Live Life to the Fullest (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

This is the sixth year I’ve been writing this Down the Line article. Each month this job rolls around faster than you can imagine and I sometimes scramble for something to write about.

So when faced with this task, I remind myself that people actually want to hear what I have to say. Enough so, that they read my article. That’s very humbling to me – to think that people are actually interested in what I have to say. I believe, as it says in the Bible, when much is given, much is required. And though I’ve been blessed and given so much, I’m still honored and take this very seriously.

At the same time, I ask myself, “Who am I to give advice on life?” Usually when I’m writing about life or my philosophy on how to live, I’m speaking as much to myself as anyone. I do try very hard to give good and honest advice or thoughts straight from my heart.

Ultimately what I want for everyone who reads this article is to live life to the fullest. Expect a lot of yourself and revel in your triumphs and embrace life’s challenges. Because on the other side of the hard times are the good times. The best times of your life cannot be fully appreciated without knowing the joy of surviving and triumphing challenges.

Leading up to my recent shoulder surgery I was in constant pain. I had decided that if the surgery did not remedy this, I would seriously look at winding down my calf roping career. During the recuperation I still had some pain here and there and was hesitant to call the surgery a success. Today I roped twenty-five calves and my shoulder hasn’t felt this good in years. I had forgotten what it was like to rope without pain in my shoulder. I could tell by the smile on my dad’s face what a difference it made in my roping.

Though I had dreaded the surgery and what it might mean, I can now celebrate the outcome. Life is a journey that is sometimes rocky and out of our control, but I plan to soak up each moment and experience and thank God for it.

An experience that has been profound for me recently is having a little girl. I love all my children exactly the same amount, but there’s something a little different, more protective, about having a girl. My daughter is two months old now and it still blows me away. She is so dependent, innocent and pure. It’s given me a new perspective.

If you have any questions or anything you would like me to write about, please email me at Till next, God Bless, and I’ll see you down the line.



Big Buts (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

This evening I filled in for our youth pastor at church and the subject of our class was “Big Buts.” Here are some examples:

  • We would have won the ball game BUT the referee made a mistake.
  • I would have passed Algebra BUT the teacher didn’t like me.
  • I would have won the rodeo BUT my calf kicked.

“Buts” or excuses are a dime a dozen and heard more often in non-professional sports than professional sports. Once an athlete becomes a professional, excuses should be minimal. It’s easy to find a reason why things didn’t go the way you wanted. It’s much harder to be totally honest with yourself.

An honest and good attitude can make “Buts” work in your favor: I didn’t do any good at the rodeo BUT my horse sure worked good.

One of the greatest injustices you can do to your kids is to make excuses for them. I hear a lot of people do this and think they don’t understand that they are giving their kid a free pass from trying to be their very best. It’s so important to be honest with yourself and each other as to why something didn’t work. There’s no shame in not being the best. However, there is shame in being dishonest about it. If you are an excuse maker then you will pass that down to your kids.

My rule is that I don’t make excuses. At the end of everything, ultimately there’s no excuse. If I miss a calf there’s really no excuse. There can be many reasons it doesn’t work out, but ultimately if he’s in the arena, I’m a professional and supposed to be able to catch him.

I hear a lot of people make excuses, but in reality if everything had gone perfectly it would have worked. Realizing your mistakes and addressing them helps you grow. Don’t lie to yourself and accept the easy excuses that make you feel better. You will never improve by giving yourself a free pass.

Till next time, God Bless, and I’ll see you down the line. If there’s something you want me to write about, drop me a line at


Broaden Your Mind (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

The other day, a friend and I were talking about my last article and letting kids enjoy whatever they compete at. I realize the person I’m really trying to reach and speak to is myself. I truly feel that whatever I write about is what the Lord is trying to convey to me. I want people to know I don’t have this figured out and am a work in progress.

