Mount Money (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

The other day I ran into an old college buddy who suggested I write an article about a topic that caused the two of us to have a disagreement years ago. Back in our college days we had gone to a jackpot where I rode his horse. The entry fees were $300 and I won the last hole, which paid $350. After the roping he looked to me for the 25% mount money, which would be $75. By my calculations, I subtracted my entry fees before figuring the mount money, since we had split the cost of the fuel. I also couldn’t figure out how placing in the jackpot should cost me $25, where if I had not placed at all it wouldn’t cost me anything.

Actually we were both right and the whole problem stemmed from a lack of communication. We laugh about it now, but you can see the potential for problems and misunderstandings.

When you ride someone else’s horse there are many factors you should keep in mind. Mount money covers the expense of getting the horse to the rodeo as well as taking care of that horse. With diesel in California now close to $3.50 per gallon, that’s not exactly chump change.

If you ride someone else’s horse and he gets crippled – you didn’t cripple your horse. You crippled their horse. Most professional cowboys, especially the guys who own nice horses, will tell you that any horse has a certain amount of runs in him. Five runs on my best horse, Topper, could be five NFR runs for me – and a chance at $15,000 per night round money. Am I willing to sacrifice those runs? That’s how I feed my family so no, I am not.

Now there are some who are charging 35% mount money, an increase from the unspoken standard of 25%. They’ve raised the fee because they had to pay more for the horse or because he’s a better than average horse. Before getting on, think about how much you’re roping for and how good the horse is. It may be well worth the extra cost in mount money.

If you rodeo long enough, you will have to ride someone else’s horse at some point in time. This is just one aspect of a business where you are your own boss. Don’t assume anything – have a clear understanding beforehand. Do the right thing and don’t cheat anyone because if you do, eventually no one will mount you and that will hurt your career over the long run.

It’s also easy to forget to pay mount money. For that reason, when you get your check – write a check right then and either put it in the mail or put it in your wallet and give it to them the first time you see them. Don’t make someone ask you for it.

Consider this scenario and the potential problems that could arise. I fly to the rodeo in Cloverdale, Canada, get on someone’s horse and win $7,500. I may not see that person until Reno. Hopefully by that time I’ve received my Canadian check. By the time it’s cleared the bank, with the exchange rate, my actual winnings are now $6,750. Without prior discussion – the guy who mounted me is expecting prompt payment for 25% of $7,500, which would be $1,875. How would it go if I waited the month it took for all these checks to clear and then sent him a check for 25% of my winnings in US dollars, which would be $1,687. That $200 difference could ruin a business relationship for us both.

I’m not discouraging you from riding other people’s horses; it’s part of this business. Just be sure to handle it as a business and have a very clear understanding before you put your foot in the stirrup. In fact, my outlook has always been that I’d rather have 75% of something than 0% of nothing.


Attitude Makes the Difference (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

When I started this article I made a deal with myself not to preach, but today is Easter Sunday and the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. To me it’s the greatest story ever told and everything I stand for and believe in is based on this. It’s this understanding that makes life worth living – no matter what’s happening.

Whenever I’m asked to speak or preach it may seem that I’m stepping on toes, but like with this article I’m usually talking to myself. Continually I try to keep myself positive, especially, like now, when things aren’t happening they way I want them to.

I would like for people to be able to say about me what they say about the champ, Clay O’Brien Cooper. When you see him you don’t know if he’s winning the world or hasn’t won anything in six months – because he’s always the same.

A friend once asked me what it took to rodeo professionally. For over two hours I told him all the negative things from the financial end, the mental pressure, the responsibilities to sponsors, having good horses, and on and on. Then I told him that what it takes is to know all these things and still when you back in the corner you think, “I love this and this pressure.” I think that’s when he went home.

