Practicing vs. Roping (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

I love to rope, and when I just rope, it’s a lot of fun. To me, that’s making three to six runs on a couple of horses. Flank and tie some, but not enough to get sore. Practicing is something totally different.

Practice needs to be strategically planned to be effective. You need to be smart enough to know what you need to practice on. Professional athletes focus on overcoming their weaknesses. If you’re not sure of your weaknesses, find someone knowledgeable that can help you pinpoint those areas.

Practice is not necessarily fun, but I’ve made myself love it. When I walk into my arena to practice, I visualize that I’m punching a time clock. To feel like I’ve really practiced, I want to wear out a couple of ropes and a pigging string. I have calluses on my hands from tying and if I practice to my standards, I’ll be sore for a few days.

To practice like that, it takes a lot of horses and calves. Don’t go run twenty or thirty head of calves on your horse. That’s not practice and you’ll trash your horse.

If you have trouble catching, get a breakaway and learn to catch like that. You can do a lot of groundwork without a horse, though it does take a lot of calves. Making runs is fun, but look at like running a business. Keep your strengths sharp, but focus on your weaknesses and work at that. Be strategic and have a thought out plan for your practice.

Congratulations to Cory Solomon for winning Calgary and $100,000. He’s a great young man who ropes well and has a bright future ahead of him.

Until next time, God bless, and I’ll see you down the line. If there’s something you would like me to write about, please send me an email at strant@aol.com.

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Eat to Live (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

A few months ago when I asked my Facebook fans for article ideas; I was overwhelmed with the requests for nutrition and fitness tips.  If you are anything like me, I like to formulate a plan before I go into something.   I want to get the full benefit from my training.  I think it is very important that everyone in a family buys into the system as a team.  That being said, I have two little boys: six and eight, and a baby girl.  I don’t think it would be fair to expect the same from them as I do myself.  What I try to do with them, as in other areas of their lives, is to encourage them to make wise choices.  Just as they are learning to read and write in school, they also need to learn to live healthy lifestyles.

So many people ask me what foods I eat to stay healthy.  I try to keep it as simple as possible.

  1. No White Starches
  2. No Sugar
  3. No Fried Foods
  4. No Dairy

Now that being said, when I am on the road and traveling all over United States and Canada, I have found that there are 3 keys to this…

1)     Being prepared.

We always try to have food packed and even prepared ahead of time, so we are never stuck without options.

2)     Make the best choice available.

Oftentimes, when I fly somewhere, I pack some food and protein.  But you can always find something to eat, even at McDonald’s.  If all else fails, go bunless.  You may just have to pay a little more to fill up.

3)     Never let yourself get too hungry.

It is better to eat something that is not the best choice than to not eat at all.  I have learned this the hard way.  You must have fuel to compete and be at the top of your game.  I try to eat anywhere from four to six meals a day.  You can ruin your metabolism by skipping meals.  Most people choose to skip meals when they are trying to lose weight.  Your body is forced to eat up muscle first and store fat in a survival instinct, defeating the purpose.

Have you noticed that I have not used the word “diet” at all in this entry?   That is because the first three letters in the word “diet” spell “die.”   That is exactly opposite what we are trying to do and that is to live to our full potential.  We must eat to live, not live to eat.

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My Heroes (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

This month, I was struggling with writer’s block and asked for ideas on my Facebook page. The response was overwhelming and one of the suggestions was to write about my heroes.

One of my biggest heroes growing up was my grandfather. Most of us love John Wayne, the cowboy. Well, my grandfather was that cowboy in real life. When I was young and out of school during the summers, I got to spend a lot of time with him on the ranch. I would ask him to tell me stories and he would tell me about some wild bull roping or doctoring a yearling with screwworms. He always had a story about a wild wreck they got into. That was great entertainment for me because the stories were true and my grandfather was larger than life.

Poppa died two days before I qualified for my first NFR in 1995. That was very hard for me, but even harder for my dad. My dad had been in the pasture with him since he was a little boy. They were best friends and so in tune with each other they would finish each other’s sentences. They were like an extension of each other.

