Time Spent and Knowledge (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Most of the time when ropers are shopping for a new horse, they try to buy the best horse their money can buy. My philosophy is a little different because I have a specific style of riding and roping, and will do my best to find a horse that fits my style. I would rather have a horse that’s not quite as good if he fits me better. It’s not about who’s riding the best horse – it’s about who can win the most riding their horse.

If you own three horses and they’re all different, you will constantly have to shift gears and change what you’re doing and that’s disruptive. I prefer horses that are quick and short strided and if all my horses are similar I can maintain a better rhythm. I also have to be smart enough to recognize that type of horse.

It’s important to realize that every horse won’t fit in the same cookie cutter mold. I see a lot of mistakes made by people trying to use the same training and practice methods on every horse they ride. What’s good for one horse is not necessarily good for the other. Though I have a philosophy on riding and training, I realize I will have to tweak that philosophy for each horse. All horses are unique individuals and to enjoy success with a horse you will have to get to know him and find what works best for him.

Horsemanship is key and most cowboys today don’t have a fraction of the horsemanship as the “old time” cowboys. The old timers who roped forgot more than today’s rodeo cowboys will ever know. They were real cowboys because they rode more than they drove and spent almost as many hours in the saddle as not.

It wasn’t unusual for them to ride for ten or more hours before they roped. Not only were they smart about their horses, but their horses were experienced, ridden down and ready to work. Now days we keep our horse in a stall, feed them high power feed and supplements and then expect to knock the edge off after fifteen minutes of loping circles.

I realize it’s not 1940 and most people want to rope and enjoy themselves. Most people don’t want to take a $50,000 horse and long trot them across the pasture, although I do with mine. We’re in a day and age where we have access to a lot of information, too much information actually. Everyone has advice: from reiners, cutters, horse trainers and guys who rope for a living. You can learn something from every one of them. It may not always be right, but it will challenge you to think and may even solidify what you believe.

Time spent and knowledge – be a student of it. Till next month, God Bless and I’ll see you down the line.


Are you Hungry? (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Recently, I’ve been to three awesome jackpots where attendance, in both contestants and spectators, assures me our sport is alive and well–even in the midst of an economic crunch.

The first was Joe’s Boot Shop Roping in Clovis, New Mexico and I have to commend Joe Rhodes for putting on another great event. They roped nearly around the clock for three days with the open held on the third day. There was something for everyone to rope in.

Next, was the Justin Mass roping in Giddings, Texas. Another great roping that paid well. That night, we went to Joe Beaver’s for the ten-man elimination style match roping that benefits the children’s hospital. Trevor won it. The amount of spectators at this event was mind-boggling.

These are great jackpots where you get to run a lot of calves for a lot of money–and it was exactly what I needed. Up to this point, I have been struggling somewhat. In the past, I’ve always had lots of motivation at the winter buildings and through the spring. To compete successfully, day in and day out, you have to be driven and hungry to win.

This year, after achieving a lifetime goal, it’s been more difficult. Everywhere I go, people slap me on the back and congratulate me. They’re so supportive and happy for me. It’s been hard to keep the determined mentality that I normally have. It’s made it hard to come back with a vengeance.

It’s kind of like going to the grocery store when you’re hungry versus going after you’ve just eaten.  You can be determined, but unless you’re hungry, it’s not the same. I’ve been full and content. I’ve probably roped and practiced as much as ever, but I’ve been looking for the spark–that “eye of the tiger.”

I talked to Joe Beaver about it and he said after he won his first gold buckle, he almost didn’t make the finals the following year. I totally understand that. I still have the same competitiveness and even the dissatisfaction when I don’t win, but the hunger before I rope has been lacking. These jackpots gave me the taste of blood I needed to be hungry again.

Most sports, especially at higher levels, require a balance. Let’s face it, competing at a world class level requires an edge where you have an animal instinct with a taste for blood. It’s the opposite of wandering through a beautiful garden and getting a warm, fuzzy, and peaceful feeling.

