By Jolee Jordan
Caldwell, Idaho — Rodeo fans are amongst the most loyal and dedicated in the entire sports world but there’s one place where the fans are actually part of the event itself. Every year at the Caldwell Night Rodeo, the spectators are divided into the “Civies” and the “Rowdys” and pitted against each other during each of the five performances in their own competition to see who can be the best at cheering on the professional rodeo athletes inside the arena.
“The crowds are always amazing,” notes four-time WPRA World Champion Sherry Cervi.
Caldwell’s tag line for advertising is “Where the Cowboys are the Stars,” a nod to a disastrous rodeo in 1965 featuring a paid entertainer and the Caldwell committee’s commitment ever since to only making the cowboys the center of the show.
There is perhaps no bigger star within the ranks of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) today than Cervi. Her name already strewn across the WPRA record books, Cervi added the historical milestone of passing $3 million in career earnings back in March; consider than only five PRCA cowboys have reached this mark—and four competed in more than one event—and Cervi’s accomplishment is that much more incredible.
Despite her historical moment, Cervi found herself in a chase as the height of the summer run began over the Fourth of July. The Marana, Ariz., cowgirl was outside the top 15 in the WPRA World standings.
Over the course of her two decades of dominance in professional barrel racing, Cervi has been in nearly every position, from leading the way and setting earnings records to battling to the final weekend just to get to Las Vegas for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR).
“When the summer started, I didn’t have much won and I hadn’t been in that position in awhile,” Cervi says. Since she began running her great homegrown mare Stingray, registered MP Meter My Hay, full time Cervi had enjoyed early season success but Stingray saw only limited action in the winter of 2016, leaving Cervi with ground to make up.
She found help in the form of the sorrel gelding Arson, owned by reigning WPRA World Champion Callie duPerier Apffel, the same horse whom Cervi had jump rode at the 2015 WNFR, winning the tenth go round in the rodeo’s fastest time.
“I got him the day before I ran in Reno,” says Cervi of her recent partnership, adding that it took a little time for her to get with the super fast son of legendary sire Dash Ta Fame. “Over the Fourth, our timing wasn’t very good but I think we’ve got it down.”
Beginning to gather steam through late July and into August, Cervi arrived at the Caldwell Night Rodeo inside the top 15 at 11th in the standings.
Caldwell places no limits on the number of competitors it accepts and all the ladies competed in the opening go round during the slack on the morning of the first performance, held this year on Tuesday, August 16. The fastest 48 from that round moved into the four performances with the rest of the ladies running right back in that same slack.
At the conclusion of the fourth performance on Friday evening, the top 12 in the two-head average earned a trip back to the most raucous short go in rodeo, the Caldwell Finals.
Cervi wasted no time on her first run, posting a lightening quick 17.28 second effort to win the round.
“It was the best, the smoothest run we’ve had yet this summer,” noted Cervi, who is sponsored by Classic Equine, Martin Saddlery, Texas Landman, Resistol, Hesston, Justin Boots, Oxy-Gen, Back on Track, Renew Gold, Silver Lining Herbs, ReVita Vet, Formula One Noni, Toyota and Elgin Vet Clinic. “He just worked so good.”
Noting that switching between Stingray and Arson isn’t difficult, Cervi points out that their styles are quite different.
“It’s not hard because they’re both such nice horses,” she says. “Arson runs hard and then he drops in there and turns really hard. He’s pretty free and long strided, even though he’s not a big horse.”
Trading her second round to run back that same night in the opening performance, Cervi stayed consistent with a run of 17.44.
“The ground gets a little firmer in the perf and we just got by the first a little but I just wanted to stay consistent and we did,” she says. With a two-run total of 34.72 seconds, Cervi took the lead for the title.
While other competitors headed to the Northwest for rodeos in Canby (Ore.) and Moses Lake (Wash.) or to Idaho rodeos in Gooding and Burley, Cervi opted to try a run of Montana rodeos where she hadn’t previously competed.
“It was a little bit of a drive but Baker (Mont.) featured the team roping with $15,000 added so we went there and to Billings,” notes Cervi, who is traveling with her husband Cory Petska, who is battling for his own spot in Las Vegas. Arson took the rest of the week off with Cervi taking other horses on the trip.
