With three rounds left in the 2019 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Clay Smith has a $65,560.42 lead on second-place header Chad Masters in the PRCA world standings, while Jade Corkill is leading the second-place heeler Joseph Harrison by $20,937.26.
They're also fourth in the average, having six out of seven steers down in 37.90 seconds. If the rodeo ended tonight, they'd be the world champs.
Throughout it all, Smith has ridden Marty, the grade, gray gelding aboard whom he won his world title in 2018.
Here's Marty's story, with reporting from Amy Wilson:
Smith, his dad, and his brothers ride a lot of horses, including outside horses, and are always looking for the next one. When a friend of his, Marty Caudle, showed up with a sorrel horse for Smith to try, he instead liked the grey tied to the trailer.
“We get to do what we love–ride horses and rope," Smith said. "We get to look at a bunch of them. But he caught my eye–he was really pretty and about the right size."
Although Marty didn’t want to sell the grey, he told Smith he could get on him. Caudle’s son Tanner had heeled on him a little, but he hadn’t been headed on. Smith roped some slow steers on him and liked him, but didn’t realize just how good he was going to be.
A couple months later, Caudle told Smith that he was thinking about selling the grey. He brought him back over on a rainy day, and as Smith was roping the first steer, the gelding bucked.
“I said, ‘Dang Marty, I didn’t know he bucked.'" Smith explained. "He said, ‘No, he’s not a bronc, he’s just fresh’."
They negotiated on a price, and got within $500 of the amount Caudle was willing to take and what Smith was willing to pay.
That night Smith was thinking about it and his dad offered him some advice, “My dad said, ‘If you like that horse, what’s $500 matter. You better buy him’.” Smith decided he would call Caudle the next morning and buy the horse.
“I’ve never been an early riser," Smith said with a laugh. "That morning my dad yells at me. Marty called my dad at 7 a.m. and said he’d take what I offered. It really was like it was meant to be.”
He appropriately named the gelding “Marty”, and after only having him a few months and going to five or six jackpots, he took the 4-year-old to the US Open where he and his brother placed. Smith started circuit rodeoing on him the next year.
“The fact is, that horse wanted to be good," Smith said. "I didn’t have to train him. I don’t ever remember having to get on him about anything. He’s a winner. He’s always put me in the spot to win. That horse has been a huge blessing and made my job really, really easy for the last two to three years. He’s been an amazing horse. Number one, that horse can really run–he’s fast. He’s really cowy–he watches a cow really good. He never gets in your way.”
Ironically, Marty isn’t registered. Smith found out who bred and raised him, and has since bred some mares to Marty’s sire, Royal Dept, who goes back to Hollywood Dun It and Smart Little Lena. Marty’s dam had already been sold and they were unsure if she has papers, but said that she’s by The Big Fix.
“He was traded around on, and I think he was an outlaw as a younger horse,” Smith said about Marty. “It’s kind of a shame he don’t have papers, but at the same time, it don’t really matter because I’m not going to ever sell him—he’ll die on my place."
At nearly 15.2 hands and around 1,200 pounds, Smith said Marty is ideal for a head horse, “He’s the perfect shape to hold up – he’s got enough bone. That horse has been really sound.”
And according to Smith, it’s a good thing in more ways than one that he doesn’t require any maintenance.
“He’s probably the meanest horse to be around on the ground," Smith said. "He’s super hard to shoe. His personality is that he doesn’t want anyone messing with him.”
Here's Huey's story:
Three-time World Champion Corkill spent most of 2018 in a self-imposed sabbatical from the sport of team roping. He and his 2013-2014 gold-buckle partner Clay Tryan had called it quits earlier that spring, and Corkill knew he had some serious work to do.
He came to own Huey when his great horse Caveman had been sidelined by injury again, and he'd thrown his young horse, Chrome, to the fire a little early, so he needed some time to regroup. He'd had his eye on the sorrel gelding named Huey that Graves let him jump-ride in Redmond, Oregon, in 2017. But at the time, TG wasn't ready to let the horse go.
"I tried to buy him then, but I think he didn't want to not get along with him because he knew he was a good horse," Corkill said. "He went back and forth a couple times, and last summer TG called and said he's sell him. I told him I wanted to try him. Then he called and something had happened and he didn't want to sell him again. So then he called after Caldwell, and said he's sell him again. I bought him over the phone then."
Corkill, who has owned some of the greatest heel horses of all time in Jackyl, Ice Cube, Caveman and Switchblade, knew he at least wouldn't hate the horse. But he didn't realize how much the horse—who's registered as JLC Royal American—would change his game.