Though you need to tap into that animal, you need to learn to turn him on and off. You better be hungry and able to feed that animal, but also know when and how to turn him off. That’s where we’re called to find a balance–both ways.

Till next time, God Bless, and I’ll see you down the line.


Loosen Up (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Currently, I’m traveling with my two nephews, Tuff and Stetson, and the other day we started talking about relaxing and how important it is to your performance.  In golf, they say the perfect grip is supposed to be like putting a bird in your hand and holding him tight enough that he can’t get away, but not so tight that you kill him.

I was roping the dummy before the National Finals, with that thought in mind, and started concentrating on using a light grip on my rope. Mentally, you can try to relax and even convince yourself that you are – but, you can never fake your horse out. If you can learn to be relaxed and loose with your rope and then fine-tune it with your fingers, that has a way of transferring it through your body to your legs, which is exactly what your horse reads. Being nervous and tight, even subconsciously, causes your horse to be nervous, anticipate and makes it hard for him to stand still.

Being in control and focused is the key to performing at your peak. When you get nervous your heart beats faster, you don’t breathe as well and you won’t perform as well. I don’t know anyone who gets nervous when they practice. Controlling your nerves is essential to peak performance. Most people don’t realize that it starts with your rope and your grip is your connection to your rope. Which, in turn, makes your contact with your rope, or your hand, the most important part of your roping.

I look back on my best NFR, to the 5th round, when the barrier caught my rope. Because I had a fairly loose grip on it, the barrier only succeeded in pulling the spoke from my hand – enabling me to grab it back and in one swing be back in position to rope. If I’d had a tight grip on my rope, it’s likely that I would have lost my rope entirely and possibly pulled my shoulder out of socket.

When you grip down on the rope in your hand, you’re squeezing the rope rather than loosening up. Try to relax your hand and feel the rope with your fingertips. Instead of choking your rope, you should lightly manipulate it. How tight you hold your rope is how tight your horse perceives you to be and he will react accordingly.

Till next time, God Bless and I’ll see you down the line.


The Pain of the Distance (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Last week I went to Miami for a few days to train with Dodd and as I was walking into a vitamin shop, it dawned on me that it was almost two years to the day since I first walked in there. I was trying to overcome my shoulder injury and get in shape. Though at times I felt low, I knew at least I still had Topper. Then, while I was there, he was killed.

It all hit at one time. I remember thinking that I could accept everything that had happened but I couldn’t see how losing Topper was going to be good. My faith told me it would be okay but I sure couldn’t see it at the time.

At that point, I was really doing some soul searching and asking myself if I was still supposed to being do this. It had been a good living; I wasn’t a broke cowboy that needed to find a job to pay off credit card debt that I had accumulated rodeoing. I like to think I’ve been smarter with my money and investments than that.

In Florida last week, I thought about the low point I was at two years ago and how it’s all come full circle. At the time, I questioned my physical ability, whether I could win consistently without Topper, and most importantly whether or not I wanted to go through another year-long battle on the rodeo trail. To other people, a comeback seemed improbable, if not impossible. I’ve never looked at things like that and actually thrive on the challenge.

Now, two years later, I’m glad I decided to go forward – and to go full force. It’s been an amazing journey with no regrets. Recently, I read a survey where eight out of ten people said the only regrets they had were the things they didn’t try – not the things they tried and didn’t succeed at. I’ve always said that when I’m sixty and look back my biggest fear would be for me to say, “If only I would have….” – whatever that might be.

I don’t believe I’ll have those regrets about my roping because I’ve tried to do everything possible to be successful, leaving no stone unturned. If it means changing everything I eat to food that doesn’t taste good to anyone else, it’s no big deal because I see the results. If it means buying another horse to make my other last longer, I’ll do that. If it means buying a bus so I can have my family with me, then that’s easy to do.

I’ll go the extra mile to get that two percent. That’s what I’m looking for because I expect 110% from myself. We all have 10% more than what we realize and I want to use all of mine.