Meanwhile, the field got tighter and tighter in Caldwell. Darby Fox and Easy French Alibi ran in the Friday night performance and posted a 17.22 for the second round win. Cervi finished ninth in that go but held her average lead. Just eighteen one-hundredths of a second separated Cervi from seventh ranked Jane Melby as the finals got underway.
“It was so close and I knew it was going to be a tough barrel race,” Cervi said of final round strategy. With the Caldwell directors hand-raking after each barrel racer, the field ran from slowest to fastest, leaving Cervi as the final runner of the night.
Kelsey Lutjen wowed the crowd in the short go with the rodeo’s fastest time aboard her mare J-Lo, winning the round with a 17.15. Melby was second at 17.22.
Cervi ran just out of the round money but her 17.38 was enough to claim her second Caldwell title . . . barely.
“I just tried to go make the best run we could and luckily it was enough,” she says. Her three-run total time of 52.10 seconds was just two one-hundredths ahead of Melby and seven one hundredths ahead of Amberleigh Moore.
Her total bank was $5,055, moving her season total north of $75,000 but Cervi isn’t ready to talk about what would be her record-tying 19th trip to the WNFR.
“I don’t feel safe yet. I need to win a little more but I am excited to have the chance to get back again.”
After so many seasons, Cervi has learned not to panic over her position in the World standings, no matter where she is ranked.
“You can’t worry about it, that’s rodeo. There is going to be another one and you work to take advantage of those opportunities,” the veteran notes. “Of course, that’s easier said than done sometimes. It can be a struggle out here on the road and it does get hard.”
As the champion in Caldwell, Cervi also received a set of spurs, a large Yeti cooler, a Dewalt drill and impact wrench set. She gave credit to the dynamic sorrel gelding who has been carrying her for most of her summer runs.
“I wouldn’t be here without Arson,” she says. “I’m thrilled I get to ride him.”
“He’s a lot of fun to ride.”
For more information on the Caldwell Night Rodeo, visit them on-line at www.caldwellnightrodeo.com.
1. Sherry Cervi, 17.28 seconds, Dash Ta Diamonds, $1,913
2. Benette Little, 17.36, Ms. Carrie Lou, $1,639
3. Brittany Kelly, 17.37, Freckles on My Badge, $1,366
4. Amberleigh Moore, 17.38, CP Dark Moon, $1,184
5. Ivy Conrado, 17.40, CFour Tibbie Stinson, $911
6. Jane Melby, 17.41, Brookstone Jo, $729
7. Jana Griemsman, 17.50, Chase It With Brandy, $546
8. Kimmie Wall, 17.51, TKW Bullys Famous Fox, $364
9. Christine Laughlin, 17.52, Guys Six Pack to Go, $273
10. Stevi Hillman, 17.57, Cuatro Fame, $182
1. Darby Fox, 17.22 seconds, Easy French Alibi, $1,913
2. Hillman, 17.31, $1,639
3. Moore, 17.36, $1,366
4. Michele McLeod, 17.37, Stitches Honor N Fame, $1,184
5. Kelly, 17.39, $911
6. Andrea Busby, 17.40, Kellies Chick, $729
7. Danna Jo Whitford, 17.41, Blazin Plan, $546
8. Sammi Bessert, 17.43, Terrible Tommy Twist, $364
9. Cervi, 17.44, $273
10. Little, 17.45, $182
1. Kelsey Lutjen, 17.15 seconds, KN Fabs Gift of Fame, $1,417
2. Melby, 17.22, $1,063
3. Bessert, 17.24, $708
4. Hillman, 17.34, $354
1. Cervi, 52.10 seconds on three head, $2,869
2. Melby, 52.12, $2,459
3. Moore, 52.17, $2,049
4. Hillman, 52.22, $1,776
5. Bessert, 52.39, $1,366
6. Lutjen, 52.40, $1,093
7. Fox, 52.49, $820
8. Little, 52.57, $546
9. Kim Schulze, 52.75, Vegaspeed, $410
10. Katelyn McLeod, 52.84, Apt to Be Special, $273
Total Money Won
Michele McLeod, $1,184
Griemsman & Whitford, $546
Katelyn McLeod & Laughlin, $273
Courtesy of WPRA