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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Approaching the Finals (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

This coming weekend is the San Angelo Roping Fiesta and for the first time I’m roping in the match roping. Cody Ohl and I will match on twelve calves for a payout of $15,000. Though I’ve been invited in the past I didn’t want to take a chance on injuring my horse or myself before the national finals. Now that I’m in good shape physically I’m really excited about it. I’ve backed off of my workout routine for the last week so I could be fresh without the risk of having any muscles fatigued and vulnerable to injuries.

Altogether I’ll have to rope fifteen – three in the roping and twelve in the match. Most of you will admit that you rope that in one day of practicing. Roping that many calves to the very best of your ability is tough physically and mentally and takes a lot of energy. When I was younger I would rope 40 or 50 and didn’t get sore or know I was supposed to. As little as a few years ago if I roped 25 I would be so sore I couldn’t get out of bed. Now, after a year of disciplined diet and exercise I feel like I can rope as many as I want and that’s exciting.

Match ropings can be intimidating but at the end of the day it’s still just calf roping. Whether it’s a match roping, a jackpot or the NFR it’s still calf roping. In preparation I’ve focused on my horse scoring good and being solid on the ground. That’s exactly how I get ready for the finals except for throwing faster.

We just got through with the Heartland Finals in Waco, Texas. To qualify you had to go to 30 small rodeos. If you say “30 rodeos” real fast it doesn’t sound like much but these were rodeos were hard to get to. There were quite a few last fall and winter that I didn’t make but I decided to try and qualify because the finals paid well and the money counted in the world standings. About half way through the season I was doubtful I could make them all. Then three-fourths into the season I realized I couldn’t miss any more.

Making those final rodeos required some crazy traveling. Three or four times I drove all night with little time to spare and altogether probably drove an extra 25,000 miles. Without qualifying for the finals this was not profitable because some only paid $1,100 for first. At the finals three groups of ten roped and the top four in each group advanced. It was elimination style until it got down to four ropers on one head. Thankfully I won the finals and won over $12,000 in all.

After eighteen months in development, Barry Berg, Production Manager at Cactus Ropes, and I are close to releasing my new four-strand calf rope, the 4 “Stran.” When the nylon four-strands came out it took team roping to a whole new level. I don’t know if we’ll see the same reaction in calf roping, but the rope is unbelievably smooth. Spun from 100% texturized poly at Cactus, these ropes are tough. After practicing all day I throw my rope down on the tack room floor and the next day it’s ready to go and feels the same. Our goal is to have them in stores before the national finals and I’m excited.

If you have any questions or anything you’d like me to write about, email me at strant@aol.com. God Bless and I’ll see you down the line.

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Definition of a Cowboy (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Once again Calgary proves why they are the best and able to draw the biggest crowd in rodeo, with the exception of Las Vegas. From a contestant’s view point Calgary rolls out the red carpet. We get the chance to compete for $100,000, we get reserved parking, our stalls bedded down and each receive $1,000 when we get there. Calgary draws phenomenal crowds by showcasing the best competition and using the best livestock available, making many new fans in the process.

After a disappointing Fourth of July run, it was nice to go to Calgary and stay in one place for a week, after traveling like a mad man. I compare it to a working vacation where you get a chance to win a lot of money. Between the rodeo and the invitational jackpot I won about $20,000.

The big winner at Calgary was Jeff Chapman. Times got pretty tough and towards the end, on Wild Card Saturday it took a 7.0-second run or faster to make the top ten finalists. The final four were Jeff Chapman, Cody Ohl, Dean Edge and Blair Burke. Jeff and Cody were both 6.9 during the final four, and since they don’t split there, they had to rope it off. Cody went first and his calf ducked off causing him to miss. Jeff went on to rope his and won the $100,000 with Cody winning about $35,000.

As nice as it is at Calgary, the real world keeps on spinning and during that week I slipped in the standings. Now it’s back to reality where I need to make about two rodeos a day through August.