In trying to broaden my mind, I’ve come to believe that if you want to be small minded you talk about people; if you want to be average minded you talk about events; and if you want to be big minded, you talk about ideas. So I told my friend about an experiment I did six or seven years ago while warming up for the slack at Laughlin. I came up with some brainteasers I’d heard and while visiting during warming up I would throw these out to people. It was amazing to see how people reacted. The people who wanted to be small-minded didn’t seem interested and distanced themselves from me. Others would come back all through the day and make guesses and ask questions. I wanted to challenge people and in turn it separated the three categories of people.

What I found was the people who kept coming back and trying to figure out the riddle were the people who were working hard in their life to better themselves, people with a “can do” attitude. This spoke loudly to me. Now when I look back and think about where those people are in life it’s not surprising. There are many people who have a lot of ability who don’t make it in rodeo; then there are people who don’t have as much ability but have a great attitude that do make it. You can win because of ability but you win consistently because of mental toughness.

That kind of attitude will help you appreciate life and make the most of your time. It’s easy for me to get caught up in getting from event to event and looking that the time in between as wasted or down time. Time is what we make of it. If I’m not careful I’ll miss out on the real events in life, which is a Saturday at home with my family. Even if it’s just the boys and me riding horses on the ranch, that’s the real joy in life.

This relates to last month’s article and how hard parents sometimes push their kids. Whether it’s the kids, or us we need to enjoy the moment and what we’re doing. This is not a particularly joyful time for me because I’m having shoulder surgery in the next couple of days. I don’t know whether I’ll be out a month or six months – but on the flip side I’m getting ready for the birth of my little girl and I’m going to be home and not have to miss any of it. Hopefully my shoulder won’t be so bad that I’ll be out six months, but if that’s the case it will just give me that much more time at home to enjoy my family.

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



Winning at All Costs (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Lately I’ve been wondering if I was doing a good job raising my two sons. This made me watch other parents, and I’ve come to realize that society is obsessed with winning at all costs. I see this in Junior Rodeo, softball, football, and any other sport where kids compete. This obsession is easy to see whether it’s a parent screaming at the referee or buying a little kid a $30,000 horse that he doesn’t need.

It’s win at any cost instead of what it should be, which is to compete to the best of your ability and have fun doing it. My seven year old son plays flag football, so how much importance do I put on winning versus competing? My philosophy is to give it your best and have fun.

I’m not trying to raise a professional flag football player at seven, but, at the same time, it’s important to train to win, just not at all costs. When you compete to win at all costs, how will you handle defeat? Do you play the blame game where there’s always an excuse why you didn’t win? Or do you come down very hard on your kid for not winning, to the point where it makes them resentful of you, the sport, and the competition? These are negative things that come from “win at all costs” versus “do your best and enjoy yourself.”

I have a saying when it comes to raising kids: “Some is taught, but most is caught.” Therefore I live my life a lot louder through example than by my words. I have two sons who are very opposite when it comes to competing. One is very tender hearted who doesn’t want to hurt people and he’s a lover. My other son is highly competitive and will bloody your nose to beat you. I have to be very strategic in how I coach and train them.

The winning will take care of itself if a child is meant to compete for a living. That kid will develop the competitive edge when the time is right. As a kid, I was discouraged from roping because my family knew what a hard life this could be. That just motivated me all the more and meant that I was really meant to do it. When I wanted to rope I had to pen the calves, saddles the horses, and then beg for someone to turn them out for me. I still do all that because I still want it that bad. I don’t have a staff of people to do all the saddling and penning for me. My mouth still waters when I think of roping.

If someone had pushed me as a kid, I wouldn’t have wanted it. It wouldn’t have been me, it would have been someone else wanting it. I will never push my kids to rope. It will have to be something they desire and are willing to work for.

If there’s anything you would like me to write about, feel free to send me an email at Till next month, God Bless and I’ll see you down the line.


