Two Generations Win On A Horse Named Nicki
July 22, 2021
Taylor Cuccurullo left her home in Pilot Point, Texas, in mid-July with the same optimism that over 700 other aspiring rodeo contestants packed in their trailers along with their horses, gear and best rodeo attire.
Each contestant also carried the encouragement, love and sacrifices their families have made to get them on the road. They all headed for the IFYR in Shawnee, Oklahoma, the richest and toughest youth rodeo anywhere.
But Taylor added one more thing to her wardrobe that might have made the difference if you believe in karma. She snapped the buckle on her belt her mother, Jodi Rush Cuccurullo, had won in same arena in Shawnee 31 years earlier. In 1990, her mom rode her phenomenal bay gelding, Super C Joe, a.k.a. Wino, to the barrel racing championship in the National High School Finals Rodeo. Jodi overcame two go-arounds in the soaking wet arena, only to come back with a near record-breaking run in the finals, to take the win and the championship buckle.
Fast forward to the 2021 IFYR when Taylor had 3 solid breakaway roping runs to win two checks in three go-arounds and finish second in the average. That alone would have been enough to make her family and fans "whoop" with joy and make her week a success.
Taylor also competed in barrels, and that is where the rest of her story would play out.
Her mom had ridden another extraordinary barrel mare, Nick And Cash, a.k.a. Nicki, to pro rodeo wins and the Texas Circuit Finals 2007 Barrel Racing Championship. Jodi eventually retired Nicki and sold her as a broodmare. She produced 10 colts and at least one second generation foal to date. Nicki's sire, Dr Nick Bar, bloodline is and has been highly regarded in the sport of barrel racing. Nicki would eventually wind up as a broodmare at Highpoint Performance Horses farm in Pilot Point. In June of 2020, Jason Martin called Jodi and generously asked if she would like to have Nicki back. Her days as a productive broodmare were thought to be coming to an end and Jason realized Nicki would have a good home in her retirement.
Nicki was soon back in the Cuccurullo barn, and of course, showing the signs of her career as a broodmare. Jodi and Taylor have a keen eye for prospects and are consistently mounted on quality horses. They looked deeply into Nicki's eyes and got a glimpse of her heart and realized that Nicki was not done. Reconditioning started and Nicki's broodmare tummy began to be replaced by muscle tone and racing stamina. Then Taylor started a measured and successful campaign of entering barrels on her once again.
At the IFYR, Taylor and Nicki had solid first and second round runs of 16.901 and 16.506 that would bring her back to the short go in eleventh place. Family excitement began to build in the hopes that the pair might make a decent showing if Taylor could just jockey to one more clean run. In the short go, they drew the bottom of the ground, but they clocked the best time of the entire rodeo with a 16.218 to that point.
With the top ten qualifiers yet to run, only the eventual champion, Payton Askins of El Cajon, California, would outpace Taylor and Nicki with a 16.074 sprint. The result was a second-place short go check and a third-place average check for a 22-year-old grandmother brood mare and the talented teenager mounted on her. The pair outpaced all but two of 198 of the best youth barrel racers from the nation.
The goal of a shot at the IFYR Girl's All-around Championship title, along with a shiny new Cimarron trailer, saddle and buckle, was cast. But everyone concerned also knew there were so many skilled two and three event qualifiers in the running that the odds were high.
In a few minutes, as the crowd had headed for the parking lot, the word came down that Taylor, riding Nicki and her superb breakaway horse Oompa, had indeed bested the field for the all-around title.
Taylor's dad Frank Cuccurullo first thought it couldn't be. He, like a lot of dads who expend a lot of time, sweat and treasure for the two women in his life that go down the rodeo road, said he thought he was imagining things. Then he began to question how he would get another trailer back to Texas, and how he could make room in the barn for one more rig.
Win, lose or draw, contestants at this year's IFYR made gold buckle memories in Shawnee. Each parent, grandparent and friend shared the excitement and surely the disappointments of this grand event. But make no mistake, Taylor, her horses and her story, along with each contestant, represent the finest of our American youth.
And if you believe in karma, maybe just maybe the 31-year-old buckle Taylor wore to Shawnee made the difference.