria and Augusto, looked on. Polizello Costa started riding at the age of 3, competing at 5 and began going to bigger rodeos in Brazil at the ripe age of 7 while continuing to soak up knowledge like a sponge on the family ranch.
She would go on to become a six-time Barretos world champion and built her thriving horse-selling business while working for her father’s company, Kelly Metais, as a marketer and running barrels on the weekends. Love brought her to the U.S. and carried her through growing pains as she learned and worked to improve.
Now settled on hers and Marcos’ 22-acre ranch in Tolar, Texas, Polizello Costa is optimistic for the future. Not only does she have a budding star in Spotlight in her stable, but a 6-year-old gray mare named Crystal she bought in Brazil also is rounding into form, recently carrying her to a jackpot win in Glen Rose, Texas, against more than 200 other competitors.
Now, with a runner-up paycheck in Rapid City to her credit, she is smiling wide, but does not yet have any thoughts of trying to join her husband at the National Finals Rodeo.
“I think I’m not ready and prepared for this right now,” she said. “I’m still learning, and I think I have a long way to go. I need more time. I’m kind of like a baby here and need to learn a lot of things.”
That learning process took a big step forward in South Dakota, and the devout Polizello Costa is filled with hope in her adopted country.
“I love it here,” she said. “I love the people, and you’re working with what you love to do. I think I’m here because God put me here. I pray every day for what I’m doing, and God is so good to me bringing me here.”