All in the Family (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Thanksgiving is in a few days and a time when I reflect on how thankful I am to be able do what I love with my family at my side. Soon we will head to Vegas where I’ll have the opportunity to win more money than I have all year. This is a blessing and I thank God every day for the opportunities before me. While being an NFR competitor might seem like a rock star existence, the responsibilities and obligations to sponsors that go with the territory can be overwhelming.

Many people don’t realize everything that’s happening during the NFR. In addition to the rodeo every night, there are four trade shows in different locations, there are several talk shows every day, there are rodeo affiliated shows and presentations every night, and the thousands and thousands of people that are there to enjoy the experience.

We get to Vegas six days before the rodeo starts and every day we are in meetings, photo shoots, or breaking in calves. During the NFR every day is taken up with appearances and autograph sessions. I’m very humbled to sign autographs and it amazes me that someone actually wants my signature. You’re meeting someone new every fifteen seconds or so and I feel like it’s important to make a personal connection and say hello when I do meet them.

I probably walk three to five miles every day while I’m out there and invariably will get shin splints every year. Trying to get from one sponsor’s booth to the other can be tricky. If I finish up an autograph session at one booth at 12:30, I’m usually scheduled at another booth to start at 12:30. Getting from point A to point B without getting stopped over and over is almost impossible.

Oddly enough, the most relaxing part of my day is when I go out to the Thomas & Mack and get ready for the rodeo. I take a deep breath and think, “Now I get to rope.” That’s my peaceful time. This year I’m riding a new horse, one that’s never been to the NFR. He’s going to use my experience this year. Unless I’m mistaken, he may be the best horse I’ve ever had there.

Jennifer’s job is a whole other ball game and she’s just as busy as I am during the day. She’s putting stories and shows together. People don’t realize the hours and people it takes to do a 30-second “Behind the Chute” segment. There are literally hundreds of people involved in the telecast of that show. And she has to know her stuff in all the events. She knows every bull and bucking horse, who’s ridden them and what the scores were because she has to be able to ask intelligent questions. She studies all that information in preparation. Plus she’s a mom and this year she’s pregnant. Both of our parents are out there helping with the boys while we work. Jennifer and I just kind of blow and go and see each other when we can.

Believe me I’m not complaining. I’ve been home watching the NFR on television and I would much rather be there competing. This year is especially exciting with five of us in my family competing: my three nephews Clint, Clif and Tuf Cooper, Trevor and myself. My goal is to be in the mix when they’re doing the math for the top spot after the 9th round. I don’t want all the money – just my share of it.

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


Family Matters (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Last week, I was in Houston attending my grandfather-in-law’s 90th birthday party. The party was held at the very nice retirement home where he lives, in a room full of friends and family who had gathered together from all over the United States. Two men came up and introduced themselves to me as his fishing buddies. Every year, the three of them would go to Mexico and fish for a week, but they hadn’t been in several years. Both men were in their sixties, one from Carlsbad, NM and the other from Phoenix, AZ, and they had traveled all that way for a two-hour birthday party. When I told them that they didn’t have to do that, they both assured me they would not have missed it for the world.

That started me thinking about my family and how close we are. This year, I will compete against three of my nephews at the NFR, which is a truly unique situation. I will go into the heat of battle with some of the people I love most in the world, but will compete against them. Today I watched my seven-year-old back his pony into the box and chase some calves across the arena. I can remember when my nephews were young and were doing that very same thing, and now we’re all roping together at the biggest rodeo in the world! The only thing that could have made it any better, is if my other nephew, Stetson, had made it too. I can envision us all being there together next year.

As a family, we are very close and support each other 100 percent, but we do not get in the practice pen together to compare notes. As close as we are, we are very different individuals and rope differently. You have to put in your time and figure it out for yourself. These boys have learned, as I did before them, that there is no short cut to success; it’s a lot of hard work. I guess that’s the one common denominator we all share: knowing it takes hard work and not being afraid of it.

Though I’m always proud of their accomplishments, I’m more proud of the way they carry themselves in and out of the arena. I’m more proud of the men they’ve become than I am of them for qualifying for the National Finals. That’s why I root for them, because I know their heart is pure and good. That’s what makes me such a big fan.