Everyone that does this for a living has their own way of dealing with the ups and downs of this business. The other day I roped a calf, walked back to my horse and before the six seconds was up, I repeated out loud to myself a quote from my friend, Shawn McMullen, “Stran – if it ain’t happening now, it ain’t happening yet.”

Recently I was asked who my hero was. I’m a huge sports buff and enjoy watching almost all sports. While I have the greatest admiration for these athletes I wouldn’t really call any of them my hero. Then I thought about my mom, dad and brother, all who I truly admire and respect, but knew that wasn’t what the person asking had in mind.

Finally, it dawned on me and I answered, “Tom.”

Tom is a friend of mine in Childress. Tom is forty-eight years old and lives in a nursing home because of his illness. Tom has myoclonic seizures and is confined to a wheel chair. He’s had this illness since high school and there’s no cure for it.

Tom teaches Sunday school and his favorite thing to do all day is rope the dummy. Here’s a man that’s forty years younger than anyone else where he lives. It would be easy for someone in this situation to feel sorry for themselves and endlessly ask, “Why me?”

I always go visit Tom with the intention of making him feel better and invariably it’s just the opposite. The entire time, Tom makes me feel like the biggest blessing and by the time I head home, I’m ten feet tall. It’s hard to imagine him never having a bad day, but if he does, you’ll never know it. Tom has a better attitude and outlook than anyone else I know. While the rest us are moaning and groaning about the calf we’ve drawn, or how deep the mud is, Tom’s having a great day no matter what.


Don’t Get Comfortable (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

When tying calves most people get in a position where they’re most comfortable. It’s not always the best position, but that’s where they’re comfortable. Don’t settle for less because of comfort. I’m constantly striving to get better in all aspects of my life. Whether it’s my roping, my spiritual walk or being a better husband and father, I want to be the best I can. That means taking risks and leaving my comfort zone. Complacency breeds mediocrity and that’s just not good enough.

My natural instinct is to be a coach because I make a living by winning. But now as my two-year old wants to rope, play golf and bat baseballs I’ve had cause to reflect on my own childhood and how my dad coached me.

Admittedly I was probably the most hardheaded kid in Texas and didn’t want to be told anything, I wanted to do it myself. My dad supported me and would turn calves out for days on end. He might, or might not, make a suggestion in a day’s time. Now, I think that was partially due to my hard headedness, but also because he knew the value of me learning to figure things out for myself.

As parents we love our children to distraction and want them to be the best they can be and enjoy the benefits that come with being the best. But even with the purest intentions we can rob our kids of developing problem solving skills and learning to think for themselves by telling them what to do and think.
Over the years I’ve seen this quite often at clinics and junior rodeos but had never given it much thought until I became a parent. As I play ball with Stone, I have to work hard to keep the coach in me at bay. Not only because he’s even harder headed than I was, I don’t want to turn quality time with my son into a critiquing session that he won’t enjoy and ultimately want to avoid. If he enjoys it now, he will want to excel at it later.

I’ve been a parent for less than three years and don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I do know that it’s the most important job I’ll ever have. It’s both hard and rewarding and as I raise my boys I’ll try hard to keep an open mind so I can encourage them to be individuals.

As parents it’s easy, even if unintentional, to sacrifice your child’s happiness for your own goals. As for me, I’m pushing myself to be the best dad I can be and sometimes that means not saying a word.


It Starts Again (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

When you win a big rodeo or championship, it’s real easy to talk about how blessed you are when they stick a microphone in your face. But when you don’t win, that reveals what you’re really made of and how strong your faith is.

For the last two years I’ve come so close to a championship I could taste it. In fact, the last Sunday of the finals I got to rope last which meant at that point in time I was leading the standings. Hard as I tried, it didn’t work out.

Do you accept defeat and have a pity party? I can assure you the guest list will be pretty short if you do.

Immediately I started thinking about how to improve and how to prevent repeating the mistakes I made last year. During the ninth round of the national finals I told Jennifer, my wife, that I couldn’t wait until the next year started.