My motto is, “The pain of the distance is the price of the journey.” Till next time, God Bless and I’ll see you down the road.


Scoring and Stretching (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Staying in good physical shape involves three parts: lifting weights, cardio and stretching. Roping calves also involves three parts: catching, flanking & tying and scoring. Ironically in both situations the most important part gets the least attention.

In physical fitness the normal priority is weights, cardio and stretching when it should be exactly the opposite. First and foremost should come stretching, cardio and then weights. Professional athletes, like football players, will stretch two hours or so prior to a game. That gives muscles time to regroup, recollect and be ready for a quick twitch fire. An intense stretch right before you perform actually dulls the muscles. While I usually stretch for an hour each day, before I rope I will do some light stretching in order to warm my muscles up.

Most people prioritize their roping practice by catching, flanking & tying with scoring third. Again, this is backwards from how it should be. First and foremost should come scoring, then catching and finally flanking & tying.

Scoring is important is because it sets up your catching. Whether or not you score well makes catching either easy or difficult. How many ropers do you know who have dedicated a day to videoing their scoring – with no rope in their hand? Usually when a roper picks up a rope, his brain goes to his right hand. How much time do you spend behind a barrier at home and do you put it up when you rope?

Many people score the same every time at home. They see the same start on the same kind of calves repeatedly. To truly be effective, you need some variables or tools to change it up. Rope different types of calves and periodically slide a bar in the chute that the calves have to jump over. Change it up.

The biggest thing scoring and stretching have in common is that they are not fun to do – but should have the most time and importance given to them. There’s an old saying in golf that goes, “Drive for show – putt for dough.” By applying that philosophy to roping I say, “Rope and tie for show – score for dough.”

Until next time God Bless and I’ll see you down the line.


A “Minor” Adjustment Converts World Champion

PLEASANTON, TEXAS (February 9, 2009) – After Riley Minor gave Chad Masters a used XS Xplosion at this past WNFR, Chad Masters has officially been converted to a four-strand user.

When Cactus Ropes began working with six-time All-Around Champion, Trevor Brazile, the first thing he said about the new Xplosion was, “This is the rope that will convert die-hard three-strand users.”

He couldn’t have been more correct.

The three-strand Magnet has been the rope of choice for 2007 World Champion header Chad Masters since 1996. He has swore up and down that if his Magnets can win him a world title, “… what reason would I have to switch now?”

That reason came this past December when WNFR rookie header, Riley Minor, offered Chad a used, extra soft Xplosion. Reluctant at first, Chad tried the new purple, four-strand and the conversion began. Needless to say, Riley roped all ten steers at the ’08 WNFR with an Xplosion bank rolling $41,466 at his first trip to “The Dance”.

Making one “Minor” adjustment to his 2009 game plan, Chad has kicked off, rather Xploded, out of the gates with a huge bang! His new four-strand has taken him to the number one spot in the PRCA standings with $20,731 won in the first six weeks of play. Chad and the extra soft Xplosion were batting a thousand by winning the first two major rodeos of the year, Odessa and Denver. Considering Trevor’s WNFR average win, the Xplosion is currently undefeated!

The constant demand from headers and heelers of all levels, coupled with the durability of Cactus’ new Xplosion, proves that this rope is the new wave of four-strands. Ask Chad and he’ll agree that the Xplosion is the rope to convert even the most faithful three-strand users.

*****Chad Masters/ Michael Jones 1st in Average. Odessa, TX. 11.3 on 2, Chad Masters/ Michael Jones 1st in Average. Denver, CO 15.5 on 3, Trevor Brazile/ Patrick Smith 1st in Average 2008 WNFR 60.1 on 10*****


Unchartered Territory (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

For the last week I’ve been in Denver for the rodeo and the market. This is the first market for our furniture company, SmithVonBach. The market went great with lots of orders and it’s sure given me an appreciation for that side of business. For more information you can visit smithvonbach.com. I need to learn to juggle to be able to balance my roping, the new business and my sponsors.

