The Calgary Stampede (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Once again the dust has settled on the Calgary Stampede and it’s still the best event we attend all year. This is my favorite time and rodeo of the entire year and our family makes a vacation out of it. Every day is sold out and the stands are full of enthusiastic and supportive fans. The Calgary Stampede was born in 1912 by Guy Weadick, who had a dream of having the best rodeo in the world.

Each year the rodeo committee votes for a contestant to receive the Guy Weadick Memorial award. This year I was chosen to receive this award, which is a two-foot bronze statue. Winning rodeos is something I work for and those wins come and go – but an honor like this is very humbling and stays with you. Mr. Weadick not only wanted to have the best rodeo and show in the world – but also wanted to know he left this world a better place and made a positive difference.

That philosophy is dear to my own heart and made this award very special. To make a difference in this world and to the people you come in contact with begins with those small, every day decisions we all make on a daily basis. It’s an accumulation of those small, common moments that define our lives and us.

Fred Whitfield won the calf roping. My new mare and I roped the fastest calf of the rodeo and won a round. Calgary is set up much like the NFR and I haven’t had much time to ride her in this type of scenario. I’ve owned her for two months and still haven’t run a practice calf on her. She just keeps getting better and by the time it’s over she may be the best horse I’ve ever had.

Speaking of dreams and making a difference, Allen Bach has come up with the idea for a Mentorship Roping Camp. This will be a thirty-day camp for young men between the ages of 18 and 22 who want to take their roping to the next level. We will be accepting applications for twelve team ropers, six headers and six heelers; and up to twelve calf ropers.

Allen and I will be teaching simultaneously in adjacent arenas and will conduct several half-hour Bible study sessions each day. This will be an invaluable experience for young ropers who want to be professional cowboys and athletes. Through the week other professionals, like us, will stop by to speak and get to know the students. If this is something that you or someone you know might be interested in, feel free to get in touch with me.

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Giving Back (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Last week I attended Barry Burke’s Junior Roping, for the first time since I roped there myself as a youngster. Barry had invited us to attend and I spoke on Sunday and then stayed and watched until I had to leave for Ft. Smith on Monday.

It’s exciting for the sport because there are a ton of kids roping, much more than when I was young. The caliber of these young ropers is amazing. I credit this to the USCRA and Lanham Mangold for giving calf ropers a place to rope and progress, even if they don’t want to be a professional.

I left there recharged about my sport and encouraged by the feedback from the people I talked to. In the last four or five months it seems I’ve heard from many people who have really connected with my article. You can’t imagine how this kind of feedback encourages me to keep writing and coming up with new ideas.

The reason for this article is so I can give back, and if some of my experiences can help someone else, then it’s all worth it. I feel like we’re here to encourage each other and exchange life stories.

Recently a college rodeo coach told me that the article I wrote about not making finals where I said, “They’ll have this event (NFR) with or without me,” really had an impact on him at a time when he was struggling with his roping. He’s added my article to his curriculum and now they discuss it in class.

Lots of parents tell me how much they appreciate my article because their kids read the same things they’ve been telling them and my article validates that information. They’re appreciative of the message I put out.

If you have a question and see me, come talk to me. I don’t have all the answers and I learn as I go. In my career I don’t need to have people patting me on the back and telling me I’m the greatest. I get my encouragement from things like this. The roping takes care of itself.

I’ve got a new mare that I hope will replace Topper. They say it’s bad luck to change a horse’s name so for that reason I usually do it to prove them wrong. Her name is Adalida and as Topper’s replacement I can’t call her that. I’m known as a “namer” but I was having trouble coming up with a name for her.

I was in Florida and told Dodd, my trainer, that I couldn’t think of a name for my horse. The next day he said he came up with a name, Destiny. He said it was destiny for me to have the horse. So Destiny she is.

In the month I’ve owned her, I haven’t made a practice run on her yet. The other day I flew to California and was so excited to see her. I was riding her around and couldn’t believe she was mine. She makes my job so easy, I’m starting to feel like Superman again.