It wasn’t always like this. In the late 90’s I was tired of roping and rodeo and when I didn’t do well I wanted to quit. Since roping is my job, quitting wasn’t a viable option.

Then when I had heart surgery a couple of years ago and couldn’t rope, it gave me a new outlook. I decided then if I was going to come back, that I’d come back better than before and from then on wouldn’t allow myself to have any negative thoughts.

Afterwards I worked hard and stayed positive. The more I improved, the more I craved it. Knowing I can keep getting better has ignited a passion that makes me want it more than ever. I guess it’s like lifting weights – the more you do it and improve, the more you want to.

Recently I was asked to speak at a Junior High School. I told those kids that life is all about choices. The choices we make will determine the route our life takes. Here’s what I choose:

I don’t get emotional about roping because I don’t allow it. It just gets in the way and isn’t productive. I don’t allow any negative thoughts. I stay positive and concentrate on making positive changes. I’m not my own enemy because I choose to stay out of my way.

I choose not to get in the way of being blessed the way God wants to bless me. I’m the only one who can keep myself from receiving those blessings.


The Big Picture (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Are you consistent? Score well? Good horseman? Winner? Are you a good, even great, roper?

Now, let me ask, in the big picture of life, death and eternity how much does any of that matter? While at the national finals a close friend of ours died unexpectedly. He was thirty-two years old and had a massive heart attack, leaving behind two young sons. They postponed the funeral until we got back from Las Vegas.

A tragedy like this will cause a man to reflect on his own life and how well he’s living it. During the eulogy, my friend’s many admirable character traits were listed and not one of those things in the first sentence was ever brought up.

If those things were all you were remembered for, then you really wouldn’t be leaving much behind. I would like to think at my funeral they can say I set a good example for my sons, and I was a good father, husband, role model and that I had integrity and did what I said I would do.

If they mention I was a pretty good roper, that’s okay. If they don’t, that’s okay too. I’m proud of what I accomplish in the arena – but it’s only what I do – not who I am.

I need to do it as well as I can because that’s how I pay the bills, but if I bring my successes and failures into the house at night, then I’m falling down on an even more important job as a father and husband.

This is the week of Christmas and a time to remember the reason for the season. Go tell someone you love them. Better yet, show them.


Our Second Son is Born (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Looking back over these articles this past year, you’ll find an abundance of information about preparation and competing in the quest for a world championship. Anyone who’s had the goal of winning a championship has spent some time thinking about how it will feel when the time comes.

I can assure you that as much as I’d like that experience, it will never be as fulfilling as what I felt when my sons were born. It’s awe inspiring and a little over whelming to realize that you’re responsible for this little human being and he depends on you.

In my career it’s great to win, but my first and most important goal in life is to never let Jen and the boys down, whether it has to do with winning or not. I want to spend every minute I have with my family. My life has always seemed to fly by but in the couple of years since Stone was born, it seems like it’s been in fast forward.

Words haven’t been created to describe the love you feel for your children. It’s a tremendous responsibility to realize that you can do no wrong in the eyes of your children. That in itself makes me want to be the very best I can be for them.

Our second son, Scout, was born on October 17th, causing some excitement in the process. When Stone was born Jennifer was only in labor for a couple of hours and we expected pretty much the same scenario this time.

So when her contractions started and were thirty minutes apart I wasn’t too alarmed at having a forty-five minute drive to the hospital. About ten minutes from the hospital I became alarmed. I was driving my mothers car, a Lexus, and my speed those last ten minutes was in the triple digits.

When we got to the hospital the contractions were one minute apart. I parked in front and after getting Jennifer into a wheel chair, I literally ran pushing her to the OB department in the back of the hospital. The nurse seemed pretty relaxed while I was trying to make them realize she was going to have the baby any minute. Then they checked her out and also became alarmed. Scout was born in just a little over an hour from the time Jen went into labor.

