Texas tie-down roper wins $100,000 during rodeo in AT&T Stadium
AT&T Stadium is just four hours from Caleb Smidt’s home in Bellville, Texas, a community of about 4,200 people near Houston.
That makes it easy for those that love him most to make the trip to see their favorite cowboy compete. It’s also easy for Smidt to find success in an arena filled with that much support. On the opening Sunday of March, the three-time and reigning world champion tie-down roper won The American for the second time and pocketed another $100,000 for doing so.
“It’s just awesome to have as many people that I have in my family come watch and support me,’ said Smidt, who also won inside “Jerry World” in 2019. “They make a point to go everywhere they can and to do the other things to support me. It makes it so much sweeter when you go back to them.
“My wife and kids are still excited whether I win or don’t win, but it makes you want to do better and do the things to support my family. It wouldn’t mean as much to me if they didn’t want to go. For them to want to go makes it that much better.”
The feelings are mutual. Over his career, Smidt has qualified for the National Finals Rodeo eight times. The three years he’s claimed the Montana Silversmiths gold buckle (2015, ’18 and ’21), he also won the NFR average championship. This past December, he pocketed nearly $192,000 in 10 days of ProRodeo’s grand finale and finished the year with $318,456.
The American is a unique event that featured 10 cowboys that were exempt based on being among the top 10 in the 2021 PRCA world standings. The remaining competitors in the field had earned their way through a series of qualifiers. Winners of each event pocketed $100,000, but the qualifiers were eligible for part of the $2 million side pot along with the one-hundred grand.
By the time the dust settled, Brazilian bull rider Kaique Pacheco was the only qualifier to win his event, thereby earning $2.1 million. For Smidt, the victory inside AT&T Stadium provided him an emotional outlet to showcase his faith and his talent with a rope. He nearly broke down with his post-ride interview that was shown to the large crowd and to millions of viewers on national television.
“It’s the biggest one-day, well, two-day, rodeo there is,” he said. “Any time you can win it once is a dream come true, so winning twice is unbelievable. It’s dang sure a blessing to be able to win it twice.”
It was also a bit of redemption after the previous 15 months. After qualifying for the NFR in 2020, he wasn’t allowed to compete because of a positive COVID test directly before the championship at its one-time home of Globe Life Field in Arlington. He advanced into The American through the qualifying events, but things didn’t work out for him to talk away with an incredible payday a year ago.
“I got to rope for $1 million at The American last year, but I didn’t pull it off,” Smidt said. “It’s saddening to know you had a chance and didn’t come through.
“I’ve been in a lot of pressure situations. When you compete at a high level, you get in situations where you have to win and need to win. When you don’t come through, it sits deep in your stomach. It’s going to bother you if you have a winner’s mentality. I didn’t just shake it off and walk out of the arena. It made me want to be better. That’s what pushes me to get better.”
It worked, and he has 100,000 reasons to believe in himself. Because The American wasn’t sanctioned by the PRCA, the money earned doesn’t count toward the 2022 world standings, but it can come in quite handy. More than likely, though, his wife Brenna will have a plan soon.
“I’m sure my wife can find something,” he said with a laugh. “We have a three-bedroom house and three kids, so two of them share a room.
“Before too long, we’re going to have to add to our house.”
The way the competition worked, there were 17 cowboys in the first round of The American, which took place March 4 at Cowtown Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas. The top 10 times moved on to AT&T Stadium for Sunday, where the field was pared down the cowboys with the top four scores. Smidt was the third roper to make a run after watching Tuf Cooper and Riley Webb secure 7.60- and 7.81-second runs, respectively.
Smidt then roped and secured his calf in 6.87 seconds with only friend Hunter Herrin to compete. When Herrin struggled, Smidt lowered his head, dejected for his friend. It all factored into the emotions the Texan shared on the stage inside the massive stadium.
“Me and Hunter have become pretty close, and he helps me out and I help him out a lot,” Smidt said. “We were the last two guys to go; he got to rope for $2.1 million, me for $100,000. I wouldn’t have been disappointed at all if he would have won, because winning that kind of money was going to be life-changing.
“I couldn’t imagine what he was going through. I was just disappointed for him.”
That’s the nature of rodeo that isn’t seen in many other professional sports. Friendships develop, and relationships become more like family. He spent the last couple of years traveling with 2019 world champion Haven Meged, and the two have become really close friends. That helps. Meged was standing in the roping box with Smidt when he nodded his head for big money that Sunday afternoon.
While Brenna Smidt may have plans for that dough, Caleb would like to transfer some of it directly into is rodeo account to help pay for the expenses that come with being an elite cowboy. He wants to battle for another gold buckle, but he’s got some work to do; as of March 7, he was 27th in the world standings.
“My winter’s been really slow, but I also haven’t been a whole lot,” he said. “I like to hunt a lot more in the winter. After the finals, I call it good until February. I just show up at Fort Worth and San Antonio this year, but I haven’t had a lot of luck. My roping was just OK until I showed up in Fort Worth (for The American). I got to practice and put my body through a lot of stress.
“When you back in the box for $100,000, all that stuff goes away. That dang sure made it an awesome winter right away. Hopefully I can do good at Houston and Austin and get some points in the PRCA.”
Sometimes it takes just a moment, a flash of time, for everything to go in the right direction. Years of muscle memory return quickly to one of the greatest ropers in the business.
“To me, it’s more mental,” Smidt said. “At my age, you can’t go in the practice pen and run 20 calves every day like I did when I was 25. I’ve got to be mentally sharper and enjoy roping more because I’m not going to be roping for many more years.
“Someone’s mental deal can get in the way. I’ve seen a lot of people that can dang sure rope, but their mental game and lack of horsemanship gets in the way. It’s not easy. You still have to practice and work at it, but you need to be as strong mentally as you are physically. This is a tough sport.”
The sport isn’t any tougher than Caleb Smidt; his two titles at The American and three world championships prove it.