Recently I heard the quote “Great ropers, make great horses.” Sometimes that’s true, but I feel that the exact opposite is more accurate – great horses make great ropers.

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Flanking and Tying Loose Ends (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

When we made my video, Flanking & Tying, the guys in the studio inserted some of my NFR runs for demonstration. As I watched it for the first time, I was filled with relief when I saw myself practice what I preached.

This month I walked across the stage and received my college diploma. The end of my last semester of college those many years ago now, happened to be the same time as my first NFR qualification. I missed one test with every intention of making it up. For one reason or another I never did take the test and that one test kept me from graduating.

When I had to undergo surgery on my shoulder it seemed like the perfect time to tie up that loose end and practice what I preach, “Education, education, education,” and  “Always finish what you start.”

This wasn’t as much for me as it was for my boys. Even though they are toddlers now, I know they will hear those very words adamantly from me in the future. I need to be able to say them with a clear conscience, because you cannot ask your kids, or anyone else for that matter, to do something you would not do yourself.

It had been so long since I was in school that the degree I had worked towards didn’t even exist anymore and I had to change it to a General Studies degree. I took two classes, Art Appreciation and Psychology. I’m sure my Psychology teacher hadn’t ever anticipated a thirty-six year old who rodeos for a living. I drove all night to walk across that stage, so my kids will know that I’m the real deal.

Will this degree improve my annual salary, I doubt it. I may or may not need it in time to come, but it’s an accomplishment I finished and am very proud of.

I would like to thank everyone for the kind and compassionate comments about Topper. The response was unbelievable. It may have been a kind word as I rode in the box, or walking through an airport, someone I’d never seen before might say, “Man, I’m sorry about your horse.”

I’ve always said that people in the western industry are the best in the world – and they just keep proving it to me again and again.

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Tribute to Topper (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Without a doubt this is the hardest article I have ever written, much harder than when I hurt my shoulder. I really didn’t want to talk about what happened to Topper, but there have been so many questions and rumors that I want to tell it just once.

We were out of town and Topper was home in the same pen he’s lived in for fifteen years. He opened the gate and let himself out, which in itself is not a big deal since I let him roam the place like a pet dog at times. But this time, for some reason, he went out to the highway and apparently stepped over the white line and was hit by a truck, which never even stopped. Besides a human being injured, I can’t imagine anything more devastating happening to a friend.

I wasn’t going to talk about it, but there’s been such an outcry from the industry that I felt they deserve to know and I want to thank everyone for the calls and the cards.

The only thing worse than losing Topper, is anyone feeling responsible for it. This accident was the fault of no one.

I want this article to be a tribute to one of, if not the best, athletes I’ve ever known. It’s easy to research Topper’s accomplishments in the arena so I would like to tell you some things about Topper that most people didn’t know.

What I’ll miss the most is having my friend. He spoke English and the only reason he didn’t speak Spanish is because I don’t speak it. I could whistle to him in the pasture and he would run to me, even trot past me and find the gate I’d left open for him in the barn. He would know exactly where to go and I seldom took a halter when catching him.

Topper had an incorrigible sweet tooth and his favorite treats were bread and the donuts they saved for him at Timber Creek Vet. Once when Trent had him, he was leading him down the midway during the fair at a rodeo and passed a kid with a hot dog in his hand. Topper just reached down and got a bite as he passed by.

His very favorite treat was peppermints. Anytime my dad passed a bowl of peppermints in a restaurant he would stock up. Topper would run through fire for a peppermint but would never bite. You could put a peppermint in your fist and he would take his lips and get your fist open to get the peppermint, but absolutely would not chew until your hand was completely out of his mouth.

When Stone was born several years ago, on the way home from the hospital I stopped at the barn on the way to the house. I put my two-day old son on Topper’s back and said, “Partner, it’s nothing but downhill for you from here,” and laughed.

What most people didn’t know about Topper was how smart he was and what a personality he had. It’s like losing a member of our family and it’s going to hurt every time I walk in the barn and he’s not standing there. I’m blessed to have owned an animal of that caliber and while he was with me he had the life of Riley. He was never abused, hauled too much, or ridden too hard. I never tried to “get one more run” out of him like happens with many older horses.

