Article by Kailey Sullins. Photos by Kenneth Springer. First published in the May 2016 issue of Barrel Horse News.
Rodeo Houston is admittedly one of Cervi’s favorite rodeos, and coincidentally she says the tournament-style rodeo suits MP Meter My Hay as well. So it seems fitting that Cervi and her gorgeous palomino mare “Stingray” should accomplish such a feat in stylish fashion at one of their favorite rodeos.
“It’s a pretty cool accomplishment,” Cervi said. “I’ve been able to ride a lot of great horses that helped me get to that milestone, and I’m really thankful I was on Stingray when I crossed that one; it makes it a little more special. Houston’s my favorite rodeo—it’s always been special to me. It’s just a really cool place, and so the fact it was at Houston on Stingray—I won’t probably ever forget that run.”
Cervi went into Rodeo Houston with only $7,234 separating her from the $3 million mark. Aboard Stingray, she was quick to close that gap, winning the first two rounds of Super Series III with a 14.43 and 14.38, respectively. The two round-wins garnered the four-time WPRA World Champion $6,000, putting her that much closer to the milestone.
“I knew at the [National Finals Rodeo] that I was close, but you know, I didn’t have a very good Finals and by the end of the Finals I was just hoping to have a dollar by my name. It worked out, and I won a little bit,” Cervi said of the 2015 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo where she won round 10, earning her $26,231 as well as fifth in the aggregate, worth another $22,846. “Then I kind of forgot about it. When I got to Houston before the third run I actually saw somebody posted something about it on Facebook, and it made me think, ‘Oh! I actually am close.’ I was a little nervous, because I wanted to do it [at Houston]—I think I had to win $1,200, and sometimes that’s easier said than done. It was a really cool night.”
Cervi and Stingray’s success at Houston was impressive enough without surpassing the record in career earnings, simply because of how strong of a showing they had—especially considering Rodeo Houston was Stingray’s first run back after a three-month break following the 2015 NFR.
“I hadn’t run Stingray since the NFR in December, so those were her first runs back,” the Marana, Arizona, cowgirl said. “I was excited to run her, because I know she likes that rodeo. She worked really good, she felt good, ran hard and the last run I kept telling myself, ‘Don’t safety up,’ because you don’t really safety up on Stingray, and it was really tough. I knew I needed to be fast and try to win as much money as I could, and she was just consistent the whole way through. I didn’t make the semifinals, but I was happy with how she worked coming off a three-month vacation.”
In the third round of Super Series III, Cervi and Stingray showed the world once again their incredible talent by punctuating their mark on rodeo history. The duo topped the round with a 14.29, pocketing another $3,000, thus pushing Cervi over the edge as the WPRA’s first $3 million cowgirl.
“It definitely is really special, because honestly when I look back I never saw myself being here,” Cervi said. “I wanted to be a barrel racer; I wanted to be at the NFR. I’ve had a great career and been able to win and have success and it’s humbling to look back and think that I struggled in barrel racing when I was younger and in high school. I’m very thankful for what I’ve accomplished, and there have definitely been ups and downs and that’s helped me become the person I am. You learn to be grateful for the good times, because sometimes you don’t have that horse that can get you to that top level. So I appreciate the horses I’ve been able to ride, because that’s really the best part about the whole thing is the relationships and the horses I’ve had.”
Although she didn’t advance from the semifinals to the championship round at Houston, adding $9,000 to her Rodeo Houston career earnings goes down in the books alongside her four Rodeo Houston championship titles. Cervi was only 19 years old when she won her first Rodeo Houston title in 1995, which was also the first year she laid claim to the WPRA World Champion Barrel Racer title. Then, she added back-to-back titles in Houston in 2000 and 2001.
In 2010, Cervi had a big year when she won her fourth Rodeo Houston title, making her the first WPRA cowgirl to do so on three different horses: Sir Double Delight (“Troubles”), Jet Royal Speed (“Hawk”) and Stingray. That same year at Houston, she set a record for WPRA earnings at a regular-season rodeo. In 2010 she also became the first WPRA cowgirl to surpass the $2 million mark in career earnings, passing prior record holder Charmayne James with $1.9 million. In fact, she is the only cowgirl in WPRA history to do so, and only six women have earned $1 million.
The 18-time NFR qualifier says the road wasn’t without its struggles, but persistence will pay and she advises every aspiring barrel racer to work hard and stay determined.
“There’s ups and downs that come with it, and you just have to ride it out and stay hooked and focus on what you want—your end goal. Not that my end goal was to pass the million, but just to last and stay hooked and try to be successful and be competitive,” Cervi said. “I think you work hard and eventually it does pay off.”
Cervi remains gracious of her accomplishments, thanking her family for the opportunities she’s had.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without the horses I’ve been able to ride,” Cervi said.
Kailey Sullins is managing editor of Barrel Horse News. Email comments on this article to [email protected].