The number of people who shake my hand and congratulate me for winning the world championship is amazing. I didn’t dream it would mean that much to so many people. It’s very humbling and flattering but the reality is that with the New Year all of us start over at zero.

I’ve got the same goal as I did last year and I’m just as hungry. While it’s nice to enjoy my accomplishments, I’ve never seen calf take much notice of a buckle. Each and every year you have to go out and earn it and I love that about our sport.

Having won a world championship for the first time puts me in unchartered territory. It’s very important to me not to become complacent and to stay as focused and determined as I have been in previous years.

Somehow I don’t think that will be a problem. I’ve been to three rodeos so far this year and haven’t won anything yet. So I’m headed home and in the ten days before I head to the next one I’ll rope three or four hundred and practice like I’m eighteen again.

Until next time, God Bless and I’ll see you down the line.


In the Zone (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Achieving a life-long goal is awesome and gratifying. It is also unexpectedly humbling. Even though I’ve lived in Childress, Texas all my life, I was overwhelmed when there was a congratulatory party at our church with about two hundred people. Definitely humbling.

Rewarding as it may be, I know it’s not that much about me as it is an entire team of people. Jennifer has given so much of herself and not just as a wife. I’m fully aware that she could pursue a large and successful career but because of the importance of being together as a family, we rodeo as a family. For my entire career I’ve had people that have helped and pushed me to the next level including my parents, my wife, all of my immediate family and closest friends. They have all made sacrifices to reach this goal and because of that I have trouble taking credit for it. It’s definitely a team effort.

I visited Dr. Tandy this week and had an MRI done on my shoulder. In the fourth or fifth round at the finals, the barrier rope caught my loop and jerked my shoulder and it’s been pretty sore. I was afraid I would have to have surgery but with a little physical therapy and a couple of weeks off, I’ll be good to go.

My main goal at the finals this year was to avoid major catastrophe: breaking the barrier, missing a calf, or a calf getting up. The game plan was to rope ten calves, take what was given and let it fall where it may. I wasn’t trying to win every round – just to rope every calf. In the past I’ve either been trying to win the average or the day money so this mentality was new for me. I had a lot of confidence in my horse and didn’t have to push the barrier because she’s so fast.

In the final round it came down to a one-header between Trevor, Tuf, Hunter and me. Even leading the average I still had to beat those four guys in the round to win the world title. Whoever finished ahead of the others in that round would end up winning the world. They all roped behind me and all I could do was the best I could and hope it was good enough. The calf I drew had gotten up with Justin Mass so I decided to go tie him, try and win the average and let them beat me. That was the plan an hour before the rodeo.

For one of the few times I can remember I was in “the zone” and completely and utterly focused. When it came down to it, I just reacted. When I “regained consciousness” and heard the crowd roar I looked down and had just a wrap and a hooey on him.

Normally I can run up to my horse anywhere and she’ll stand still. But when the crowd got loud in the Thomas & Mack she got scared and even more alarmed when I started running to her which caused her to drag a little. When I pulled my hooey the calf had sucked his legs a little and it was long six seconds to see if he stayed down. He did and I won second in the round and won the average, making that one run worth $56,000.

I’d like to thank everyone for all the congratulations and well wishes. I’d also like to thank my sponsors for making it possible for me to do what I love every day.

God Bless and I’ll see you down the line.


Cactus Ropes’ Endorsees’ WNFR Results

PLEASANTON, TEXAS (December 22, 2008) – Cactus Ropes was well represented at the WNFR this month in Las Vegas.  Thirteen WNFR finalists were Cactus Ropes endorsees. This year, four of those 13 collected gold buckles.

