By Jolee Jordan
Abilene, Kansas—There is absolutely no doubt that Jane Melby is very, very proud of her daughter Cayla.
But when she comes running down the alleyway, there is also no doubt that the elder Melby is there to win first.
The friendly rivalry between the ultra competitive barrel racers was clearly on display at the Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo in Abilene, Kan., during the first performance on August 4, 2016. The night was filled with dramatics, beginning with the journey just to get there.
“We pulled an all-nighter from Great Falls [Mont.] and pulled in when the rodeo was starting,” Jane says. “We were on a mission.”
The mission all season has been to get Cayla to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) and hopefully to win the WPRA’s Rookie of the Year title along the way. So far, that plan has been working to perfection with Cayla ranked inside the WPRA’s top 10 with better than $75,000 won in 2016.
The mission for Jane on August 4, however, was more personal.
“She [Cayla] told me I rode like an old lady in Great Falls, so I guess I had to prove this old lady can still do it,” jokes Jane, a veteran of two WNFR’s and the only WPRA barrel racer from Minnesota to make the bright lights of Las Vegas.
When Cayla posted the best run at Abilene with her time of 17.40 seconds, the challenge had been laid down.
PHOTO BY: Fly Thomas
"I felt like I had a great run,” notes Cayla. “I thought, the way she’s been riding there is no way she is going to beat me.”
Riding the six year old gelding named Brookstone Jo, Jane Melby just edged past her 18 year old daughter, posting a time of 17.39 to take the lead and get the Cooper Springs Ranch Fast Time $100 bonus for the best time of the performance.
“I like to beat Mom,” laughs Cayla, who is sponsored, along with her mom, by Logan Coach, G Bar G Saddles, Healthy Coat, 100% Mohair Horse Tack, Diamond Wool Pads, GetPatched, Blue Bonnet Feeds, Iconoclast Equine Support Boots and Big Time Entertainment. “I try to take the better horse, I don’t know how she beat me!”
Though they joke, Team Melby definitely supports one another and the performances they lay out inside the arena are no laughing matter. Their times in Abilene couldn’t be beaten, earning Jane, $1,818 and Cayla, $1,558.
Team Melby hasn’t been together all season as Jane stayed home all spring, sending Cayla west, first with her fiancee, PRCA team roper Zac Small, then with Jackie Ganter and her mother Angela. After the Old Fort Days Rodeo on Memorial Day, the team hit the road together.
“Actually, I’m used to it,” says Cayla of rodeoing without Mom. “When she was on the road [making her WNFR runs in 2011 and 2013], I went with my brother to the high school rodeos, so when we first went to Canada together [in 2015] it was strange having someone there telling me what to do all the time!”
“I finally figured out she was trying to help me and that’s been great, but I’m hard headed so it took a little while to get used to it!”
Meanwhile, Jane has been climbing the standings over the summer aboard Brooks, a rookie to the rodeos as well.
“Cayla made that horse,” notes the proud mother. The colt came to the Melbys as a three year old and, with Jane on the road to her two appearances in Vegas, the training chores fell to Cayla. The horse never went to futurities or jackpots but has made a big splash at the rodeos with both Melbys in 2016.
“It’s lucky that we have three of them,” notes Jane, adding that while she had strictly ridden Brooks, Cayla has switched between Brooks, Gator—aka Shameon U, and the cremello Docs Frosty Blue Bar, who is known around the trailer as Mighty Whitey. “It’s worked out well for us.”
Changing from horse to horse seamlessly has been Cayla’s trademark already in her first season. For the first week of August, Cayla rode Mighty Whitey to checks in Abilene and the second go and finals of the Dodge City Round-Up. With weekend earnings of $2,933, Cayla will hold steady in the WPRA World standings and now leads the WPRA Tour. Both Kansas rodeos were stops on the WPRA Tour, a qualifying system for prestigious limited entry rodeos like Calgary and Houston.
In the rookie race, Cayla has opened up an impressive $50,000 lead after battling back and forth all spring with Alabama cowgirl Kristen Darnell, a race that Jane was enjoying.
“It was exciting,” she laughs.
“We’re on this challenge deal . . . just like Abilene, when we worked that hard just to get there, we knew we better make it count.”
One challenge they are likely to miss is a race to the finish, fighting the WNFR bubble. They’ve been there, done that with Jane, and she is glad to skip it this time around.
“It takes a lot of pressure off [to have Cayla ranked so high],” she says.
“We figured if I could win $80,000, I’d make it,” adds Cayla, who gets a shot at the remaining Wrangler Champions Challenge events in Cody (Wyo.), Kennewick (Wash.) and Pueblo (Colo.). “Surely I can win another $4,000.”
“But we can’t go home until after Pendleton,” Jane interjects. “It’s one rodeo she has never been to and I told her she has to run there, it’s just so exciting.”
For her part, Jane picked up checks worth $3,994 to start August—giving her the bragging rights for the weekend at least. Along with the win in Abilene, she split fourth at Phillipsburg and placed in a go at Dodge City. She had now moved inside the top 50 of the WPRA World standings.
Though Team Melby had hoped for a short break at their home in Burneyville, Okla., the patriarch of the family, Cayla’s dad Ryan put the brakes on that idea.
“He said it was just too hot at home for the horses,” Jane notes, adding that they’ve turned the rig north for Oregon with a stop on the way in Colorado.
The younger Melby will get a quick break, flying to Tennessee for a visit with her fiancee, who has just started vet school at Lincoln Memorial University. Small is currently ranked eighth in the PRCA World standings for team roping-headers and faces a busy fall between school and rodeo . . . and prepping for his October 29 wedding.
“He gets to go to the Champions Challenge in Cody and to San Juan Capistrano; he just needs to win a little bit more [to make the Finals],” Cayla notes. It could be a Vegas honeymoon for the couple if both hang on and make their first WNFR trips together come December.
As for Jane, she may need to study up on meditation or invest in lots of green tea before December.
“I get really nervous watching Cayla compete if I’m not entered!”