EDITOR’S NOTE: This story appears in the November issue of Women’s Pro Rodeo News, the official publication of the WPRA. It is being used here with the approval of the magazine.
Every young athlete needs a strong mentor to help lead them the way.
Callie duPerier has had a few of them in 2015, helping guide the 22-year-old cowgirl to her first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in a dynamic fashion. She has pocketed $166,632 this season and heads to Las Vegas for the Dec. 3-12 grand finale as the No. 1 barrel racer in the world standings.
“It’s been an awesome year,” said duPerier of Boerne, Texas. “I was just looking to get into the top 15. This season has been a dream come true. It still doesn’t seem real to me.”
Of course, it helps to have established veterans pushing her along the way: Traveling partner Sherry Cervi, a four-time world champion from Marana, Ariz., and Rare Dillion, a 16-year-old buckskin gelding who is making his fourth Wrangler NFR appearance with his third jockey.
Dillion previously ran inside the Thomas & Mack Center with Annesa Self in 2008 and Carlee Pierce in 2011-12. In fact, Dillion and Pierce set a then-Wrangler NFR arena record of 13.46 seconds in 2011; Taylor Jacob then established a new mark of 13.31 just two years later.
Having that kind of horse power mixed with excellence inside the arena is a huge confidence boost for duPerier.
“Dillion was just outstanding this year,” she said. “I ran him at the majority of the rodeos. He stayed sound all year and gave me his all. I’m really excited to go to the finals with him.
“He is just an outstanding horse, and just talking about him gives me chills. I could not have ever dreamed about having that kind of horse in my barn. When I first had him, I was still trying to get him figured out.”
Obviously, the tandem has learned quite a bit over the last year or so. As a rookie a season ago, she finished 25th in the world standings. This season, she rode the talented gelding all the way to the top heading into the richest rodeo in the world.
“This year we just got along better,” duPerier said. “Our timing and connection was awesome this year. He bunch of rodeos and placed second at Calgary. I always question his age, but that has not stopped him.
“To be the person on his back riding him is awesome.”
Dillion wasn’t the only driving force behind duPerier’s amazing season. She also leaned on Cervi, who returns to the Wrangler NFR for the 18th time in her storied career.
“I got to go to the big rodeos, and I did very well at all of them,” duPerier said. “I went really hard over the Fourth (of July), and I got to haul with Sherry. She knew how to enter, so being with her really helped. She really helped me with my other horse, Arson.”
Dash Ta Diamonds is an 8-year-old sorrel gelding by Dash Ta Fame out of The Millennium Star she acquired about a year ago. She estimated about 70 percent of her runs were on Dillion, with the rest being on Arson.
“It was awesome to have two horses that were able to go out there and compete,” she said. “It made it easier on me and Dillion to have Arson there and know he could perform well.”
Of course, a big part of duPerier’s support comes from her family, parents Trip and Cheryl; brother, T.J., and younger sister, Lydia.
“My dad was out there with me for a lot of them, but I still missed my mom, my brother and my sister,” Callie duPerier said. “Being away from family is very hard. Even when you’re winning or when you’re doing bad, I really wanted to be home. Like me, Dillion is a homebody, too.”
When he’s on the road, though, Dillion has been the staple behind all that has been duPerier’s success. Having a qualified veteran in the barn is an amazing thing, no matter where the rodeo trail takes her.
“At Houston this year, I was kind of nervous, then Dad told me that he had done well there before,” she said. “Dillion knew exactly what he was doing. It definitely calms me down. He remembered exactly where he was at Houston. At the NFR, I’ll be nervous, but I’ll be comfortable because I’ll be on Dillion.”
A race for the rookies
DuPerier won’t the only Wrangler NFR first-timer when she arrives in Vegas for the Dec. 2-13 championship. In fact, she’ll be joined by four others: third-ranked Sarah Rose McDonald of Brunswick, Ga.; Cassidy Kruse of Gillette, Wyo.; Carley Richardson of Pampa, Texas; Jackie Ganter of Abilene, Texas; and Vickie Carter of Richfield, Utah.
McDonald was the 2014 Rookie of the Year and just missed the finals a year ago, finishing 19th. Kruse (eighth in the standings) is just in her second season in the WPRA, while Richardson (10th) earned her first qualification to Vegas after finishing 23rd in 2014.
While they also will make their runs at the coveted Montana Silversmiths gold buckle, Ganter and Carter also will be in a tight battle for the WPRA Rookie of the Year. Ganter sits 12th with $69,414 in season earnings, and Carter is 13th, about $6,600 behind. With the biggest purse in the history of the Wrangler NFR awaiting them, anything and everything can happen inside the Thomas & Mack Center.