I was looking at photo of my grandfather yesterday and it brought back to me what a great man he was. He didn’t try to be cool, he didn’t have to try, he just was. He was soft spoken, but there was never any doubt he could put any situation right, if necessary. All his dealings were done by handshake.

My grandfather and our life on the ranch, inspired my latest venture. Jennifer and I have partnered with Carroll Original Wear and designed a line of jackets, vests, chaps and other functional clothing for ranch work. STS Ranch Wear will be available in retail stores by September 1st and we’re finding that major farm and western stores are excited to carry it.

The biggest life lesson I learned from my grandfather is to be real and true to yourself. Be who you are and proud of that. That’s what I want to teach my children. You don’t have to be a cowboy in my family, but whatever they choose to do, I want them to have those traits. That’s what was passed down to me.

Until next time, God Bless, and I’ll see you down the line. If there’s something you would like me to write about, drop me an email at strant@aol.com.

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Are You All In? (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

The other day, I had to go to Amarillo to the vet, get my horse shod, and do some other errands. My mom happened to have a doctor appointment at the same time so we arranged our schedules to go together. That gave us two hours, each way, to visit and spend some time together.

I won’t say I’m a favorite, but I am the last of five and the baby of the babies. So there’s not much I can do wrong in my mother’s eyes. When we get a chance to spend time one-on-one, it usually doesn’t take long for the conversation to get deep. However, I was more than surprised by what she had to say:

“When you were about 17 and decided you wanted to rope, I’ve never seen anyone, in my lifetime, who was as committed and determined once you knew what you wanted. You weren’t going to accept anything but the best from yourself. You were working towards a world championship and weren’t like a kid anymore. Once you had that goal, you went at it like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

“Since winning the world in ’08, I know you’ve had surgeries and health problems, but you just haven’t roped the same. You’ve got the ranch, the cattle business, your bull business and all your other businesses. If you’re going to rope, you better make it your top priority and quit splitting time with all these other things.”

Now I’m usually the one who’s always pumping everyone up and here my mom’s telling me if I’m going to do it, I better be all in. You can’t split a career in half and see how it works. It got me to thinking how I’ve been cheating myself. When you’re not healthy, it’s easy to spend time doing other things.

The fact is I’ve never had a “Plan B.” I’ve been asked over and over what my plans were if roping didn’t work out. I’ve never given myself an out—I just don’t have a Plan B. One thing I can’t deal with, is not performing to the best of my ability. That’s just not acceptable to me.

My mom then said, “You’ve always been someone who had something to prove, more to yourself than anyone. Now, you do have something to prove because everyone thinks you’re too old, too broke down, you work out too much. Now, you have something to prove.”

I’ve always been a student of the game and a fan of any success story. I like to hear how the athletic brain works and how to deal with pressure. I wrote down a quote one day that said, “Some people go to seminars, read books, or listen to tapes on how to be successful and how to win. Other people simply win.”  Not to say you can’t learn something, but the way I win is the way I win. What works for a pro basketball player may not work for me.

This conversation with my mother means a lot, especially if you know our relationship. She was not calling me out, she was revving me up. She knows me and how I work. There’s no greater love for us than God, but a mother’s love is a close second. I’m sorrowful for people who don’t have that relationship with their mother. I do and I’ve been blessed with a wife that has that special love and bond with our children.

My dad’s advice is infrequent and important. He’s like E.F. Hutton—when he speaks, I’m listening. But for my mom to call me out, so to speak, was so unusual it caught me by surprise. The timing was perfect and exactly what I needed to hear. She more or less asked me, “Are you all in?”

“Yes, Mom; yes, I am.”

If there’s anything you would like me to write about, please send me an email at strant@aol.com. Until next month, God Bless, and I’ll see you down the line.

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Ride a Solid Horse (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Recently, I was asked why some people progress faster than others when learning to rope. There can be number of reasons, but usually the most obvious is the horse they’re riding. It’s pretty common to see a youngster or novice show up at a school riding a young horse that doesn’t know any more than they do. This is the worst possible scenario for learning and a recipe for disaster. Neither will enjoy it and it’s impossible to learn and teach a horse when you don’t know what you’re doing.

