Thanks mostly to a phenomenal little gelding named Hawk, Sherry Cervi's career in the 1990s was the stuff of legend-eight straight NFR appearances, two world championships, two Wrangler National Finals Rodeo average titles and a record-shattering 1999 in which she earned nearly a quarter of a million dollars.
But a decade later, Cervi is even more fulfilled by the four additional NFR qualifications she's earned on horses she finished herself. She'll compete this December at her 12th NFR for the first time on-look out, world-Hawk's niece.
Raised by Cervi's dad, Mel Potter, and started by Ryan Lovendahl, the 7-year-old MP Meter My Hay (Stingray) blistered through the barrels this year to the tune of more than $50,000.
Gold buckles practically run through the mare's veins. She's out of a three-quarter sister to the late Jet Royal Speed (Hawk), and is by PC Frenchmans Hayday (Dinero),?an NFR horse in his own right and a full brother to French Flash Hawk (Bozo, ridden by Kristie Peterson)-the horse that Hawk defeated to win his two world titles.
"Stingray reminds a lot of people of Dinero, looks-wise and with that real grittiness," Cervi says. "But more than that, she reminds me of Hawk. You try not to compare, because those are big shoes to fill, but still."
Stingray exhibits her famous uncle's stiffer style, running full-out into the hole and turning in all-wheel drive. And the young mare showed her first signs of Hawkishness when she shattered the arena record at RodeoHouston last year in one of her first-ever rodeo runs.
The Potters picked Hawk off a sprawling ranch in Wyoming and purchased Dinero-the brother of Hawk's greatest rival-as a 2-year-old. Now Dinero, who packed Cory Petska to the 2004 Salinas Rodeo heeling championship, has become a sought-after barrel horse sire even as he continues to compete. The flashy stallion will back up Stingray at this year's NFR.
Stingray, too, has been heeled on, and in fact, NFR header Colter Todd and his family broke her. She's one of many Dinero babies proving their worth-Cervi's backup horse this year was Stingray's palomino half-brother, 6-year-old MP A Man With Roses (out of a seven-eighths sister to Cervi's former NFR horse, Troubles).
Raising and training great barrel horses became Cervi's passion after she regrouped following the loss of her husband, Mike Cervi Jr., in 2001 and retired Hawk and Troubles. But she'd slowly been bringing along her next big ride-BC Tinman.
The bay gelding, now 16, had been her first futurity horse and is still solid as a rock. With Dinero's help, he packed her to her past three NFRs and might accompany her to Vegas this year. The tough Dash For Cash and Streakin Six-bred Tinman recovered from torn hind suspensory ligaments about five years ago and a bad trailer wreck in 2006, and now?makes rare showings for big money on good ground.
As for Cervi, still just 34, her success is expanding. A former director of Professional Women's Barrel Racing, she has a wildly successful line of bits and saddles through Classic Equine and Martin Saddlery, and collaborated with renowned clinician Clinton Anderson on a best-selling DVD. So what's next?
Well, the animal lover (her furry friends include a miniature horse, French bulldog, potbellied pig and miniature donkey) still calls Arizona home and is still doing what she loves-only this December it will be even sweeter as she edges closer to that $2 million mark on the palomino father-and-daughter duo she had a hand in creating.
Sherry Cervi is sponsored by Justin Boots, Equibrand, Toyota, Western Hauler, EZ All, Daily 72, Nutrena and Silver Lining Herbs. For more about Cervi, visit www.sherrycervi.com. To learn about
her breeding program, visit www.potterranch.com.
Stingray at Laughlin
Stingray stays moving all the time and is always on all fours. She's not real bendy, so I don't try to shape or anything before a barrel-I just run her straight up in there.
I have to be careful on the back of the turn. If I were to ask her to come back with my hand, she'd hit a barrel leaving it. She's really light and wants to snap back anyway, so I just try to stay out of her way. I help her when she needs help.
I run her in a two-piece short-shanked gag bit and a really loose tie-down. She's kind of picky; she doesn't like a lot in her mouth. And I keep my rein pretty short because I stay up over her, and I ride two-handed going to the barrels. ?
Stingray runs low to the ground and doesn't pick her feet up very high, so sometimes she struggles in deeper ground. And being 7, she still runs like a colt once in a while. But usually, she's doing what I need her to do.
Tinman at San Antonio
As big as he is, Tinman is a really good building horse. And he's 16 and real solid; he does the same thing every time. You just drive him to your point.
You can tell that Tinman really uses his hind end and needs some ground to get into. He's also fairly bendy, so I kind of shape him for the turns, as you can see from my inside foot.
He's really smooth, which makes him easier to ride than Stingray, but he's big and powerful, so he's stronger on the backside leaving a barrel.
I've run him in a three-piece long-shanked bit since he was 5. But I could run him in a halter. He's a really light, broke horse, and when I work him, I just keep him soft and moving off my hands and legs.
He and I kind of grew up together. I got him when he was 4 with a partner and then bought him outright. I know all his flaws and he knows all of mine.
As you'll see in most of my pictures, I try to stay at the front of my saddle in a turn and shift my shoulders forward to encourage forward motion.
Dinero at Pendleton
Someone said the other day that a stud won't give you everything they have. Well, I don't have a stud like that. Dinero gives you everything.
He's so strong running in there that he's pretty fun. And as he's gotten older, he's easier to ride. If he'd been a gelding, he'd have been even more fun (the stud in him does come out once in a while)!
He runs into a turn real strong, so I work on getting him more on his butt when I ride. Also, he doesn't like a lot of help around the barrel. I check and give it back to him so he has a loose rein around the turn, and I help him on the backside.
I run Dinero in a Petska Horseshoe bit, which is a gag bit with a chain mouthpiece, and a tie-down with a wire noseband that he won't push into.
I love running him at Pendleton because unlike most horses there, he never gives out going to the third barrel. He goes almost 30 seconds strong. He was in quarantine this fall because we're shipping semen to Australia. That part is exciting, but it messed up my Pendleton plans this year!