Carter is a veteran in the game and will be riding Blazin Ta Fame, a 10-year-old gelding by Blazin Jetolena out of Princess Dasher, a Dash Ta Fame mare. Carter, a horse trainer who has been in the business of selling good horses, has been riding this year for Rachel Hendrix, Blaze Man’s owner that died in January 2014 of carbon monoxide poisoning at age 18.
Since the Wrangler NFR was a plan for Hendrix, her parents, Clay and Annette Hendrix, asked Carter to try to make the finale on Blaze Man. Mission accomplished.
Ganter joins duPerier as the first two former WPRA junior barrel racing world champions to qualify for the finals. Ganter won the title last season, while duPerier earned the crown in 2010.
When she arrives in Las Vegas, Ganter will be just one year removed from her high school graduation.
Veterans remain in the chase
Lisa Lockhart is the reigning Wrangler NFR average champion now qualifying for the ninth straight times. The Oelrichs, S.D., cowgirl is closing in on $2 million in WPRA earnings after securing the No. 2 spot in the world standings with more than $151,000 in 2015.
She has yet to claim that elusive Montana Silversmiths gold buckle, but she’s been close. In fact, she finished less than $11,000 behind 2014 champ Fallon Taylor of Collinsville, Texas, who is one of three titlists in this year’s mix: Cervi and Mary Walker, the 2012 winner who is playing in Vegas for the fourth straight season.
“Lisa and Louie are a crowd favorite, amazing to watch and amazing to be around,” Taylor said. “I think Lisa deserves a world title. I know it would mean as much to her as it did me.”
Those four cowgirls might be the cream of the crop in the field, but there are plenty of others scattered among the top 15 who have staked claim more than once on their road to the Wrangler NFR:
- Nancy Hunter of Neola, Utah, and Jana Bean of Fort Hancock, Texas, return for the second straight year
- Taylor Jacob of Carmine, Texas, who set the record for fastest time during her 2013 qualification, posting a 13.37-second run to win the sixth round; she also won three other rounds.
- Michele McLeod of Whitesboro, Texas, who returns for the third straight year
- And Deb Guelly of Okotoks, Alberta, a six-time qualifier who last competed inside the Thomas & Mack in 2008.
In all, they account for 44 qualifications and about $2 million in earnings from ProRodeo’s finale.
Returning to the stage
The gold buckle that rests on Fallon Taylor’s waist reveals so much about her and her trusty horse, Flos Heiress, a sorrel mare she calls Babyflo that was sired by Dr Nick Bar out of Flowers and Money.
Inscribed is her name and Babyflo’s. It is a telling tale of her relationship with an amazing racehorse, now 9 years old.
“It’s just a feather in my hat for all the hard work,” Taylor said. “It’s a really cool thing to bring that cred to my mare and actually know that I did show her to the best of her ability for my family. Her pedigree is obviously very important to us.
“For my parents to have the Horse of the Year trophy and to be able look at that gold buckle is really an accomplishment for my whole family and not just me.”
Another notch on the belt came with her third straight qualification on Babyflo and her seventh overall; she also advanced to the Wrangler NFR from 1995-98. This year, she comes back as the No. 7 barrel racer in the field with $86,828 in regular-season earnings. She is about $80,000 behind the leader, duPerier, but she can make up ground quickly with go-rounds that will pay each go-round winner more than $26,000 for 10 nights.
“I think everyone was so surprised that I didn’t embarrass myself like I did in 2013,” she said, “that it was a shock to win in the first place, especially on the same horse that was so inconsistent to come back and be so consistent that I was reserve average champion.
“My husband and I made a pact to Babyflo that she would only go to 50 rodeos (this year). We would qualify for the NFR or not qualify in 50, and she would have a big break. At 46 rodeos, we had crossed over in like $85,000, and I felt like that was a safe spot.”
She went to 34 more rodeos on a 4-year-old colt. Still having a solid season and returning to the biggest stage in the sport is an important step for the Texan.
“I felt like I was on a campaign run, like I was just meeting all these amazing people that I didn’t get to meet before,” Taylor said. “New fans and old fans … that was amazing to me.
“I knew my mare was consistent, so that was fun to capitalize and go to different rodeos that I hadn’t been before, and I did that specifically just to meet new fans.”
She’ll get to do that again during her the 10 December nights in Las Vegas, but she knows, as well as anyone in the field, that it will be a horserace.