Sometimes, novice ropers show up to a school with high-powered $20,000 horses. Riding an open caliber, expensive horse will not make you learn any faster. In fact, the horse will more than likely be ruined and the kid will get discouraged. I wouldn’t let my boys learn on Destiny. First, she would run out from under them, and if they happened to stay on, she would probably throw them over her head when she stopped. You wouldn’t dream of teaching your kid to drive in a Ferrari.

Recently, at one of my schools, there was a young man riding one of the best little horses I’ve ever seen. He didn’t stand out as a kid who had grown up with a rope in his hand. But, by the second day, he hadn’t missed a calf and it was obvious to me that a lot of it was due to his horse. This horse couldn’t necessarily run like the wind, but he just did everything right for him. In fact, he reminded me a lot of the horse I rode at the finals. This horse scored like a post and when he dropped his hand, the horse took off. He was just a great solid little horse and this is exactly what you’re looking for as a parent or novice.

You need an older horse to learn on that will go do the same thing every time. When riding a solid horse, you will have more fun, and the more fun you have, the better you will get. I’ve bought more than one horse in my career that was over 21 and paid pretty big money for them. If you take good care of them, they’ll last as good as a young horse, sometimes better.

Find someone you trust in this business to help you find this kind of horse. People think they can’t afford this kind of horse when in reality there are horses getting older every day that need a good home.

Until next time, God Bless, and I’ll see you down the line. If there’s anything you would like me to write about, drop me an email at strant@aol.com.

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Nothing Worth Having is Easy (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Last November, I had a school at my house for tie-down ropers. The school was for advanced ropers from age 13 to 21. I got an email the other day from the mother of one of the boys. Here is part of that email:

“Tears still fill my eyes as I think back on when he got home, he had such a glow to him and confidence I hadn’t seen in a long time. Not only on the outside, but on the inside too. I don’t know the things you said to that group but you said something right to him, you made him feel he could do and be anything he wanted to and no one can tell him different. You showed him that God is in all things you do, believe in him, believe in yourself and nothing is impossible. We all look at the negative when we are in a situation that we don’t like but that even though we may not like it, there are always positives to it, we just have to look and find them.”

These are my goals and objectives when I’m teaching these young men and boys. The first thing I do is take the pressure off and let them have fun. Face it, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure when a kid comes to a school, especially if he’s not advanced. They’ve seen the pros and then they come to my house and it’s very intimidating. I tell them we’re going to have fun. No one cares if you’re six-seconds or if you miss every calf.

As far as teaching calf roping, I’m very strategic and break it down. I don’t want people to leave and say, “Man, that calf roping is easy.” I want them to know there are lots of blood, sweat and tears and it’s not easy. The message is nothing worth having is easy. Every calf roper at the top of this game has broken their body down.

There’s an old saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” That’s the next thing. I have an opportunity to make a connection with these boys, to love them, to encourage them, and to build a relationship. I’m trying to share life skills and if they pick up tips about roping, that’s great.

How many of these kids will pursue this path and become world champions? Maybe a few, but not many. But, they will all leave my house and live life. The principles apply whether you’re a calf roper, lawyer, truck driver – it doesn’t really matter. My main goal is for each person to leave this school and realize if they’ll find what their passion is, and work hard at it, and make the right decisions, they will live a happy life and be fulfilled. That’s my goal for the kids at my schools. My hope is they leave and feel they will be the very best they can be at whatever they are called to do.

Recently, I went to Philadelphia for surgery on my cracked pelvis. The doctors discovered my lower abdominal muscles were pulled in two, which was why my pelvis wouldn’t heal.  They repaired the muscles and now twelve days later I’m back in the gym. I feel like I’m ahead of schedule on my rehab and am hoping to rope at Houston. I’m pretty pumped up.

Until next time, God Bless and I’ll see you down the line. If anything you’d like me to write about, please feel free to contact me at strant@aol.com.

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Another NFR (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Another Wrangler National Finals has come and gone and I want to congratulate my nephew, Tuf Cooper, for winning his first gold buckle.  He’s roped well all year and I’m very proud of him. I’d sure like to give him a run for his money before I’m done.