Though he didn’t deserve this death, he was twenty-five and didn’t suffer and I never had to make any tough decisions while watching him deteriorate. I’ve never had this kind of connection or respect with another horse. I wouldn’t have sold him for any amount of money. I felt like if I had sold him, I’d be selling part of me – so no he wasn’t for sale.

My dad owns the land across the highway from me and that’s where we buried him. At the top of the hill, standing up – because he never laid down on anyone.

He made my job easy and fun and seldom made a mistake. If he did, I didn’t scold him – how do you scold Michael Jordan?

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The Green Light (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Following my shoulder surgery in December, Dr. Tandy has given me the green light to start practicing. I’ve been coming back slowly and am not at 100% by any means. My range of motion and flexibility is somewhat restricted and when I rope I feel like I’m wearing a sport coat about two sizes too small. I can do it; it just doesn’t feel very good.

Being out of commission has given me time to be at home with my family and do the things I normally don’t have time for. In the last month or so I’ve been the guest speaker at three churches, put on several schools and been handyman extraordinaire around the house. I’ve put in a driveway, cut down trees, moved fence and hauled off half a pasture of scrap iron.

It doesn’t sound like much of a break, but I tell myself it’s physical rehabilitation. For the first time that I can remember, my right arm is as strong as my left. My left arm has always been strong from flanking, holding slack, etc. After two to four hours a day, three times a week, in rehab, my right arm has finally caught up.

This has been a nice break for my horses, Topper and Piggy Bank. From November to January they’ve been turned out and exercised themselves. I’ve been bringing them back slowly without any roping. The other day I roped an unheard of four calves on Topper and at twenty-five years of age, he feels as good to me as he ever has.

My roping has undergone a style change due to losing my range of motion. On the up side, this has made me go back to boot camp and do things right. It’s easy after Las Vegas to keep reaching even though the catching percentage isn’t as high as you’d like. I can’t do that now (I’ve tried already). Where before when I’d reach I could catch ninety percent, I’m now at fifty to sixty percent. That means I’m packing a couple of coils with a smaller loop and not taking as many risks. Not altogether a bad thing since it makes me revisit the basics of roping, something we should all do from time to time.

Initially Dr. Tandy said I wouldn’t be back until May and here I’m entered in March. I love to rope, I’m glad to be back – how good does it get?

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Horse Shopping (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Some friends were shopping for a barrel horse the other day and I asked each of them the one quality they were looking for. My friend had one answer, his girlfriend another and her parents another. Whether it’s a calf horse, barrel horse or race horse, if you’re buying a horse for competition – you need a winner.

How do you know if he’s a winner? Find out what’s been won on him. And what’s more important is can I win on him. When a horse is a proven winner that’s when they start asking astronomical prices and getting them. Just because they ask it and someone gives it, that doesn’t mean the horse is worth it. But if you can win on them, then they’re worth whatever you have to pay for them – to a point.

This is where the business side of me has to over rule my emotional side. I use a mount money formula to determine whether a horse is practically priced for me. For example let’s say a horse costs $100,000 and I want to have him paid for in two years. That means I would have to win $200,000 on him each year, for two years in a row.

So if you’re not sure how much to pay for a horse, figure up how much you normally win in a year. If you normally win $5,000 and you’re looking at a horse that costs $25,000 – that doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you’re progressing in your roping and expect to increase your winnings.

There are many theories about what’s fair when trying a horse. Personally I don’t need to haul a horse home because I don’t really care how good he is in the practice pen. At this point in my career what’s important to me is how he performs in the arena, under the lights for the big bucks and how much has been won on him in these conditions.

Now if he hasn’t been anywhere, I still want to know what he’s going to do when he gets there. I might try him at their house and ask them to take him to one or two rodeos where I can see how he’ll do.

That’s how you find out who the winners are. Every good horse I’ve ever had is his best at the rodeos. The great horses are great every time anywhere. Ronnie Williams used to have a horse named “Carry,” because he’d carry you to the pay window.

