Cowboys Cinch gold in Vegas

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Smidt, Waguespack, Thurston add to their world-title collections

LAS VEGAS – Caleb Smidt can be quiet and unassuming, preferring to stay in the shadows until he’s called to action.

Much like a special forces’ sniper, his shots are deadly.

The proof shines in gold four times over. Just weeks ago, he secured his fourth National Finals Rodeo average championship, clinching his fourth Montana Silversmiths gold buckle for being the tie-down roping world titlist.

“I had a great season,” said Smidt, 33, of Bellville, Texas. “I went home in August, probably the earliest I went home because I felt like I had enough won to be in contention when you get (to Las Vegas, home of the NFR).”

He had earned just shy of $160,000 through the course of the regular season and sat out all of September. He entered ProRodeo’s grand championship fourth in the world standings and was definitely in position to make a move. He’d done very well in Las Vegas before, so he knew there was a chance.

Boy, was he right. He placed in the first eight go-rounds, dominated the aggregate race and was one of three Cinch cowboys to leave the Nevada desert with a PRCA world championship. He is joined by steer wrestler Tyler Waguespack and saddle bronc rider Zeke Thurston in claiming rodeo’s gold.

“I felt like I started off really good by winning the first two rounds,” said Smidt, who also won gold buckles in 2015, 2018 and 2021. “It just makes the week a lot smoother. We drew good calves, and my horse (Pockets) was great. He gave me a chance every night. He makes it really easy, and it’s just a blessing to accomplish what I’ve accomplished this week.

“I didn’t plan on that when I came out here. I just planned to have fun and rope calves and see where it ends up.”

It ended at the top. Smidt earned $225,221 in 10 December nights, pushing his 2022 salary to $374,737. He outdistanced the runner-up, New Mexican Shad Mayfield, by $105,000.

“I won The American and won Calgary,” he said of his season. “It was just a blessing. I had a good Fourth of July. It was an absolute blessing to compete at a high level for the season and here. I give the glory to God.

“Just what I have accomplished is beyond my imagination. “(It is) my belief in God and the horse I have, and my family pushed me to be better every day. It’s a tough sport to even do this, to leave your family in the summer to make it here is hard, and it’s a long 10 days here.”

No days were longer than the final day, Dec. 10. The world championship was his to lose, so all he needed to do was take care of business.

“It was one of the hardest calves I’ve run,” he said that night. “(With) the other three championships I won, I had to do good (in the 10th round). They weren’t just giving it to me. To catch one and tie it down, it was a tough pen of calves. There were four or five really good ones, and the rest were pretty tricky, and I didn’t love mine.

“She went left, and she took the tie, which was the only thing I liked about her. It was just a blessing to get her caught and tied down.”

With that, he put a knot on another magical year, one he won’t forget anytime soon. He is tied with legendary ropers Olin Young, Roy Cooper and Fred Whitfield for the most NFR average wins. That’s something he’ll be able to hang his cowboy hat on no matter what else happens in his career.

Wageuspack packs in more gold

Cinch bulldogger Tyler Waguespack was in position to make things happen on the final day of the 2022 ProRodeo campaign.

He just didn’t think it was going to happen. There were two other men ahead of him who were expected to clinch their first gold buckles. When they stumbled, everything fell into Waguespack’s lap.

“I feel undeserving of this world title,” said Waguespack, 32, of Gonzales, Louisiana. “That was the craziest round of steer wrestling I have ever seen.”

He joins three other cowboys – Jim Bynum, Everett Bowman and Ote Berry – with four world championships; he also won ProRodeo’s gold in 2016, 2018 and 2021. Only two bulldoggers in the sport’s history own more world titles: Homer Pettigrew has six, and Luke Branquinho has five.

“I grew up watching all my heroes and dreaming about having one gold buckle,” Waguespack said. “Ote Berry is one of my biggest role models and biggest supporters and helped me out so much.”

He had other supporters and other helpers along the way. When things weren’t clicking with him and his horse, Casper, he reached out to fellow Louisianans Remey and Rowdy Parrott, then mounted their horse, D.C.

When the final curtain fell, he had earned $145,000 in Las Vegas. He finished the season with $268,881. He edged his good friend, fellow Cinch endorsee Will Lummus, by less than $2,700.

“Rowdy Parrott and Remey Parrott have done tremendous for me,” Waguespack said. “Them two boys have been like brothers to me, and Rowdy welcomed me with open arms to get on D.C. I was able to place on tree of the last four rounds I rode him; I got a go-round with him. Them two boys came in clutch.”

So did Waguespack, and he has the gold to prove it.

Thurston wins world title, Top Gun

Zeke Thurston was simply dominant during the 10 nights of the NFR. He placed nine times and earned two round titles – he won the fourth round, then had a three-way tie in Round 10 – and had the most earnings of any of the 120 contestants at this year’s finale.

He earned $265,078 in Las Vegas and pushed his season earnings to just shy of $400,000. It was a magnificent way to conclude a fantastic year, one that saw him win the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association’s bronc riding title in November and the world title in December. It was the second time he’s done that in his career.

“(This title) was really hard-fought,” said Thurston, 28, of Big Valley, Alberta. “There are so many talented guys in the locker room. All through the week, there were seen or eight guys that had a chance the whole time. Coming down to (Dec. 10), there were four or five. They made me work for it.”

Thurston has earned three world championships with his first one coming in 2016. He added a second gold buckle three years later, and he is still collecting hardware.

“Just coming in here, I knew I was in the world-title hunt,” he said. “There’s so much money to be won; anything’s possible here. Coming off a big win at the Canadian Finals, winning the average there, I just rode the wave down here. I knew if I just aced every horse that I got on and rode them as good as I could that at the end of the week I’d give myself a chance, and that’s just what I did.”

Thurston made it work, and he’ll celebrate title No. 3 the best way he knows how.


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