REXBURG, Idaho – Garrett Smith wasn’t happy.
He’d arrived in Heber City, Utah, the first weekend of November with hopes of a dominating performance in bull riding at the Wilderness Circuit Finals Rodeo, the regional finale for contestants and rodeos primarily in Utah and Idaho.
Things didn’t go as planned, so he opted for Plan B. He had already planned to spend a couple of days in Clarendon, Texas, with his older brother, Wyatt, and get on some practice bulls. Those two days turned into a week, and he spent his time to focus his talents and his mind on the tasks ahead of him, his fourth appearance at the National Finals Rodeo.
“I wanted to get everything lined up, and after the circuit finals, I just decided to stay little longer,” said Smith, 27, of Rexburg. “My confidence is getting better. I just got on some practice bulls, and it felt really good. We should be ready by the time we go to Vegas.”
That time is coming soon. ProRodeo’s grand championship will take place Dec. 1-10 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, its home since 1985. After three years away from the NFR, he returns after having a stupendous regular season, one in which he earned $141,658 riding bulls. He enters the 10-day finale No. 4 in the world standings.
“The highlight of my year was winning the Reno Rodeo’s Xtreme Bulls title,” said Smith, who credits much of his success to his sponsors, Idaho Project Filter, Cinch, Resistol, Rodeo Vegas, Rodeo Tax, Rodeo Graphics, Truth Bucking Stock and Crown Royal. “I’d never won a big Xtreme Bulls like that before.
“I’d stayed on two of them one time before and ended up sixth or seventh, so I was pretty pumped to get that win.”
He wasn’t just excited; he capitalized on that momentum. Two weeks later, he added another Xtreme Bulls championship at Cody, Wyoming, and the ball was officially rolling in his favor.
Smith’s propulsion toward the top actually began a month and half earlier. During the first week in May, he battled through the heat at the Xtreme Bulls in Uvalde, Texas, to finish second overall, riding two bulls and winning the championship round. He then won the bull riding crown at Guymon, Oklahoma, and just padded his earnings – he pocketed just shy of $15,000 that week alone.
“That was a pretty good confidence boost to get through the rest of the season,” Smith said. “I feel like it started there.”
He hopes his roll continues through the 10-night championship in the Nevada desert. He first appeared on the sport’s biggest stage in 2014 when he served as a hazer for his bulldogging brother, Wyatt, for the final five nights of the NFR.
That relationship is why he spent time in the Texas Panhandle, where Wyatt Smith is the assistant rodeo coach at Clarendon College. Garrett Smith was offered the chance to hone his skills inside the school’s rodeo and equine facilities, and he took advantage of it. By returning to the basics of rodeo on practice bulls, he is hoping that will help him transition to his performance in Sin City.
While he had a big financial windfall through the 2022 regular season, he still trails the leader, Utahan Stetson Wright, by almost $180,000. That may seem insurmountable for some, but bull riders have a different mentality. With nearly $29,000 paid to go-round winners each night, there are amazing chances to move up in the standings.
There’s also the fact that “ground money” counts toward the bull riding standings. The NFR pays out six places in each of the 10 rounds, and there’s an opportunity for more income if fewer than six ride their bulls on a given night. If Smith is the only cowboy to stay on in a round, he will add $93,270 to his earnings. That’s the kind of move that could make a difference in the world-title race.
“You can’t think about the money to much through the regular season,” he said. “The big money is in Vegas. You make Vegas to break even, and in Vegas is when you make your money.”
In his three previous trips to the NFR combined, Smith has earned nearly $170,000. That’s good for the profit margin, but he’d like to do a bit better. There will be 10 more nights to the 2022 campaign to make that happen.
“I’m just looking at it one bull per night down there, and I’m going to do it with that exact attitude,” Smith said. “We’re all competing in this together. We all have to ride our bulls and not worry about what the other guys are doing. I can’t control what they do or whether they stay on their bulls.
“I need to worry about staying on my bull, then moving on to the next one. The more bulls you ride there, the more chances you’re giving yourself to win money.”
He’s done pretty well at that this year. Yes, he had some key victories – he had nine event titles – but the way to earning more than $140,000 was finding a place near the top when he wasn’t finishing first. It’s an old lesson handed down from one rodeo cowboy to another through the history of the sport. Second place still pays well, and he had a lot of paychecks through the course of the campaign.
“I just chipped away at it,” he said. “Wyatt’s always told me since I was little, ‘You nickel and dime your way to the finals, and it all adds up.’ He wasn’t wrong.”
While in Las Vegas, he will also be trying to collect money for people who have been affected by breast cancer through his fundraiser, PinkChaps.com. The plan is to help those individuals and families cover expenses that come with their battle with the disease.
“Not everybody sees the cost of having breast cancer,” Smith said. “I can actually help a family that needs it. The money will go directly to a family. Thankfully we got in with Chicks N Chaps, so we know it’s going to help someone.”
Smith was raised in a rodeo family. His father, Lynn Smith, and mother, Valorie Blanchard, gave their three sons the opportunity to compete, and they accepted the responsibility. Wyatt is seven years older than Garrett, and baby brother Payson is four years younger. All have found success in and out of the arena.
“The thing that makes me most excited about going back to the NFR is that the whole family is going to be there,” Garrett Smith said. “Payson and Wyatt are coming from Texas, and Mom and Dad will be there. That’s the only time the whole family gets together, so that’s pretty special to me.
“Family’s huge to me. You always have your friends, but your family is always going to stick with you through the good and the bad. They’ve been huge in picking you up with you need it. They’ll also humble you when you need it, too.”
One of the hiccups to Smith’s career has been the injury bug that has snapped at him from time to time. He changed things up a bit this season, and it’s been paying off. He will enter the NFR as healthy as he’s ever been.
“I’ve got a little bit of a workout plan, and it’s helped me quite a bit,” he said. “Tyler Martin is from Rexburg, and he owns a crossfit gym. He sends me all my workouts, stuff that I can do on the road without having to go to a gym. It’s been a huge help to me.”
It’s also another reason he’s confident heading into his fourth NFR and why he’s at the top of his game.