Tuf came to my hotel room before the last performance to see if I had any advice. I told him he’d already done the hardest thing, which was sleeping the night before. Tuf is not an early riser and I was a little surprised to get a text from him the next morning at 8:00 a.m. It said: “You were wrong. The hardest thing to do is sleep the night after you win your first gold buckle.” I had to agree, because it took me two or three days before I got a good night’s rest.

This year, we saw a whole new bunch of young ropers. I call them the Ninja Turtles. And, some of the guys that are normally there were absent, like Fred and me. We’ll probably see Fred competing again next year and I’m hopeful to be there myself.

Lots of folks have asked whether I’m injured and basically why I didn’t rodeo in 2011. I went to about twelve rodeos but what has had me sidelined is a fractured pelvis. I was trying a ranch horse who decided to buck me off at a dead run. He didn’t get that accomplished, but did have me convinced I’d pulled my groin. I gave myself a few weeks off before entering a rodeo. As I was crossing and tying the calf, I was fairly certain I would pass out from the pain. I didn’t, but realized then there was something more serious going on than a pulled groin. Dr. Tandy confirmed it with x-rays and I just haven’t healed as quickly as I would like. We recently did an MRI that showed two fractures with some ligament damage and he is conferring with some specialists.

Right now, I’m focused on healing and seizing this opportunity to enjoy my time at home. This is probably the most fun I can remember having. We had our little girl this year and it’s been so nice to be home and spoil her and enjoy the boys.

I would also like to take my hat off to Trevor Brazile. I don’t know if people realize that we are watching an athlete that comes along once in a lifetime, maybe. I know how difficult it is to be one of the top competitors in one event. Trevor consistently is a top competitor in three events. He makes it look so easy that we take his talent for granted. It demonstrates his skill set and how hard he works at what he does. He makes history on a daily basis and I congratulate him for his accomplishments.

Congratulations to all the 2011 World Champions! I’m going to get well and then I’ll see you all somewhere down the line. God Bless.

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A Fred Whitfield Story (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Not long ago my dad and I built a water gap out on the ranch. Afterwards my dad said, “Well that’s probably the nicest water gap no one will ever see.” As I took a picture with my phone, I said, “Dad, you don’t realize how many people will see this on Facebook.” We worked hard and in a day’s time built something that will last for years to come.

A few days later I was in Omaha, Nebraska, for a speaking engagement during the tour finale. Afterwards I was talking to a couple of businessmen who were not rodeo people, but both had pretty amazing stories.

The first guy happened to be at a rodeo with his small daughter who wanted to enter the Mutton Busting. Neither was dressed in cowboy clothing and were a little out of place. With no prior experience, the dad didn’t have much advice for his daughter. The Tie Down roping immediately followed the Mutton Busting and there was a calf roper who noticed the little girl looking nervous so he struck up a conversation with her. They visited for ten minutes or so and he assured her that he got nervous too. Ironically, she won the Mutton Busting and her dad was surprised to see that calf roper come congratulate her. He stuck around to watch the Tie Down roping. As the announcer introduced their new friend, he was surprised to find that Fred Whitfield was an eight-time world champion.

The other businessman in our little group exclaimed, “I have a Fred Whitfield story too!” A friend of his was roping in Salinas, California, and had made it to the short round. Unfortunately the horse he had been riding was sent to another rodeo before hand.  He was looking for a mount. There aren’t many places as hard on a calf horse as Salinas and repeatedly he was turned down. He then asked Fred Whitfield who replied, “You bet, get on.”

The three biggest athletic professions are football, baseball and basketball. These professional athletes usually have agents and marketing people that seize any opportunity to promote them. If they make an appearance at a hospital or charity, you can bet there are photographers on hand. In both of these stories there was no photo op or agent watching Fred. He was acting on his own, from his heart.

Fred’s competitive drive has been the force behind his more than 3 million dollars in career earnings to make him one of only 3 people to ever accomplish this.  What I want people to realize is that there are many more stories like this , not only about Fred, but most all full time rodeo guys. Many of which never become public knowledge.

Fred Whitfield made quite an impression and created some great memories for those people.  And much like the water gap we built out on the ranch, not many people get to hear about it – but a good job was done just the same.

We still have some spots available at my Tie Down school on November 19th & 20th at my house in Childress. If you are interested, call me at 806-570-8611 or email me at strant@aol.com.