Having one child already, we considered ourselves experienced. With Stone, things didn’t happen quite as fast and we had the luxury of an epidural shot and enjoyed an overall pleasant experience. Unfortunately, this time things were happening too fast for Jen to get an epidural. Natural childbirth is a true miracle, but can be un-nerving when unexpected. I was trying to help Jen stay calm but I’m not sure how effective I was after my NASCAR driving experience and my adrenaline still pumping.

Now, a month later, that panic is just a memory and we’re enjoying our healthy baby boy. I like to think with each child I become wiser. When I was younger I always thought that fifty percent of life was what happened to you and the other fifty was how you handled it. Now I know that ten percent of life is what happens to you and the other ninety is how you handle it.

I hope you enjoy reading these articles as much as I enjoy writing them. If you have a question you want to ask, you can visit my website at where you can leave me a message. If you happen to be at the National Finals this month and see me, be sure and grab me and tell me what you want to hear about in this article.

I hope everyone has a safe and happy Christmas and holiday season. God Bless, and Ill see you down the line.


Preparing for the Finals (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Normally at this time of year, as the regular season winds down, I begin to focus on getting ready for the National Finals. But this year is not a routine year as we’ve just moved into a new house and in the next week or so Jennifer and I will have our second son. We’ve got the Dallas Tour Finale coming up and Topper just won the AQHA Calf Horse of the Year again for the second time. It’s an exciting time for me personally and things have been so hectic I almost feel like I need to enter some rodeos to get some rest.

Still this is about the time people start asking, “How do you prepare for the National Finals?”

Honestly this is the only time of the year I can truly concentrate, day after day, on getting my horses and my body ready for the finals. There was a time when I would run fifty or more calves a day in preparation for the finals. Now, a few years and surgeries later, I’ve changed my emphasis to quality rather than quantity.

I don’t own a practice horse and won’t buy one before the finals, but that’s as much to keep me from running too many as anything. I’ll concentrate on getting Topper and myself both in shape because I want us both breathing fire in Las Vegas.

Many people have a misconception of the National Finals and how physically demanding it is. What they don’t understand is that the roping is the easy part. It’s not just a matter of roping ten calves in ten days. With scheduled appearances and obligations to sponsors I will walk more in those ten days than any given month during the year.

To feel fit and have my legs under me, I’ll do a lot of cardio work on the bike and treadmill, among other things. This time is really enjoyable to me because I know I can get up every day, rope at home and concentrate on my roping and getting my horses in shape.

Contrary to what you might think, I don’t go out there day and see how many I can rope in six seconds. One year using the same barrier and conditions as the finals, I did that for a solid week. It was a lot of fun and I tied over twenty that week in less than seven seconds. At the time I needed to know that I could do it. I won’t do that at home on Topper anymore because now I know anytime we’re backed in the box there’s a good possibility we’ll be that fast.

As for getting Topper ready, we’ll do lots of sprints to build his wind. He’s such a great athlete and has had more great ropers ride and win big ropings on him than any other horse I can think of. He’s twenty-three and could very well be the oldest horse to win the Calf Horse of the Year. I think one reason he’s lasted so well is because I quit treating him like an old horse. I always take care of him and take precautions about the ground and so on, but the fact is he loves his job. I have to give a lot of credit to my vet, Gregg Veneklausen. Topper’s as sound as he’s ever been.

At the finals the one and only key thing for me is to get a good start. For me, after getting a good start, everything else is easy. In the past at the finals I’ve placed on every calf where my start was good, as long as the calf didn’t kick.

Any time someone asks me how to get out at a rodeo, I usually laugh and say, “Nod, hesitate and go.” At the finals you just take out the “hesitate.”

This is my seventh article and I would really love to hear from some of you and what you think, along with any questions you might have. You can visit my website at and leave your questions or comments. Good luck, God Bless and thanks for your support.