Don’t be mistaken; we’re all going to Las Vegas with gold buckle dreams and everything that goes along with that. No matter what happens, at the end of the year we will all meet op again to share Christmas dinner and then have our annual family ping-pong tournament.


Take Care of Your Horse (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Recently in Sikeston, one of my horses named Sports Center got sick from the heat and humidity, and was tied up. We were able to give him some medicine, and luckily, after letting him cool him off and relax for a period of time, he began feeling much better. It is easy to forget how much the weather can affect not only our horses, but us as well. It sounds really simple, but stop and water your horse often. A horse turned loose is accustomed to taking a drink whenever they are thirsty, but when a horse is being served water, it does not always take a drink as it is being offered. Always place a bucket of water within your horse’s reach, even in the trailer.

Anytime that the horse’s climate changes, or when I know that I’m going somewhere the weather is going to be hot, I give my horses Restore Electrolyte Paste, especially when at a jackpot. Personally, the humidity, also known as wet heat, can take a lot out of me, and I try to drink water constantly. I also take a supplement called Amino Vital. This contains similar ingredients to those found in Gatorade, but without the high sugar content. When hydrating, steer clear of these sugar-filled drinks, especially energy drinks, because sugar only causes further dehydration.

Another thing that people often forget is how hot protective boots are for horses. Although technology has come a long way, and these boots are made in better quality than ever before, they should only be worn for short periods of time. They are protection for those few seconds you are asking your horse to give it all it’s got, but I cannot tell you how many horses I have seen standing around in the heat, sweating and stomping because their boots have been left on too long. Boots are made strictly to protect, not to be worn as house shoes.

Keep your trailer well ventilated at all times whenever you are hauling. My trailer has drop down doors at the head and tail, and I always keep both ends down to help the air circulate better when it is hot out. While I do also utilize fans in my trailer, I never air condition the horse compartment because horses are not accustomed to this, and I believe that providing them with this unnecessary luxury would only hinder them in the long run.

I have recently been blessed with another great horse. This is a sentimental time for me because we are in Canby, Oregon and that’s the last place Shawn McMullen and I were before we had the wreck in 1996. Shawn, nicknamed Merle, was my best friend, and I still miss him terribly. This new horse reminds me of him so much that I have recently started calling him Merle as well!

When I think back to that time, it really puts things into perspective. Do not take anything for granted. Enjoy your family and your friends, and make the most out of life each and every day because you just never know what tomorrow may bring.

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


One of These Days (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

The other day I heard someone say “One of these days, I’ll….”. After some thought I later told my wife that “One of these days” is code for never.

I realized that in the past I had occasionally said, “One of these days I’ll do a school in Hawaii and we’ll go there on vacation.” That’s a nice thought and something I’d really like to do for my family, but I have never taken any action on it. Well that’s not exactly fair to my family, to give them false hope for something I mention casually.

When you catch yourself saying, “One of these days…” stop and take a hard look at what you’re talking about. Is this something you really intend to do? How many times have you heard people say “One of these days I’m going to start exercising,” or “One of these days I’m going to lose weight”? I don’t doubt their intentions, but there’s a big difference between dreaming and doing. Remember the old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

It reminds me of the movie The Bucket List. Those two guys had a list of things they wanted to do before they died – and waited until they were dying to start on the list. I would like to buy a Corvette and visit Hawaii. Well I don’t want to buy a Corvette or visit Hawaii when I’m 85 years old.

Kids today are great procrastinators if allowed. As students how many say or think I’ll start studying and get serious about school when I get to high school, or college? They are developing life-long habits right now and there just won’t be a magical moment that comes along when they will suddenly be an exemplary student. That only comes with effort and hard work.

What about ropers who say, “When I get a really nice horse I’ll take good care of him.” Why wouldn’t you take good care of any or all of your horses? It’s a personal choice to do the right thing.