"I didn't change anything about him," Corkill said. "I just went to roping on him and he's made me completely better... The horse is what showed me what it was I was missing."
Huey, a 2009 son of Royal Always (by First Down Dash and out of a Beduino mare) out of a Shining Spark-bred mare, came to Graves as a 6-year-old via Oklahoma's Gary Hughes, and John Louis Chamberlain raised him.
"He fits me almost like Ice Cube did," Corkill said, referring to his great gelding on whom he set the 3.3-second NFR and world record with Chad Masters in 2009. "He can really run and really drag his butt, and he just doesn't do anything wrong."
Huey wasn't just good. He opened the struggling heeler's eyes to what was wrong with his roping.
"That horse showed me what I was missing. My position was so terrible it’s a wonder I was able to catch anything at all. I’ve roped enough steers and won enough roping that you wouldn’t think I’d be as unconfident as I was. I was so worried about catching the steer that I was literally not even riding my horse."
He started to watch his videos, comparing runs from 2018 to 2009, and he didn't like what he saw in the modern-day runs.
"I leave the box heading to the steer, and my horse starts slowing down to not run right into the back of the steer, then we have nowhere to go. My horse has to lose momentum to not T-bone the steer. It was a complete train wreck. I was making it hard and having it set up to where I had one shot, and if that one shot didn’t work out exactly how it needed to, it was bad. I didn’t know the person I was watching in the older tapes. I was calm. I didn’t have a worry in the world about catching up to the steer and the steer would turn, and I’d be where I needed to be and I’d heel on the first jump."
So in the practice pen, somewhere between Little League Baseball games and jackpots and a few circuit rodeos, Corkill roped with his mom Mitzi and sister Bailey—his two most honest and consistent coaches—and figured it out all over again.
"No matter what, I have to wait for the steer to turn. I can’t do anything until they turn the steer. I can’t pay attention to the header and get sucked into heading to the steer before it’s time. It feels like rubbing your head and patting your stomach at the same time. You have to disengage and do that or you’re toast because if it does happen fast I have to have my forward momentum and keep going. I need to not teeter totter in the turn and be going back when the steer’s going forward and be left in the dust. I’m just realizing that what I’m doing is good enough. I can relax a little bit and still be fast enough."
While Corkill was home working a few things out in his head, one man—Clay Smith—was dominating the heading in 2018. Reigning World Champion Smith, who was still rodeoing with his little brother Jake on his permit when Corkill won his first gold buckle in 2012, had always wanted to rope with Corkill. He even named his son Jade, carrying on the Smith Family tradition of naming their children after great ropers.
[READ MORE: Smith Family Name Game]
Smith and Jake Long dominated the rodeos and jackpots all winter, winning enough to have an NFR berth nearly clinched by early May, but when Smith heard Corkill was going to rodeo in 2019, he jumped at the chance to spin steers for Corkill.
"If the guy who is the current champ of the world wants to rope with you, I guess you better," Corkill said. "It was a big confidence boost for me. I was excited about roping again, and I was looking forward to roping with Colby Lovell because I think he's one of the best guys going. When Clay called me, it felt like when Clay Tryan called me for the first time to rope. I felt like my roping was going the other way, like I was on my way out. So I didn't think he'd ever call me to rope."
By the time Smith asked Corkill to rope, Corkill had already promised Luke Brown he'd fill in for Paul Eaves in California while Eaves was at home for the birth of his second child. Corkill was flawless for Brown, and they won over $40,000 on the California run between the rodeos and jackpots.
Then, a day after their partner change became public knowledge, Smith and Corkill won $25,000 at the Robertson Hill Open Showdown—marking what Corkill sees as a new era in his roping career.
"This is my first shift in the changing of the times and I don’t want to get left behind. It is different now—when I first started, you’d make the best run you can on the first one and build from there. Now you have to go as fast as you can on the first one. If you’re an 8 on the first one, that’s like having a leg. You have to get caught back up and then you start making mistakes. Now I try to build it backward—go as fast as I can and just maybe I can ease off at the end of the roping. Now high team has to be faster than they’ve been all day. To me you don’t have any control because you’ve roped the best roping and then you have to go for the day money like you’re out of the roping. It’s a hard balance."
If anyone is excited Corkill's heading back on the road, it's his boys.
"They didn't like not going to the NFR last year," Corkill said. "The family is going to go when they can, and both sides want to spend time with the boys. That's more important to me than myself, them getting to spend time with their grandparents and great grandparents. That's what it's all about." TRJ