By Kristen M. White, Appeared in the November Women's Pro Rodeo News
There aren’t too many 3-year-olds who set lofty yet realistic goals for their future, let alone many young kids who go on to achieve those goals. But Cayla Melby’s had one thing on her mind for the past 15 years – making it to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo when she was 18. And she’s done it.
“When I was 3, I told my mom that when I turned 18 I was going to go to the NFR,” she said. “Ever since then we’ve been working on getting me there.”
Melby has plenty of experienced help around her to lend a hand. Her mom is Jane Melby, a two-time NFR qualifier herself and Cayla’s dad Ryan is a PRCA member and horseshoer and trainer. Her older brother, Colton, is also a competitor and there are dozens of rodeo friends to lend a hand.
Setting out with such a big goal in her rookie season, Melby now finds herself in the history books for another reason too. Because of all the hard work she’s put in to making it to Las Vegas this December, she also captured the Rookie of the Year title. Since she’ll compete at the NFR her total money won for the year isn’t cemented yet, but what is certain is that the Rookie title is hers.
“I never really thought about winning the Rookie title,” she admitted. “From the beginning I just wanted to go to the NFR, so that’s what I was focused on. But now that I’ve really looked into it, there are a lot of neat people who have won the Rookie previously, so it’s definitely an accomplishment.”
Melby’s road to the NFR and the Rookie title started when she was tiny. She said her mom jokes that she didn’t want to hire a babysitter so as soon as she and her brother were old enough they were sitting on ponies. Melby began running barrels at IPRA rodeos on a pony at just 3.
By the time she hit junior high rodeo, Melby was competing in all of the events available. She won the Oklahoma state team roping title all three years, making a short round at the National Junior High Rodeo Finals one year, but she said that “I wasn’t meant to be a team roper.”
Which is why when she hit high school competition, she quit all the other events and didn’t compete in the NHSRA. Instead, her family suggested if she was serious about trying to make the NFR at age 18, she needed to focus on that event, riding multiple horses in different pens to prepare.
Her diligence paid off and all her experience over the past few years gave her the confidence to ride several horses this season, picking up a check aboard six different horses.
But Melby’s NFR quest started with an uphill battle. Because she didn’t turn 18 until mid-December 2015, she wasn’t in any of the big winter rodeos that paid more than $2,000, so she said she felt a little behind in the beginning of 2016.
“I went to California and it went okay, but then it just got better and better. There have been ups and downs of course,” she said.
Although Melby rode many different horses from the barn, the majority of her wins this season came on three horses. She started with Brookstone Jo, but eventually mom Jane rode Brookstone more in her quest to be in the Top 40. (Mission accomplished, she finished 38th in the world standings).
Melby also had the services of Docs Frosty Blue Bar “Mighty Whitey.” But partway through the season, talking with her family, Melby said she knew if she was truly gunning for the NFR she was going to need some more horsepower.
Just before the American, the family purchased Shameon U "Gator," a horse trained by Shannon Tidwell and owned by Annesa Self at the time of purchase. Self trained Dillon, who carried Self, Carlee Pierce and then Callie duPerier to the NFR (with duPerier capturing the world title), so there was no doubt Gator was a good one. Melby said they were a good fit from the start, and is the horse that she has the most confidence in.
“We wanted to buy him when he was done with his futurity year, so we just kind of followed him around and kept in touch,” Melby said. “We’d had our eye on him and been trying to buy him for two years.”
He doesn’t like muddy or deep conditions, so Melby picks another horse for those situations, but besides that, Gator has been her go-to ride as she’s racked up the checks this year.
She’s excited to see where her horses – and she – will stack up in December at her first NFR. But before preparing for her ultimate goal, Melby had other things on her mind first, specifically her wedding Oct. 29 to Zac Small.
The two met at an amateur rodeo about four years ago. The PRCA team roper also made this year’s NFR, so they have that to look forward to together. Traveling together doesn’t often work out for the two, often being up at different times, plus Small is studying to become a veterinarian, so life is hectic. But Melby will embark on her first NFR as both a rookie and a newlywed, and hoping to add to her already impressive resume.