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Turning Adversity Around (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Last month when I wrote about my injury, I made the statement that it’s not my place to ask why it happened, but what could I gain from the experience. After riding out of the arena at Kansas City, back at the trailer, it all hit me. Not only would I not qualify for the NFR, I nearly tore my arm off my body. I couldn’t move my right arm and there are very few things worse for a roper. Rather than crying, like I felt like doing, I realized it was a pivotal time in my life and thought, “Lord, thank you for this. When I can’t make sense of something, I know it’s because you have a bigger plan in store for me, so thank you.”

Many people might have trouble understanding my faith and outlook. But now, thirty days later, let me tell you about the last month.

In Las Vegas Jennifer and I had the opportunity to meet Paula White who has one of the largest television ministries in the world. We felt an immediate connection and Paula and I both agree our meeting was a divine appointment. Paula said she felt it was her place to introduce me to her personal trainer, Dodd Romero.

His clients include Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees, Steve Nash, Denzel Washington, Lenny Kravitz, Nicole Kidman and Paula White – period. The only way he accepts new clients is if he feels it’s by divine appointment. After spending two days with Dodd so he could review my medical records, he hugged and kissed me and said he felt like we were brothers. He’s excited to have the opportunity to deal with someone who rodeo’s.

I’ve never met anyone like Dodd before. He’s close to six feet tall and weighs 245 pounds with less than three percent body fat. It’s given me a glimpse of what professional athletes experience with their trainers. He is like a highly tuned racecar.

Dodd has told me to take a month to let my mind and body relax and heal. Afterwards I’ll probably make a temporary home in Florida, where he lives. He’s not just a personal trainer – he leaves absolutely nothing to chance. He will either cook my meals or have them prepared to his specifications, regulate my sleep, and has two or three doctors he works with on a regular basis. His training takes control of every situation.

I don’t know how long it will take me to become physically competitive and neither does he. His answer is, “We’ll see what your body says. Your body will talk to me and tell me exactly how it’s doing.”

This is the opportunity and bigger plan I was talking about. At the age of thirty-six I felt I had peaked physically. Now I have an excellent chance to get in the best shape of my life. Had this opportunity arisen while I was rodeoing hard, more than likely I wouldn’t have seen the bigger picture or felt like I had the time to make life altering changes.

What appeared as a totally devastating blow in Kansas City has become the opportunity of a lifetime. But then again, I knew that when it happened.

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A Race for the Finals (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

For the last two years, during the NFR, I was winning the world until the last calf was roped. This year I’m sitting fifteenth and flying to rodeos across the United States, back and forth, trying to qualify.

My main priority right now is to stay focused and not get in my own way. In the last two weeks I’ve been to California, Florida, Georgia, Texas, back to California and Texas. Right now I’m headed to Montana and afterwards will go to Kansas City, Missouri, then South Dakota, back to Missouri, then to California again. In a month’s time I’ve been 10,000 miles, the same amount of traveling I normally do over the fourth of July – but to rodeos that don’t pay nearly as well.

The cool part is that I don’t know how it will turn out. If you listen to a sports commentator after he’s watched a game, he sounds like the smartest guy in the world. On the other hand, I don’t know how this will turn out. I have confidence in the outcome, just like I did with my heart surgery – but I don’t know it for sure.

As tough as it sounds, I’m not going to let it keep me from enjoying the experience. I welcome this opportunity and will use it to help make me stronger when I’m under the gun. This is the second time in my career to go through this; the first time I made the finals by $14.

Hopefully, this year I’ll emerge without cutting it that close, but I’ve come to realize that they’ll have this event with or without me. Whether I make the NFR or not will not affect world peace and if I don’t make the finals, no one’s going to eat me – it’s not the end of the world. My philosophy is to enjoy the experience no matter what. Thankfully I enjoy roping under pressure. Is my situation bad? Not really, I only have to be slightly observant to notice others who have it a whole lot worse.

Here’s the real deal – I’ve got two little boys sitting in the back seat watching me and learning from how I react in every situation. What’s really important is for them to honestly be able to say, “Win or lose, my dad was the truest guy I know.”

