ARLINGTON, Texas – Garrett Smith has a million reasons to be excited about his spot in The American.
The one-day rodeo – set for 2 p.m. Sunday at AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington – will offers a $2 million purse, of which half will go to one of just a handful of qualifiers. That’s where Smith comes into the picture.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Smith, 19, of Rexburg, Idaho, who secured his spot in The American this past weekend by finishing among the top six steer wrestlers at the semifinals in Fort Worth, Texas. “I honestly never thought I’d get to run two steers for a million dollars.”
It’s quite an accomplishment, especially for the all-around cowboy who is 5-foot-9 and weighs about 155 pounds. He’s considerably smaller than most steer wrestlers, but he also spends a portion of his time riding bulls on the rodeo trail. Before finishing among the top 50 bull riders in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association last season, he was the only three-time all-around champion at the National High School Finals Rodeo.
“No one has really ridden bulls in my family, so I’ve taken that as my own event,” said Smith, whose older brother, Wyatt, was a steer wrestling qualifier to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this past December. “I just fell in love with bull riding. I went real hard last year. I started doing both events this year because Wyatt wanted me to travel with him.”
Garrett Smith’s plan is to be a two-event cowboy through late June, then he will decide which discipline he will focus on to close out the 2015 season. First, though, he has a life-changing opportunity before him as a bulldogger.
The American features 10 contestants in each event that finished among the top of their disciplines in 2014. In all but bull riding, which utilizes the top 10 from the Professional Bull Riders Built Ford Tough Series, the automatic qualifiers were the top cowboys and cowgirls from ProRodeo. Seven earned exemptions.
The rest of the field is based on qualifiers, all of whom worked their way through a series of events nationwide. Only the top contestants from each of those events advanced to the semifinals last weekend, and only the top finishers from that competition moved on to Sunday. Only qualifiers have a shot at that $1 million purse. If one qualifier wins – like bareback rider Richmond Champion did last spring – then the entire purse is his. If multiple qualifiers win, the $1 million is divided equally among them.
That plays well into Garrett Smith’s hands. He doesn’t let his lack of size serve as a deterrent. As an example, he 65 pounds lighter than his brother and 80 pounds lighter than reigning world champion Luke Branquinho. That means Garrett Smith must have sound horsemanship and use proper technique every run.
“I’ve got to do more stuff correct,” Smith said. “I just focus on being sharp with everything I do. Wyatt can get away with stuff if he doesn’t do everything right because of his size. I can’t get away with that.”
Still, he takes all the lessons his brother offers. In fact, Wyatt Smith will be alongside little brother on the AT&T Stadium floor Sunday afternoon, serving as the hazer. It’s something the siblings have done for one another most of their lives. It happened on the biggest stage in rodeo this past December in Las Vegas.
Wyatt Smith was struggling at the NFR. After not placing in the money in the opening round, he failed to catch and throw down steers the next four nights and made a change prior to the sixth go-round: he moved Garrett to the hazing duties to finish out the NFR. Wyatt then posted a 3.6-second run in Round 6 to finish second and a 4.4 to place sixth in Round 7. He finished with $18,000 in NFR earnings.
“I’ve always hazed for him at practice and some of the smaller rodeos,” Garrett said of teaming with Wyatt. “It surprised me, but I just tried to do my job.
“There’s no way to explain the emotions I had. I went through about three pieces of gum from the time we started saddling horses until we backed in the box. It was breathtaking. You know you can’t mess up on your end.”
He didn’t. Most importantly, he took the lessons from that NFR experience and placed it firmly into his hands as an undersized bulldogger. In Fort Worth, he won $6,400, most of which he will use toward traveling expenses and entry fees. It’s the nature of the business for a rodeo cowboy.
Of course, he plans to splurge a little of it on a new PlayStation to help occupy his time on the rodeo trail as he and the rest of the Recking Crew travels tens of thousands of miles across the country chasing their dreams.
“We travel so much, and you need something to entertain you in the rig,” said Garrett, who said his parents, Lynn and Valorie, didn’t allow Wyatt, Garrett or brother Payson to have video games as youngsters. “We were pretty much outside all the time, going to rodeos with Dad or riding horses.
“I’m glad they didn’t let us have one. It’s dang sure a lot more fun to go ride horses.”
That mentality has paved the way to an unstoppable work ethic. The Smiths realize hard work pays off in rodeo. They also know it takes great support.
“I have to hand it to Idaho Project Filter for helping me get down the road and for helping all of Idaho stay off tobacco,” Garrett said. “It’s great to have them with us so we can teach people that smoking and chewing tobacco is not the Marlboro Man anymore.”
He carries a powerful message from one rodeo to another. He also has a boatload of talent and perseverance to make it work.
“Ever since I was little, I wanted to make the NFR in bull riding,” he said. “With The American, I’ve been practicing pretty hard in bulldogging to where when I get there I know I’m ready and able to go.”