Out in the middle of the Pawnee National Grasslands on the short-grass prairie of northeastern Colorado — 30 miles from nowhere — is the home of the Ace the Ride Bucking Horse School hosted by Cervi Championship Rodeo.
Started six years ago by the Cervi family, the first school was held at their ranch north of Stoneham, Colorado, and just miles south of the Nebraska border. Since then they have had schools in Texas and are considering other locations, but the favorite for them and the young horses will always be the ranch. It is an atmosphere reminiscent of rodeos in days gone by.
The school is free for attendees, with Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifiers volunteering their time as coaches. Cervis provide the bucking stock, pickup men, ambulances and even hospitality. They have schools at the ranch in the fall and the spring and fill in other dates when they can. They started this year’s school with a question and answer session where the coaches each introduced themselves.
“Rusty Wright (one of the coaches) made the point that he had gotten on 200 – 250 head of bucking horses before it ever really clicked for him,” Binion Cervi said. “They needed to hear that from someone that has had the success that he has had.”
And it’s a great learning experience for horses that were bred to buck and their prospective riders. This year’s fall school was held the last weekend of September and featured bareback riders Casey Colletti and Tim Shirley. Along with Rusty, the saddle bronc riders benefited from the knowledge of four-time world champion Clint Johnson (1980, 1987-89).
Horses were gathered from their home pastures and brought into ranch headquarters. They have made the trip several times before having been wormed, vaccinated and worked with at least twice a year. At four and five years old, they have also been on semis and hauled between ranches.
Pastures are filled with rolling hills and whenever mounted riders top one of those hills, the grazing horses know that something is going to happen. The arena is nestled among those hills and with its pole fences, it fits well into the atmosphere. Priefert chutes are at one end, giving the animals an opportunity to buck out of the same kind of chutes they will have at a rodeo.
A big difference at this school is the peace and quiet that surrounds the events. Amid the gentle chirp of a cricket and sounds of prairie songbirds, there is the clanging of metal gates and the occasional nicker of a horse. Sound carries and the crews smooching and encouragement of the horses can be heard.
When the gates open, the peace of the prairie changes. It is now filled with shouts of encouragement from the coaches. “Hold your feet, lift and keep riding,” encourage every single rider.
There is no pressure for time for any of the athletes, letting horses and riders settle in and get ready for action that will determine their future. In spite of that, nerves are tight. The unpredictability of young horses combined with riders itching to gain experience tests them all.
At this school there were 38 students. Most of the students were saddle bronc riders and each one could get on as many horses as they wanted or their body could take. It started Friday afternoon and by Saturday’s lunch, some of the more ambitious riders had already been on five head. They were sore and tired.
“We love coming to a school like this,” said JoAnn Filinger, mother of a high school bareback rider named Max. “There are no judges, no timers and no pressure, just learning.”
No matter how great equipment and machines are, for a bucking horse rider there is nothing that compares to getting on a live animal. The same holds true for bucking horses.
“We’ve used a dummy on our young horses,” Binion said. “but it’s not like having a person on them. The horse’s ability is going to come out better with a rider on them and it helps them learn to kick through while they have weight on their backs.”
Photos and video are taken of each ride. The Cervis use that to analyze their horses. Technology allows them to watch video of the novice horses at a variety of schools, find patterns and find the best place for each horse. They also make the video and photos available to the students.
Getting young bucking horses, the right experiences to enhance their natural abilities can really determine their future. The Cervis have been well-known stock contractors for years, and have been in the business of raising bucking horses since 1990.
Binion was discussing how they bring their young horses up with Taos Muncy, the 2007 and 2011 world champion saddle bronc rider. The idea of having a school soon became a reality with Muncy as one of the instructors.
“Taos pointed it out to us,” Binion said. “Young horses buck and are showy, but they don’t have the power behind them. And when a student gets bucked off, the horse will try to get away from them. At this school we bucked about 150 head and not one kid got stepped on. We think it is the next step for the horses and the riders in advancing their careers.”
While the students got on as many horses as they want, most of the horses were only bucked twice. The environment of the school was just steps away from pastures the horses grew up in. It all provided an opportunity to start their future careers in a calm and easy manner.
“When you have the right people, the right pick-up men, and the right size of arena, the total package, it makes the right environment,” Binion said. “It all clicks pretty well. This is an investment in our future, not just from the bucking horse side, but in giving future riders an opportunity.”
Binion spends most of his time in front of the bucking chutes, making notes and helping both horses and students. Chase Cervi is horseback using his pickup man skills to help all the youngsters. They involve their crew members and get help from rodeo committees. The Estes Park Rodeo committee traveled over 100 miles to cook hamburgers, hotdogs and provide the noon meal on Saturday for everyone including any family members of the students that were in attendance.
An arena they know, being at home, being penned with their buddies and having plenty of feed and water makes it a similar experience for the horses. Their inherent abilities combined with the right opportunity all hope to lead to the next success story for all these novices – cowboys earning a living riding and horses earning a living bucking.