If I can accomplish that, I’ve won the world, with or without a gold buckle.

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Finishing Strong When it Matters (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Who comes to mind when you think of the great players in professional football or basketball? Names like Michael Jordan, John Elway, Roger Staubach and Kobe Bryant come to my mind because of one trait they all have in common.

Sure, they’re great players throughout the game, but where they really shine is in the last few minutes of play. They’re the closers and finishers. Anyone can start anything, but not everyone can finish strong. Who I want on my team and who I want to be is a finisher.

Near the end when everyone’s tired, it’s easy to make excuses. But crunch time is exactly when it’s important to give your very best.

This starts in the practice pen where you need to always finish your practices strong. Never say quit, never say die and let yourself know you are not quitting on yourself no matter what the circumstances.

As this becomes a habit, you will start to change. You’ll be more confident and discover it’s easier to come through in the clutch. Everyone wants to be in those situations, but what’s more important is to thrive in those situations.

How do you handle it when your back is against the wall and you need to be seven or eight seconds? Maybe you don’t have a chance to win much, or anything at all, but you should always finish as strong as you possibly can.

Make this a habit and watch it change your competition. Always demand the best from yourself, especially at the end.

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Horsemanship (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

My granddad once said, “The trouble with the modern calf roper is most of them couldn’t pen their calves unless they had a return alley.”

My friend, Shay Good, once made the comment, “I might not be the best cowboy that’s ever roped, but I promise I’ve been in the same pasture with them.” Fortunately for us, Shay and I both were born into it. I didn’t start roping until I was sixteen but being raised on a ranch, I’d been riding since I was two. I can remember being about eight or ten and riding a big horse we had that my parents were sure wouldn’t run off with me. When riding got a little boring I would get my horse into a lope and get off while he was loping. Soon I was bored with that and next we started jumping mesquite trees where I would get off while my horse was in the air. So when roping calves, getting off was always the easy part for me.

There’s a saying that one must learn to ride before they can learn to rope. There are a lot of people who are trying to learn three things at one time: riding, roping and how to be a calf roper.

To be a successful calf roper you have to be a horseman, and a good horseman never really quits learning. The mechanics of what makes a horse work is basically the same in reiners, calf horses, barrel horses and so on. It’s been a tremendous help to me to ride and watch horses and their trainers in other disciplines. I assure you all good horses are broke the right way.

Besides being able to ride, a big part of horsemanship, is taking care of and being in tune with your horse. The guy that’s winning the most isn’t necessarily the one that ropes the best – it’s the guy who is the best team with his horse. I use the analogy of a rope; a five-ply rope is much stronger than a two-ply rope.

I guarantee I spend five times more time on Topper’s well being than my own. When it comes time to eat, without question he eats first. Whatever it takes for him to be healthy and in shape is what we do. Treating a horse like a partner, with that kind of importance, is essential to win and be competitive.

Believe it or not, a horse knows when you have confidence in him. I’ve had horses that weren’t necessarily the best I’ve owned, but when I stepped up on them I felt like Superman. Horses sense that confidence and it makes a difference.

It’s easy to feel like Superman when I’m riding Topper but I have to be careful because he’s twenty-four years old. Even though he gives me that confidence, my business side has to override my emotions. It’s not the three runs I want to make on him that concern me – it’s the eighteen hours in the trailer necessary to make those runs.

Treating your horse well and taking good care of him is an attitude that’s easy to have when he helps make your living. But even if that’s not the case and you rope as a hobby, your horse is still your only partner and you can’t rope or win without him.

For those who didn’t grow up horseback and need to improve your riding, put your rope down and work on it. Spend some time riding your horse and get some wet saddle blankets. Real cowboys are horseback all day and constantly doing something. If you don’t have room to ride, haul your horse somewhere where you can ride through gates and even gather cattle, or get a part time job that requires you to ride. You’ll be surprised at the difference it will ultimately make in your roping.

I’ve always half jokingly said that I wasn’t allowed to carry a rope to the pasture until I’d made the finals a couple of times.

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