The Pace of Pro Rodeo (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Well I’ve been going for four days now on six hours sleep and am in the airport waiting to board another flight tonight so that I rope in the morning. It’s been pretty much full throttle like this since leaving Reno in June.

Last year I passed up seven or eight rodeos that were hard to get to. At the time I thought if I was going to win the world, it would be because of what happened at the Dallas Tour Finale or National Finals and it would either happen or it wouldn’t.

When it was all said and done, I missed winning the world championship by $2,000. I learned something from that. Last year I averaged winning from $1,400 to $2,000 per rodeo, which means that mathematically I would have won it if I hadn’t passed up those rodeos. After that I made a promise to myself to that I would not let any rodeos go by and I would make my seventy-five. That’s what I think about every time I feel like turning out.

Going like this is hard and when I do get a chance to sleep, I’m usually so exhausted that I can’t. I take lots of Advil and drink a lot of caffeine. Still, I’m more determined now than ever because coming that close last year was like giving a lion a taste of blood. I could literally get in the truck and drive to Canada if I had to.

One thing I couldn’t live with would be to hold myself back by protecting myself. I want to know that I did all I could do. Right now that means going and rodeoing hard. I’ll rest on December 15th, but not until then. Whether rodeoing or practicing for the Tour Finale or National Finals, I’m all out.

I’ve taken the same approach with my horses. After Reno I decided I wasn’t going to save Topper for the finals like I usually do. I’ve ridden him at all the Tour rodeos and have won first or second on him every time and it’s paid off. One of my goals has been to win the $25,000 bonus for having the most combined Tour points. Right now I’m leading that race by over 20 points because of that decision.

This pace is exhausting and you don’t feel good a lot of the time. But, for a few minutes before you rope, you tell yourself that you’re not tired, hungry or sleepy. And it’s not a lie – you really aren’t. You have to put yourself at the top of your game because you really don’t have any choice.

I don’t acknowledge being tired because it’s so exciting to be in this race. It’s inspiring to watch everyone, their horses and the determination as they step it up a notch. There aren’t many sports where athletes improve with age, but Mike Johnson is better now than he’s ever been in his career.

There’s also the race of guys trying to make the finals. I think everyone should have to rope under that kind of pressure at least once. Having the finals made means you still have some options, but the guys trying to make them are not only forced into going, but they have to win. It can be really inspiring to watch this unfold and I believe these situations and how you react to them reveals your true character and mental toughness.

Over the next few months I’ll go to the Finales in Omaha, Dallas and then the National Finals. Somewhere during that time my wife and I are going to have another little boy. Whenever Jennifer and Stone, my son, get to be with me on the road is just the ultimate for me. Having them with me is almost like cheating the system.

Things might be a little tough right now but when I stop and think about the victims of Katrina who have lost their loved ones, their homes and virtually everything they own, it tends to change my perspective. In the grand scheme of things, I’m blessed and my heart and prayers go out to those people.


When to Pro Rodeo (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

To me, one of the biggest tragedies in professional rodeo is the number of young ropers with phenomenal talent trying to make the NFR each year – and knowing it won’t happen for them.

There are so many kids with “the dream.” Most of these kids work real hard, rope good, and are seldom beat growing up. So when they turn eighteen, they immediately buy their PRCA card and go about trying to fill their permit. What these kids, and many parents, don’t realize is that the physical act of roping is just one of many skills needed to succeed in professional rodeo.

To rodeo professionally and successfully you need be able to: manage money, promote yourself, be a master planner and scheduler – all while taking care of your business and horses. To do this even remotely well takes “round the clock” effort and it’s happening so fast that it’s easy to miss or forget something important.

The normal eighteen year-old usually isn’t prepared for this. Because they don’t realize that roping good isn’t enough, they won’t grasp the significance of the business end of rodeo. Sadly, by the time they figure it out, their egg’s been busted and they go home defeated.