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

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A New Era (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Stran Smith, World Champion Calf Roper | Endorsee of Cactus Ropes: Official Rope of the PRCA

Stran Smith, World Champion Calf Roper | Endorsee of Cactus Ropes: Official Rope of the PRCA

Today was the beginning of a new era for our family. Jennifer has homeschooled our boys and they both started public school today. Stone started the second grade and Scout started kindergarten. Things are going to be very different for us. In the past, if I needed to be gone for two weeks, we all loaded up and off we went. I’ve had the luxury of always having them with me. Now, it’s a different ball game and we’ll have to see where it leads us.

Last week, some dear friends of ours, Cody and Stacy Custer, lost their son Aaron in an accident on his first day at college. We went and stayed with them and then returned for the funeral. It was truly a celebration of Aaron’s life.

Three boys were together in the accident and one survived. That boy was on my mind during the service and afterwards I sought him out. When I found him, I wrapped my arms around him and told him that God loved him and had plans for him. I told him this was no accident and that it was all in God’s plans. There would be life to live and things for him to do. I told him not to blame himself for surviving.

In 1996, I was in an accident and lost my best friend, Shawn McMullin. Being strong in faith helped me battle the guilt that tried to take hold. Because I did survive, I have tried to live a life that mattered. I have tried to make a difference, where and when I could, and I’d like to think Shawn would be proud of that.

Now, fifteen years later, here I am with three kids and watching my boys go off to school. I’m beyond grateful for what God has given me. I have a wonderful wife and a beautiful family. I’ve had success doing something that I absolutely love. Don’t think for one minute I take any second of any day for granted. God has a purpose for every one of us and I pray that I’m fulfilling his for me.

Till next time, God Bless and I’ll see you down the line. If there’s something you’d like me to write about, please send me an email at strant@aol.com.

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Letting Kids be Kids (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Father’s Day has me reflecting and reinforces my belief that being a good father is the greatest responsibility of my life. The most important job I will ever have is to instill good values in my children that will help them be happy and caring adults.

Baseball season just wound down last week for my boys. I’m a coach for Stone’s team, along with a friend of mine. These are eight-year-olds playing machine pitch baseball. I wasn’t there, but heard about the play-offs where mothers on opposing teams came up with different scores. The dads got involved and it almost came to a brawl, completely out of hand and unnecessary. This wasn’t even for the championship, just to see who would play our team. Ultimately, the champions would each get a trophy that cost no more than $3.50.  As ludicrous as this sounds, Junior Rodeo is underway and I can only imagine the potential for problems with buckles and saddles at stake.

These kids are seven- and eight-years-old and should be having a good time. I don’t think I’m raising a professional machine pitch baseball player. As coaches, we try and keep it fun for the kids and it’s disheartening to see parents act like this. It really makes you feel sorry for the kids because they have to be under pressure to win and that’s just inappropriate at that age. There will be plenty of time later for them to experience pressure in life.

We have to do the best we can with our kids. My job is to make it fun and let them enjoy themselves and play to the level they are. If they’re seven, let them be seven.  I see a lot of parents push their kids like it’s life or death. This is a kid that’s not even 10-years-old and they are putting the pressure of a 40-year-old on them. It hurts my heart to see kids go through this, playing a game.

At five- and seven-years-old, my boys really aren’t that interested in roping and that’s okay. I can’t put my desire to win in my boys but can let them see my work ethic, without imposing it on them. My philosophy is that some is taught, but most is caught.

When you start expecting too much from your kids, most of the time you’re asking your kid to do something you couldn’t do yourself. When you put undue pressure on a kid to perform like a professional athlete, do you think it’s a reflection of something you may have been lacking in? Oftentimes, the parents who push their kids hard are those who underachieved or under accomplished.

Most people who have accomplished their goals are pretty content with letting their kid be a kid. Those are the kids who are usually the most successful, though not always at an early age. When you push a kid too young and they’re doing it for you, they’ll be burned out and resentful of you and the sport. I’ve never seen a positive outcome from pushing your kids to compete like professional athletes.

Let your kids know you love them. Don’t rob them of confidence by expecting too much of them. Childhood should be happy and not a challenge.

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

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