Because of the popularity of Calgary with both the fans and the contestants there are rumors flying about some of the bigger PRCA rodeos wanting to follow suit. My hope is that if they do – they do it all the way. All that added money is great, but not if they load it all to the first place winners. If they’ll follow the example set at Calgary they should be very successful.

In the next couple of weeks the top fifteen, plus five more invited, will head back to Joplin, Missouri for the second annual Best of the Best tie down roping put on by Jackie Moore. This roping just keeps getting better as this year they are adding $80,000. I expect the winner will walk away with close to $50,000.

Everyone wants to know if the fuel prices have reduced the number of contestants this summer. Not so far as I can see, but some guys will go to Cheyenne and then decide whether or not to keep going, so the fall rodeos may fall off some.

Actually people at home talk more about fuel prices than we do out here on the road. It’s a credit to the sport. After all, what’s the definition of a cowboy? Adapt and overcome. Its just part of it.

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

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Position (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Real estate agents will tell you there are three important factors when selling property: location, location, location. In roping and tying the three important factors are position, position, position. I’ll take someone who has good position over someone with speed any day. With good position comes speed and everything that stems off that.

Good position can be as broad as the placement of your foot in the stirrup all the way to your position in life. Most mistakes made, in roping and in life, are a result of bad positioning.

When Patrick Smith started team roping he positioned himself with one of the greatest ropers and teachers we know, Allen Bach. He would video himself while roping the sawhorse to watch his swing and delivery. He would study these and other videos of himself roping steers. Within seven to eight years of starting roping, Patrick became a world champion. He had repeatedly positioned himself well.

You need to have a plethora of information at your disposal and be able to think outside the box. Most people go to the same arena, rope the same kind of calves on the same kind of horse. Conventional athletics have shown that if you want to be more diverse you need to open your mind to other types of training. I’ve done that myself in the last few years as I’ve gone outside the arena to train on the bicycle and in the weight room. I’ve changed the way I eat and have lost thirty pounds. Does it make a difference? I’m thirty-eight and feel better than I have in ten years.

I want people to be able to take my experiences and knowledge and apply it to help make them better. Use the things I’ve learned and make it your own – only better. Don’t try to emulate me, do better. A great way to learn is to observe the top guys and their position.

If your physical position while horseback is your problem, consider if you need to improve your riding skills. If you want to improve, ride outside the arena. Take your saddle off and ride bareback. One must learn to ride before one learns to rope.

My goal is to challenge you to think and try new things. Maybe you’re all waiting for something specific for position. “Where should my position be for my foot in the stirrup, my hand on the reins, how long should the spoke of my rope be?” All these details are an intricate part of roping. When you want to know the position of every aspect of your body, tack, etc… That’s what separates the top guys from the rest. My position may not work for others. It’s imperative that you spend the time to find your correct position – in roping and in life.

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

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Down and Dirty (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Many ropers become intimidated when they have to rope in the mud. Since I’ve just come from Bremerton, Washington, where it’s been raining for a week and since mud played a role in the Best of the Best roping in Springfield, Missouri, I thought I’d talk about it this month.

During the first two rounds the arena was dry and the best time at that point had been a 7.9. During the lunch break, before the third round, it rained straight down and the arena became muddy. They give a $5,000 bonus for the fastest time and I joked that whoever had the 7.9 would be tickled because it probably wouldn’t be beat in the mud. However, in the third round there was a 6.6, a 7.0 and a 7.5 and as it turned out, the 7.9 wouldn’t even have placed in the third round.

After the third round, they take the top four and have another three head roping. This year the top four were Trevor Brazile, Ryan Jarrett, Cimarron Boardman and Josh Peek. Congratulations to Trevor for winning the roping and $45,000. A big thanks to Jackie Moore for having this event; it’s a great opportunity for all of us.

When the elements play a factor, the top ropers compensate for that and don’t let it intimidate them. If anything, in this case, they sped up. Most of the time roping in the mud is not as bad as you think it will be. Worst case scenario is that you have to take five steps in it.

