Sherry Cervi and MP Meter My Hay (“Stingray”). Photo courtesy EquiBrand.

By Sherry Cervi

When can you say you have enough experience?

My answer is to that question is never. After running barrels my entire life, I still feel like I’m still constantly learning new things and working on making both myself and my horses better. It’s a never-ending task. I try and make ‘improvement’ a part of my everyday goals. In my years of running barrels, I have learned experience is something you can never get enough of, no matter how much success you may have.

When you are young, there many day-to-day experiences you will go through that will prepare you for the rest of your life. Most things you can do just a couple of times and will forever have it mastered, like riding a bike or tying a shoe.

Competition is different.

Even at the professional level, when you think you’ve got it all figured out, life inevitably throws you a few more obstacles to overcome. I try to turn those obstacles into lessons I can build on. Sometimes that lesson involves horsemanship, sometimes it has to do with mental preparation and sometimes it comes down to just better planning.

For me, the more pressure situations I go through, the better prepared I am for the next one. I remember the National High School Finals Rodeo being so exciting, but at the time I had no idea how running down the alley in Gillette, Wyoming, would help prepare me for a bigger event, and the next event would prepare me for an even bigger one. By the time I ran down the alley at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, all the rodeos and barrel races combined had helped prepare me for the biggest barrel race of all. And every year as I start over, so does my quest to be more prepared and gain more experience for each and every run. For me, experiences build on each other, and the process never stops.

I am a fan of all sports and competition. A few years ago, one particular NBA basketball player’s interview caught my attention, and I have kept it in the back of my mind. Kevin Durant is a forward in his 20s who plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder. I watched an online interview a few years back, and he had just played arguably the best game of his life, putting up 36 points. Coming out of the locker room, he replied to a reporter who recognized him as officially having played the best game of his life and his response was, “I’ve been playing this game for a long time, and I’m still learning…so I wouldn’t call it my best game”.

I feel like there are similarities in all sports, and the attitude of never having ‘enough experience’ is what carries professionals like Kevin Durant to perform a best game and immediately look forward to what he can do different next time to be better. Barrel racing has so many obstacles and variables that I don’t believe anyone could truly see enough arenas or ride enough different horses to ever master our game.

My advice to all barrel racers out there is to set goals and as you achieve that one, make another. Sometimes the smaller day-to-day goals are more important than your overall goal, because each day you build on experiences that set you up for the next day, both in practice and in competition. Keep pushing yourself with an open mind to improve. When it is time to compete, give 100 percent of your attention to your horse. Learn from the good things that happen, work to improve the bad, and absorb every experience. I feel like today’s Kevin Durant success and longevity is a good example of why you should never settle and should always strive to be better. Do that and let’s see how far we can go.

Sherry Cervi is a four-time Women’s Professional Rodeo Association World Champion Barrel Racer and $3 million cowgirl. She wrote this article as part of her World Champion Reflections column in 2014, the year following her 2013 world title. Email comments on this article to [email protected].


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