Cory Petska’s Head-Horse Passion Projects
Cory Petska is shifting his focus to training running-bred head horses.

Cory Petska is taking one of his occasional breaks from the main ProRodeo trail to hit the Great Lakes Circuit Rodeos in 2023, cracking out some of his wife’s family’s traditional barrel-bred horses on the head side this summer.

World Champion Heeler Petska and wife Sherry Cervi are summering in Cervi’s family’s native Wisconsin, where Petska will head for 29-year-old Iceman Miller of Mauston, Wisconsin.

“These rodeos are fun,” Petska said. “I have four or five young head horses I want to get seasoned, and I like training head horses. When you see guys like Erich Rogers riding them and doing well on them, it’s rewarding. We’ve raised all the horses I’m training, and they’re all different and they’re all bred to run.”

Petska trained the horse he rode to win the Legends roping during BFI Week in 2023—PC Frenchmans Hayday son MP Full Moon—roping five steers in 37.7 seconds to take home $21,000, including $9,500 for Petska for the average and another $1,000 to him for a go-round win. World Champion Header Rogers borrowed ‘Brutus’ to win second at the Cody Nessmith Memorial Open, too, worth $9,750, too, with Petska on the heel side for another $9,750 on another Potter-bred mare—MP Driftinorphanannie.

Erich Rogers on MP Full Moon and Cory Petska on MP Driftinorphanannie
Rogers on MP Full Moon and Petska on MP Driftinorphanannie winning second at the Cody Nessmith Memorial. | Cowgirl At Heart Photography

“I don’t claim to be a head horse trainer,” Petska laughed. “All of my training starts in the pasture. Everything I do starts out in the pasture doctoring on them. Our land here (in Wisconsin) is so swampy, that these horses have to learn how to track. You can’t guide them because of the swamp. They have to learn to do it themselves. They follow the steer and don’t just go where they’re cued to go. They’re going toward the steer. That’s where it starts. I rope a lot of slow steers and score a lot when we’re in the arena. I run four or five and score 10 a day. It’s all slow.”

Petska plans to bust out four barrel-racing-bred head horses this summer: MP Flash Gordon (by First Moon Flash out of MP Daysys N Roses by PC Frenchmans Dayday); Driftin Fols John (by Fols Dear John out of Foxys Driftin Jewel by Nonstop Drifter); SP Confederate Money (by Confederate Leader out of MP Winkenatthayman by PC Frenchmans Hayday); and MP Money Man (by PC Frenchmans Hayday out of Coxes Major Streak by Streakin Six).

“I think if a person put the pressure on a running-bred horse in the wrong way, they’d get hot for sure,” Petska said. “Doctoring on them, they can get hot, but they have to learn how to keep themselves calm or they get themselves in a bind and that transfers to the box.”

Petska’s head horse program, of course, consists of the widest selection of Petska bits that his father Paul produces—some, just for him.

“I get that feel,” Petska explained. “That feel that I get from his bits, I can’t get that from other people’s bits. Every time I ride somebody else’s bit, I don’t get the feel that I want. My hands are so light, I always over-bit my horses anyway. A lot of people that would be heavy-handed, the gags would be too much. I barely, barely use my fingertips. That allows me to just use light hands.”

Petska did win the 2017 world title in the heeling without a tie-down on Chumley, and he goes as long as he can on his head horses without one, too.

“I start every horse without a tie-down because if you get stuck in a bog in the pasture, you can’t have a tie-down,” he said. “What I end up usually doing is I ride them in the pasture that day, and when I come home, the steers are right there, I’ll bring them up and run a couple pens. I’ll rope on them with split reins and my colt bits. I start everything without a tie-down.”

For a guy who bought his card in 1998 and qualified for rodeo’s big show 15 times, this Great Lakes season as a switchender is welcome.

“People don’t understand—I’ve rodeoed for 20 years,” Petska said. “I got my PRCA card in 98. “I’m not all-consumed with making the NFR. We run 1900 head of cattle in Wisconsin and 30 head of horses. We don’t have to rodeo, because we have other things in our life.” TRJ

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