Professional baseball, football and basketball all have minimum age limits. With contracts worth millions of dollars, most of these athletes have managers to take care of them and their business, and who’ll bring them along without hampering their development.

I think every kid should go to college and get a degree before they rodeo professionally. Because I didn’t really start roping until the age of sixteen or seventeen, I went to college primarily to develop my roping skills. It was a blessing in disguise because I matured a lot during that time and developed some much needed business skills.

I remember a roper who was one of the toughest and quickest guys I had ever seen. He joined the PRCA as soon as he turned eighteen and five years later still had not made the finals. He didn’t make them until a seasoned veteran took him under his wing and showed him the “ropes.”

At the end of the summer, before my senior year in college, I had $30,000 won with a real good chance of making the National Finals if I kept going. It was a hard decision but I went back and finished school knowing I’d have plenty of time once I graduated. Consequently I made the finals the next year.

Unfortunately, when kids get out there before they’re mentally mature, inevitably they will start doubting their ability and very few make the finals. When the mental aspect of rodeo is a constant struggle for the top fifteen, you can be sure it’s devastating for someone who’s young and inexperienced.

By going to college and getting a degree, you’ll give yourself a legitimate chance at your dreams. If you don’t believe me, skip college, spend $500 on your card and fill your permit and I’ll pay my kids’ college tuition with your money.


How Roping School Help (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

The “fourth of July marathon” is over for another year. In the past I’ve worked the fourth a number of ways. This year The Pharr’s and I split our rigs up in two different directions and would either ride with the rig or fly. Between us, we won almost $50,000 in eight days. By splitting up rigs I was able to send my best three horses to different rodeos and win first on each one of them. It’s a prime example of the benefits of having and keeping good horses, the subject of last month’s article.

Since Reno I’ve won about $30,000, placing in both rounds and winning the average at Prescott; placing in the second round at Greeley; winning the second round at Pecos; splitting first at St. Paul, Oregon and winning Vernall, Utah.

I don’t feel like I’ve done anything extraordinary to accomplish this. I’ve just tried to go rope and tie down every calf the best that I can. It sounds simple and actually it is – especially at a time like this. I missed one of my calves at Reno during the Tour Finale and as disappointing as that was, I couldn’t let that devastate me and cause me to miss the next one.

Some ropers will miss a calf and then go rope the dummy a hundred times. You didn’t miss because you forgot how to rope. It’s simple. You made a mistake. Get over it and don’t do it again. Letting one mistake lead to another is what happens to almost all ropers. Know that every run is a new opportunity.

I taught a school in Farmington, Utah, the week before Reno, which was beneficial for me before the fourth of July. When teaching I stay with the basics and try to keep it simple. Having to break roping down to the base fundamentals always helps my roping.

Teaching can be very rewarding and I enjoy it. Now days I don’t rope and flank and tie as much at my schools as I used to, but am more exhausted at the end of the day. A friend of mine said it’s mental exhaustion from trying so hard. After thinking about that comment, he’s absolutely right.

I respect everyone who comes to a school, because by being there they want to get better. I like to think I’m trying to get better every day. As a teacher I want to give everything I’ve got and when it’s over I want my students saying, “Wow.”

Learning to rope is a progressive process. For instance if you are just learning, you can hear everything I have to say to someone that’s been roping for ten years, but you won’t be able to apply it because you’re not at that place in the process yet. Everyone is able to absorb a certain amount of information and you can’t control that.

People who show the most improvement are those that attend a school at least annually. The reason is because they absorb the information and principles that fit their roping at that time and then take time putting it into practice. Six months or a year later they have advanced in the process and are ready for more information. By doing this systematically, whether it’s annually or semi-annually, their roping steadily advances and their progress is obvious.

Most things learned in a school must be accomplished in time. It’s a slow process and there’s no quick shortcut in learning to rope. It takes time and repetition.

When it comes to roping, the sky is the limit – if you’re willing.