Taking home 2008 World Championship titles were Matt Sherwood-World Champion Header, Stran Smith-World Champion Tie-Down Roper, Luke Branquinho-World Champion Steer Wrestler and Trevor Brazile-PRCA All Around Cowboy.  Other Cactus WNFR finalists were Garrett Tonozzi, Riley Minor, Chad Masters, Jake Stanley, Allen Bach, Brady Minor, Clay O’Brien Cooper and Clint Robinson.

Matt Sherwood won the World Champion Header title. This was Matt’s second World Championship. He won his first in 2006.

Luke Branquinho was a double champion. He won both the World Championship and the WNFR Championship in Steer Wrestling. This was Luke’s second world title having also won the same honor in 2004.

Stran Smith was another twofold champion. He won the WNFR top award and the 2008 World Championship in tie-down roping.  This was Stran’s tenth (consecutive) year to qualify for the WNFR, but his first World Championship. Stran’s wife, Jennifer, was on-hand as an ESPN commentator to see Stran’s win. She conducted the post-event interview with her husband, and did a good job of maintaining her composure until her last question. At that point, she finally succumbed to her exhilaration. Instead of finishing the interview with that last question, she closed it by giving her husband an emotional hug.

Last, but certainly not least, Trevor Brazile happened to win another award. Befitting of the name given to his line of products – “Relentless” – Trevor was exactly that. For the sixth time in the last seven years, he was the PRCA All-Around Cowboy. He did this by winning the WNFR Team Roping Championship, placing 2nd in the year-end steer roping standings, and 3rd in the year’s tie-down roping standings. Trevor’s 2008 winnings were $419,868, surpassing his nearest competitor by a whopping $204,000. In 2007, Trevor obliterated the previous PRCA All-Around winnings record and in the process smashed his own 2006 previous best of $329,924 in the prize money. He fell just short of his 2007 record by only $5,247.

Cactus Ropes could not be more proud of the 2008 accomplishments of our Cactus Cowboys. Together, they won a total of almost two million dollars. The road to Vegas is a long and grueling trip. It extracts a high price on families, finances, horses, and cowboys, but the rewards that come with achieving the goal and the self-esteem gained in the process last a lifetime. Cactus Ropes is proud to extend our sincerest congratulations to all of our WNFR qualifiers.


A Fine Line (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Last month, I wrote about preparing for the match roping against Cody Ohl at the San Angelo Roping Fiesta. Roping fifteen calves weighing the neighborhood of 300 lbs. is nothing short of an endurance race and it was a great test for the physical conditioning I have done for the last year. I was excited that the calves really didn’t give me much trouble.

With big calves in a rocky arena I decided to ride my backup horse. Mid-way through the match I had a decent lead and things starting going better for Cody. Then, my eleventh calf was about to get away and when I roped him, my loop bounced off his shoulder and came off. It was just one of those things that happen and I wouldn’t have done it any differently.

When it got down to the last calf I had to be twelve to win the match. For just one run, and a crucial one, I decided to ride my mare. Though I saw the same out on the barrier as I had all day, my mare leaves so much harder that we broke it and ultimately lost the match.

It would have been great to win the match but I’m more than satisfied with my performance and stamina in the roping itself.  In less than ideal conditions, I lived up to my own expectations. If my life were all tied up in what goes on at the end of a rope and when I throw my hands up, then it would be hard, if not impossible, to have a fulfilled life – because you’d live and die with each run.

Grantlin Rice, known as one of the greatest sports commentators, would always close his show with this statement that pretty much sums up my feelings: “And when that one great scorer comes to mark against your name, he marks not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game.”

A member of my church recently wrote something I want to share with you. Anyone who competes – at anything – can benefit from these words.

A Fine Line
Confidence is a great attribute to possess
God given to many, self developed by others
It produces a high unmatched by any
The effects almost drug-like
Sought after, most likely by everyone
But like drugs, overdose can be fatal
Arrogance steps in and destroys the character of confidence
Being overconfident is as dangerous as lacking
Such a fine line to walk
So walk hand in hand with God
Who is able to help us keep our balance
And ultimately have confidence in him

Until next month, God Bless and I’ll see you down the line.