Story courtesy of Ted Harbin / twisTEDrodeo.com

Idaho cowboy points his focus to NFR, world championship

REXBURG, Idaho – Garrett Smith has proven a little something to himself in 2017, and he’s doing it in a big way.

The 22-year-old from Rexburg has quickly made himself into one of the best bull riders in rodeo. Not only has he earned more than $204,000 in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the second straight year, he earned another coveted championship last week in Edmonton, Alberta.

For the first time in his young career, Smith found a place for him at rodeos that were co-sanctioned by both the PRCA and the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association. He entered last week’s Canadian Finals Rodeo No. 1 in the bull riding standings, then placed in four go-rounds. With that, he became the first cowboy from the United States to be crowned the Canadian bull riding champion.

“This was the first year of going to Canada for a whole season of going hard,” said Smith, who earned $24,725 in Edmonton to clinch the title. “I went to just enough rodeos to get qualified for the Canadian Finals. I ended up getting on a lot of good bulls up there.

“I also had a lot of good mentors. It really helped boost my confidence.”

It should. Doing well at the CFR is a huge boost of momentum a little more than three weeks before the NFR, ProRodeo’s grand finale that features the biggest purse in the game. In Las Vegas, go-round winners earn more than $26,000 a night for 10 rounds.

“Doing well up there helps quite a bit, because I was still getting on good bulls close to the NFR,” he said. “That way I don’t go into Vegas rusty. It helps keep you sharp.”

That’s the way he’s ridden all year. He finished his first NFR last December by winning the 10th go-round. He placed in one other and finished fifth in the average. In all, he left Sin City with more than $77,000 in earnings over just 10 nights.

Most importantly, it served as a catapult to Smith’s 2017 season. He recorded 13 victories in ProRodeo, and four of those were co-sanctioned in Canada. That’s why he was able to be part of North America’s top two championships.

“This year’s been awesome,” Smith said. “I’ve been healthy and had a little confidence going in after last year’s finals. It all worked out pretty awesome.

“To think I won over $200,000 is still hard to believe.”

What isn’t added into that is a key victory at RodeoHouston, where he earned more than $53,000. Because the Houston event is not sanctioned by the PRCA, the money doesn’t count for the world standings. Still, it went a long way to support his dreams of a world championship.

“Houston really boosted my confidence,” he said of the March rodeo. “After a win like Houston, it finally sets in that you are supposed to be there and know what you’re doing. It was fun.”

He also had fun at the Calgary (Alberta) Stampede, where he finished second overall and added another $35,000 of non-sanctioned cash to his pocketbook. It was more than dollars, though; it was the confidence he gained in every ride. That’s the most important thing when it comes to trying to ride nearly two tons of bucking beast.

Despite all his earnings, he still trails the leader, three-time world champion Sage Kimzey, by just less than $33,000. But in Las Vegas, that ground can be made up in two nights. An important factor is maintaining consistency over the 10-night championship.

“The key for me was just not overthinking things,” Smith said. “It was just going out there and riding one bull at a time and having fun.”

Yes, the competition can be fun, but it is also business. He knows that as well as anything, and that’s why he understands what it means to have the support of his sponsors: Idaho Project Filter, Resistol, Rodeo Vegas, Rodeo Graphics, Truth Bucking Stock and Streamline Sports Chiropractic & Physical Therapy.

But the biggest part of his business is riding bulls. In order to do that well, he has to understand the importance of being focused on the task at hand eight seconds at a time. He knows he has to trust his muscle memory and ability to react without thinking, allowing his true athleticism come through in each move atop a bucking, kicking, spilling bull.

“Hopefully it’ll be more relaxing than last year, and I’ll know more about what’s going on,” said Smith, whose father, Lynn, has served as a pickup man, while mom, Valorie, has been a timer and has handled other promotional aspects of the sport. “I just want to settle in and stay on my bulls.”

That’s better said than done in the rough-and-tumble event. Bulls have a distinct advantage, with their size and speed being the primary reasons. Smith weighs in at 165 pounds, so he has to maneuver his body on top of the bull if he hopes to stay centered. In 2017, he rode 63 percent of the bulls he tried.

“It’s extremely important to draw good bulls, but you still have to do your part,” he said. “My confidence is a lot higher now. You always think you’re going to come out of high school, and it’s going to be easy. You get humbled pretty fast in this sport.”

That’s rodeo, and it’s something Smith knows well. He’s been around the game all his life, and he realizes that he must keep pushing forward if he’s going to realize his gold-buckle dreams.

“There are always ways you can improve, and there’s always stuff you’re going to learn,” Smith said. “I just want to keep learning as I go and figuring out how to improve.”

That’s the way champions think, and Garrett Smith has the hardware to prove it.

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