Article by Michael Mahaffey, originally published in the January 2011 issue of BHN.
The eyes of the rodeo world were on Las Vegas, Nev., as the top 15 barrel racers in the world took to the pattern at the Thomas & Mack Center Dec. 2-11 to run in the 2010 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. A trio of former champions— Sherry Cervi, Lindsay Sears and Brittany Pozzi—entered as the top three ladies to beat in the championship standings.
Cervi and her 8-year-old palomino mare, MP Meter My Hay (“Stingray”), showed that the momentum they carried throughout the 2010 regular season was still with them as the NFR unfolded, and she earned her first world championship in 11 years.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” Cervi said of winning the title. “It’s something you dream about when you’re a little girl. This is the third horse that I’ve done it on, and that’s pretty cool. [My two previous world champions] Hawk and Troubles got me to where I’m at. They’re great horses. Stingray is definitely right there ranked with them. I’m a very fortunate person.”
The Year of a Lifetime
Cervi’s journey to her third world title actually started in Las Vegas one year earlier at the 2009 NFR, when she and Stingray earned a pair of go-round wins en route to the ’09 NFR Average title.
They rode that momentum into RODEOHouston in early 2010 and left with a virtual guarantee of making the 2010 NFR after earning more than $60,000 at the event.
“This has just been one of those years that you dream about,” Cervi said. “From a year ago right now, having the Finals I did, having the momentum and the year, winning Houston, and it just kept going. It could end tomorrow, so I’m going to enjoy it while I can and be very grateful for everything that I’ve accomplished and the horses that I’ve been able to ride.
“My goal is always to try to be a real consistent rider. If I’m consistent, then my horse can be consistent. No matter what horse I ride, that’s my goal. The momentum from last year at the Finals just kept going through this year. It’s crazy that I’m here.”
Cervi entered the NFR having earned the most money of her career in the regular season, more than $179,000—an accomplishment for which she gives Stingray much of the credit.
“I’m so proud of her,” she said of her mare. “She has just gotten more solid. She has gotten so much more consistent in the last year and is just getting stronger and stronger. She just tries hard every time. It’s just an unbelievable feeling to ride a horse like that, that gives you 110 percent every time.”
Cervi and Stingray had a slow start in the first go round, placing 10th with a time of 14.30 seconds.
“I’ve run her for two years now, but she still, every once in a while, will look around and act like an inexperienced horse,” Cervi said, “and that’s exactly what happened in the first round. She’s done it at certain places through the year, where she’ll look around maybe the first run. I don’t know why she does it. She just does it, and she happened to do it at the NFR.
“I don’t get too worried because I knew she was trying her best. She was just running hard and wasn’t really paying attention to where she was going. She was just trying to go as fast as she can and wasn’t focused on turning three barrels. Fortunately, she gets stronger the more runs she makes. She’s really a solid horse to ride. If I do my job, she’s going to do hers.”
Stingray and Cervi both did their jobs in the next two rounds, cutting three tenths of a second off their times from the previous rounds each day and ending with the first of three go-round wins in round three. The duo followed the win with a pair of third-place finishes in rounds five and six, the latter of which made Cervi the first barrel racer to pass the $2 million mark in career rodeo earnings—the first of a trio of milestones she would reach at the NFR.
It was an accomplishment Cervi had not been aware was within her grasp until just before the start of the Finals.
“It’s pretty cool,” she said. “I would not be where I’m now without the horses that I’ve ridden. They got me to where I’m at. I’ve definitely learned something from all of them, and I’ve been blessed to be able to throw a leg over them. They taught me to be a winner because as long as you stayed out of their way, you were going to be a winner.”
Although Cervi has been an icon in barrel racing circles since earning her first world title in 1995, excelling at the sport only came after the Arizona cowgirl put in a lot of hard work.
“I struggled when I was younger in high school with horses and learning how to ride them,” Cervi said. “Barrel racing was my worst event. When I high school rodeoed, I did six events, and that was my worst event, but I wanted to be a barrel racer. Good things happen to people that work hard. I didn’t give up, but there were times where I wanted to.
“Rodeo is a hard sport because you can’t go buy a horse at Wal-Mart and learn how to ride, like you can a football and baseball, so I think people don’t understand really how hard it is to ride and to rope, and they don’t appreciate it like they appreciate a football player or a baseball player.”
Cervi and Stingray won their second go-round championship of the NFR in the seventh round, and entered the eighth go second out and at the top of the ground. Cervi said she could tell that Stingray was on the verge of something big. She just didn’t know if it was going to be a spectacular run or a spectacular disaster. She just knew her mare was going to run hard.
As they stepped into the alleyway to make their run, Stingray cut loose and completed the pattern in a mere 13.49 seconds, breaking the NFR record set by Brandie Halls and I Am Not Te (“Slim”) in 2006.
The new record-holding rider said she was shocked when she heard the announcers call out her time.
“I thought, ‘Is this really happening?’” Cervi said. “It was a fun run. [Stingray] was firing. It was kind of a blur. She was going really fast, and I just knew that I needed to ride her how I always do and stay out of her way when I needed to stay out of her way.”
On stage receiving her go-round buckle later that night, Cervi admitted being disappointed that the one person most responsible for the win couldn’t be on stage with her.
“I had a lot of people up on the stage with me, but the most important one that should have been up there on stage with me was Stingray,” she said. “She’s the star. She was born on [my parents’] place, and three years ago, I was watching the NFR in the stands and thought, ‘Man, I’ve got a nice horse. I hope I can be here one day,’ and here we are.
“It’s very cool to be a breeder and have that goal and see it be accomplished on something that was raised [by you.] I ran her dad [PC Frenchmans Hayday (“Dinero”)] here in ’05, and that doesn’t happen very often.”
Cervi and Stingray closed out their NFR run with a fourth-place finish in round nine and threatened to win their second NFR Average title in as many years before tipping the third barrel on their last run.
“It’s definitely been a great barrel race,” Cervi said. “I think it’s been the best event at the rodeo. It’s exciting every night, and that’s what it’s supposed to be.
“I was 18 when I first came here, and you still get that adrenaline rush riding down the alleyway. There’s so much adrenaline here. I hope I’m smarter than I was back then and have learned from my mistakes, but it still is great. You never know when it’s going to end, and I’m very appreciative for it.”
She is also thankful for the opportunity she has had to ride Stingray.
“She’s just a special horse,” Cervi said. “She’s a lot of fun to ride, and she knows she’s special. It’s all about her. She expects to have the attention and likes to be pampered and things done on her terms. It’s pretty cool to have a horse like that.”
With a third world title, the mantle of being the first $2 million cowgirl and the fastest ever National Finals Rodeo run to her credit, as well as an incredibly bright future ahead of her with Stingray, Cervi declined to take credit for her success.
“I have a great support system,” she said. “A great family and friends that have stood behind me and helped me get to where I’m at today. I would not be here without the support of my family.
“My sister and her family—I just can’t stress the support I have. I have a great family on both sides. I’ve had great people help me through the years. My sponsors are awesome. I couldn’t do it without them. I appreciate everything they do for me. There are thousands of people that need to be thanked.”
And, as always, Cervi ended her thanks by remembering her competitive partners.
“Being around the horses I’ve been able to be around and ride them is awesome,” she said. “I’m very fortunate to have had the horses that I have, and I love my horses.
“Being able to ride, compete, get to see the country and meet the friends that I have, I would not trade it.”
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