Congratulations to Matt Shiozawa for winning the $100,000 at Calgary. It was a very exciting finish where the final four guys roped and Matt and Fred Whitfield were both 7.4. They had to have a rope off and rope one calf for the $100,000. Matt tied his in 6.5-seconds. Fred would have to be 6.4 to beat him. It looked like he was going to get it done until his string popped up.

It’s awesome to watch guys of that caliber rise to the occasion when the pressure is on. It made for good watching and my hat is off to both of them. All professional cowboys work very hard at what we do and what separates us from professional football or baseball players is that we have to win to get paid. That’s the nature of the beast of our sport. Congratulations Matt.

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


Your Chance to be Great (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Oftentimes, when I’m driving down the road and see horses standing in the pasture, I’ll wonder if they are missing out on the chance to be great. I’m certain there are many horses that are born to be great and gone to waste because they were never trained. Those horses never had a say and thankfully that’s not the case with people.

As a human, you have the ultimate say in your success. There are many people who have been told, especially during their formative years, that they will never succeed. Their self-image has become what someone else has told them. They become the label they have been given: loser, choker, dummy or whatever. It’s insecure bullies who usually hand out these labels.  You can overcome this and choose not to let others claim your destiny. You are the only one who is control of your destiny.

Every day, I see how impressionable my boys are and easily they are molded. Stone, my oldest, is very tenderhearted and a pleaser. With the right words and encouragement he will try and do anything for me. My youngest is a little more like me. Tell him that he can’t do something and he will growl at you while he’s showing you that he can do it. These two boys have the same genetics, live in the same environment and yet they are totally different and will have to be encouraged differently. I never want to be a stumbling block for them, either from my success, my expectations or lack of encouragement. I take everything I say and do around them very seriously.

For all my efforts, they are the ones who will determine how successful they are in life. If they decide to rope, I can’t throw the rope for them. If they want to be President of the United States, I’m behind them but can’t do anything to help them.

I encourage you to be successful and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Don’t let someone quench your dreams – go chase those dreams down.

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


It is What it Is (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Do you see yourself as a grasshopper? In the Bible, Numbers 13:33, Moses had sent twelve spies into the Promised Land to look at it. Two of them came back and said, “That’s our land.” The other ten said, “We were as grasshoppers in their sight.” My question is: how do you see yourself?

Yesterday I was in Los Angeles waiting to catch a flight. I started into a Denny’s to eat breakfast when a bum rode up to me on his bicycle and asked me for money. I told him I didn’t have any cash but invited him to eat breakfast with me. During breakfast I learned that Curtis was 50 years old and had been out of prison for four years. He was locked up for 25 years after being convicted of murder. Curtis had been a gang leader, a drug dealer, and had killed many people.

I asked about his family and he said he had a few kids, a mother, and grandmother scattered in different states. I told him, “You must have someone in your family who has spent a lot of time praying for you.” He said he did and that he believes in God. One of his sons followed in his footsteps in the gang life and was killed. Curtis had a slang quote that pretty much summed things up for him: “It is what it is.” During our meal Curtis became polite, quiet spoken, and it was obvious that he was very intelligent.

After we parted company, I began to wonder if Curtis knew that what he was doing would determine what he would eventually have or be. It also made me look at my life and think about how I view myself. Because that’s where it really starts – with your self-image. If I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see, then I need to change my environment.

Do I see myself as a guy that comes through in the short round or do I see myself as someone who can’t possibly tie a calf in seven seconds when needed? No, I view myself as the guy that can get the job done, whatever that job may be.
How I see myself in everyday life is just as or more important. How well do I handle things? Do I snap at people? Am I quick to be ill, to judge, or to be mad about little things? If I see that, then I need to change that picture, not just change the way I think about it.

It’s like looking in the mirror and then deciding to get in shape. If you change your diet and work out, eventually your image in the mirror will change. Making change physically or spiritually is always possible. It just takes work, time, and the knowledge that it won’t happen overnight.