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.

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