Personally, roping in the mud make me do things more correctly. I can’t afford to get myself out of position, especially on the ground, and I can’t just move any which way. I try to concentrate on my position.

There’s a good chance my horse will be slower and may have trouble catching up or getting in position so I’ll be ready to compensate for that by reaching. I know when I start that’s a possibility so I’m prepared for it. Anticipate that your horse won’t be as smooth because it’s almost like he’s lunging and jumping causing your body to move more. Again, anticipate this and be prepared for it.

When I get off, I really try to have myself in control because it’s easy to over run yourself in the mud and not very easy to change directions and move your feet. I’m very conscious of every step being the right step. I don’t give a lot of thought to flanking but I am very deliberate in my movements.

When you expect these things and are prepared then it won’t be an obstacle you have to instantly overcome. No one likes roping in the mud, but remember when you have to – so does everyone else.

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

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Mental Game (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Frequently I’m asked about the mental game of roping. So this month I’m going to share a few things that have helped me and if you’re someone who really struggles with the mental aspect of roping, maybe we can change your perspective.

One of the key words that I often say out loud to myself is “persevere.” It’s real easy to be upbeat and positive when you’re roping good and winning. It’s when things go wrong that you find out what you’re made of.

Last month the cover of this magazine featured Doug Pharr being in the #1 position. It was only a couple of years ago that Doug and I had been visiting at a rodeo and discussing how he was coming together with his horse. Doug and his brother, Tim, left that rodeo and had a wreck that ended up killing their horses. Now here he is at the top, which is a pretty vivid example of perseverance. Doug and Tim have come full circle and are both in the top fifteen and I congratulate them and wish them the best this year in their quest for the NFR.

I think everything in life can be classified in one of two categories: positive or negative. The answer to the old saying, “Is your cup half full, or is it half empty?” all depends on your perspective. We all have negative experiences, in and out of the arena. In my roping I try to take a negative experience, learn from it and improve in that area. Then I’ve taken a negative and turned it into a positive.

Draw on past experiences to help you prepare. Even if you are just a beginner, you’ve made a good run that stands out in your mind. Take that positive experience and dwell on it. Relive it. Don’t spend a lot of time beating yourself up for mistakes. Figure out why you made the mistake and go to work on improving in that area.

After having chosen the topic for this article, ironically I picked up the Spin to Win this month and the champ, Clay Cooper, was talking about preparing to catch the high money steer. Clay Cooper has forgotten more about roping than most of us will ever know and when he has something to say, I quit talking and listen. Clay doesn’t make a lot of small talk and when he has something to say it’s worthy of taking notes.

In that article Clay pointed out that in the big picture of life, is it really going to matter five years from now? That’s keeping things simple and in perspective. For me, it’s easy because it’s not in my hands anyway. I do the best I can, but it’s ultimately in God’s hands.

Ninety-nine percent of people, who rope, get caught up in the mental game. You start thinking about things and before long your mind is messing with you and before long – your mind is your worst enemy. If you’re one of the few who can rope their calves without being affected by being high call or thinking about the money – then you’ve cheated the system. You’re unconscious and like a rattlesnake without any rattles. The other 99.9% deal with the pressure of thinking about things. That’s when it’s important to draw from your past successes.

As for myself, I try not to put any unnecessary pressure on myself. It doesn’t matter whether I’m roping for a gold buckle or in my own practice pen. I’m still roping a calf that costs $400.

If you can learn to rope with the attitude of building on past successes and making use of things you’ve learned from failures, then you won’t have to cheat the system. You’ll be more deadly than the unconscious rattlesnake.

I don’t gamble, but there’s a saying in gambling that you don’t play with “scared money.” That’s true in calf roping too. Don’t back in the box being afraid of losing. Being afraid of missing or losing opens the doors for negative thoughts to flood your mind. Drawing from your success, being confident and aggressive is positive and much more powerful.

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