Article & Photographs by Kenneth Springer, originally published in the April 1997 issue of BHN
For Women’s Professional Rodeo Association members Sherry Potter-Cervi and Fallon Taylor, barrel racing is big business. Between the two, they’ve won $70,262 since Jan.1 and sit one-two in the World standings.
Responsible for the two superstars’ big bankroll is a successful run of the building rodeos. In the world of professional barrel racing, the run of winter rodeos that begin each year in January in Odessa, Texas, and end in March at the Astrodome in Houston are known as “the buildings.” Because most of the rodeos held during this time period are held indoors in conjunction with livestock shows, they are commonly refered to as the “building rodeos.”
The big added-money purses at the “building rodeos” attract large numbers of contestants with each barrel racer hopeful that a successful showing will give them the money and momentum to travel the long rodeo road for the remaining nine months that eventually will lead to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas the first week of December. Year after year, seasoned veterans and rookies alike base their travel plans for the remainder of the year on how well they have done at the “buildings.”
A good showing at the “buildings” warrants traveling hard and entering a lot of rodeos, while a poor showing at the “buildings” is rationale for many to return home and wait for the summer run of rodeos closer to home.
Taylor, who gets her mail at the small north Texas town of Ponder, waited until the biggest building rodeo – the Houston Astrodome – to make her big move. Other than the National Finals Rodeo, Houston is the biggest paying rodeo of the year. The Houston barrel racing purse hit a record $83,623, assuring it the top spot again in 1997.
Youth and talent prevailed over age and experience when Fallon, 14, riding her 7-year-old mare, Flowers A Money, claimed the Houston title.
“Winning Houston is the most important win of my lifetime,” said Fallon. “They give lots of prizes there, including a saddle and buckle. It is only the second saddle I’ve ever won barrel racing.”
In order to win Houston, Fallon had to beat out 1995 World Champion barrel racer Sherry Potter-Cervi. While Sherry calls Midland, Texas, home for the time being, Arizona is where her roots continue to be deeply planted. Sherry led the Houston race until the final go-round on Sunday, March 2 when Fallon made her move forward.
When the times were totaled, Fallon stood at 69.29 seconds on four runs, while Sherry’s total on four came to 69.30 seconds.
“It was so close that I didn’t know I had won until they came and got me for a television interview,” said Fallon. “I thought Sherry had won it.”
Fallon and the quick and speedy sorrel mare she calls “Flo Jo” placed in every go-round at Houston for a total paycheck of $12,961. Of the 21 WPRA barrel racers that won money at Houston, Fallon was the only one to place in every payoff.
In addition to the 40,000 spectators that attended the Final performance of the Houston Rodeo, millions watched live on pay-for-view television. Ironically, it was from watching barrel racing on television that Fallon was introduced to the sport of barrel racing at age 5.
“We were living in Florida at the time,” recalls her mother, Dian Taylor. “We spent the summer in Texas the year Fallon turned 6 and she made us take her every Friday and Saturday to the Mesquite Rodeo because she had seen it on television. She convinced her daddy and me that she could become a barrel racer, so we bought her a horse.”
After winning on several good barrel horses, including one that cost $70,000, Fallon found her dream horse in a small, but fast daughter of On The Money Red at a race track west of Fort Worth.
“We paid only $7,500 for Flo Jo when she was a 2-year-old,” said her dad, Shelton. “Flo Jo was pretty much a natural and she and Fallon fit each other like a glove.”
After placing third at their first barrel racing futurity in Fort Smith, Ark., in 1995 that paid them $15,000, Fallon and Flo Jo have been World contenders since. The pair finished sixth in the 1995 World standings, winning $62,414, and ended 1996 in the No. 9 position with earnings of $59,907.
The year 1997 looks bright for the teenage beauty, after having won $27,805 at the building rodeos which places her second in the World standings, the highest she ever has been ranked. In addition to her $12,961 win at Houston, Fallon earned $5,405 at San Antonio, $2,681 at Denver, $1,499 at El Paso, $1,440 at Phoenix and $682 at Odessa.
While Fallon won more than her fair share at the building rodeos, Sherry made a pig of herself at the paywindow. The 21- year-old blonde earned $42,457 from eight contests, taking the championship at five.
Sherry started her winning year by taking first at Phoenix, Ariz., for $1,824. From there, it was straight up to the top as she won. Denver for $9,559, Jackson, Miss., for $3,571; El Paso, Texas, for $2,825 and Odessa, Texas, for $1,853. A second-place finish at Houston for $11,740, a $3,785 check from San Antonio and a third-place finish at Scottsdale, Ariz., for $1,085, her building score card that netted her $36,044 and the lead for the 1997 World title.
Of the heroes of barrel racing that deserve to be envied, Sherry Cervi ranks at the top of the list. While most barrel racers dream of owning that once-in-a-lifetime dream barrel horse, Sherry is living the dream in double. She owns two.
Sherry’s barrel racing dreams started coming true during the summer of 1994 when she became the proud owner of a gray gelding named Sir Double Delight, which she calls Troubles. The talented barrel horse took Sherry to her first NFR that same year with only five months of competition.
In the fall of 1994, Sherry purchased another barrel horse named Jet Royal Speed, nicknamed “Hawk.” The bay gelding was intended to be a backup horse to Troubles but after a period of adjustment proved to be an equal. Since 1995, Sherry has alternated between the two horses creating difficulty in knowing which horse earned money at which rodeo.
Since January, Sherry has ridden Troubles and Hawk equally with Hawk credited for winning Phoenix, Odessa, El Paso and Jackson, while Troubles did his thing at Denver. At Houston, Sherry was forced to run Hawk for her first run although she much preferred to run Troubles. Due to an abscess, Troubles was sidelined for a few days and Sherry was horrified.
“I had run Troubles at Houston in 1995 and 1996,” said Sherry. “I won it in 1995 and placed in 1996 so I knew he would work there. Houston is one of those places where you never know how a horse is going to react until you make your run. Hawk had never made a run inside the Astrodome, so I didn’t know what to expect.”
Hawk handled the huge expanse of the Astrodome like the seasoned pro he is, turning in a time of 17.21. The fast time won the first go-round and a $2,859 paycheck.
By the time Sherry was up for her second run, Troubles was sound and ready, allowing a return to the original game plan. Showing the incredible equal talent of the two geldings, Troubles turned the same course in 17.29. The remaining two runs were made aboard Troubles.
What is it like having two great horses at the same time?
“Unbelievable and fun,” said Sherry. “It hasn’t been that long since I was reading about the superstars of barrel racing and watching them on television. It’s sometimes hard to believe that all this has happened to me.”
While Cervi and Taylor were the dominant forces at the 1997 building rodeos, Kay Blandford of Sutherland Spring, Texas, made a big impression on the competition at San Antonio, where she took the Championship and a $10,345 paycheck.
Kay and her 7-year-old superstar The Key Grip, better known as Llave, dominated at San Antonio, winning the first goround, splitting second and third in the second go-round, placing second in the short go-round and winning the average by fourtenths of a second.
“Llave worked really nice for me there,” said Kay. “I won second there last year behind Kristie Peterson, so I was proud when he came back and did even better this year.
Besides San Antonio, Kay picked up a chunk of change at Houston – $8,462 – and smaller checks at Odessa and Jackson to move her into third place in the World standings with earnings of $26,458.
Former NFR qualifier Mardee Hollenbeck of Pretty Prairie, Kan., who like Blandford is a member of the National Barrel Horse Association in addition to the WPRA, earned her share of the building titles in the northern part of the country. Wins of$766 from Dayton, Ohio, $930 from Moline, Ill., and $1,098 from St. Paul, Minn., boosted the pretty blonde into 12th place in the World standings with $8,371.
With the corning of spring and summer, the big money in professional rodeo heads outdoors. The West Coast offers the largest concentration of spring rodeos with the majority being in California. While Cervi plans to make some or all of them, Taylor is uncertain of her rodeo route.
“I’d like to go to California but they’ve had a lot of rain out there and they are all outdoors,” said Fallon. “I don’t like to run my mare in the mud for fear of crippling her. I don’t know which direction I will go.”
Blandford will stay in Texas and Oklahoma until after May.
“I have several nice futurity colts that I have entered in the spring futurities,” said Kay. “My customers are counting on me and I can’t let them down. I’ll stay close to home until the beginning of the summer.”
While nothing but the National Finals Rodeo can equal the money available at the “building rodeos,” the next bench mark money grab is the week of July 4, known as the cowboys and cowgirls “Christmas.”You can bet the likes of Taylor, Cervi, Blandford and Hollenbeck will on the road hoping to win more than their share of the loot!