Paul Eaves won the 2018 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association heeling gold buckle aboard the 2006 AQHA gelding Sting A Little, a bay roan gelding that helped Eaves smash the heeling earnings record with $289,921.48 after the last flag fell at the Finals that year.
Eaves has saved the horse he calls Guapo for big-money situations since then, but this year, he won’t have him ready to roll for the 2020 National Finals Rodeo in Arlington, Texas’s Globe Life Field, when he backs into the box next to header Colby Lovell.
“He has an old injury on his suspensory branch that’s been there for a long time,” Eaves, 30, said. “It’s never really bothered him, and this summer I was running a couple on him and he tweaked it again somehow. I gave him a lot of months off, and I’ve been getting him in shape and getting him going. He’s still a ways off.”
The power-vacuum at the top of Eaves’ string, however, will mean a long-great 2005 roan gelding registered as Prancing Karo, owned by Broken Bow, Oklahoma’s Jake Smith, will get his chance to shine. "Ted" will finally get to step out of the shadow of Marty—the grade, gray gelding that carried brother Clay to back-to-back gold buckles.
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“Probably the biggest reason why I wanted to ride Jake’s horse is just because he is so talented,” Eaves, of Lonedell, Missouri, said, of the horse Jake unremarkably named Ted. “But more than that, he’s wanting to help you in any way he can. He’s on your team. Whatever he needs to do to help you to catch, he’s going to do that. He can run, he can stop, he can do all that good stuff too.”
The horse first came to prominence back in 2015, when Jake heeled for his brother (now two-time World Champion) Clay to win the $100,000 windfall at the Wildfire Open to the World. But that wasn’t when the Smith family, who ran (and still run) a horse-trading operation out of their dad Mark's home arena, knew he was great. No, they’d had him long before that and always counted on him when their money was up.
“I would have been 14 I guess when we got him,” Jake, now 26, recalled. “I remember that guy brought two horses that day. He had a sorrel horse you could rope on him, but he’d bucked some people off around here. He had that little roan colt with it. And I got on the roan. The story was on the roan, that he’d sent him to somebody to ride and he’d bucked with him and they didn’t want to mess with it. I remember getting on him, and he dang sure wanted to buck, but you could talk him out of it. He’d just ball up and you’d let him ease out of it and he was OK. I remember we bought the pair, and seems like we sold the sorrel a few months later at a sale, and heck, sold him—we give like $2,000 for the pair and I think we sold the sorrel for $3,900.”
Ted caught on fast. Both Clay and Jake were riding him as a 3-year-old at the junior rodeos there by the house, with Clay calf roping on him and Jake doing the leg work in the heeling. As the boys grew up and Ted got better and better, he became a critical part of their high school rodeo team. Clay was heeling back then, and the brothers placed in the average at the National High School Finals Rodeo and won the fast time in the short round.
When the Smith brothers bought their PRCA cards back in 2012, they buddied with Dustin Bird and Eaves and learned the ropes on the rodeo trail with the NFR partners. Jake was riding Ted.
“In 2015, Clay and I started rodeoing,” Eaves said. “I sold my place in Stephenville that year. And I didn’t have anywhere to live because I hadn’t bought nothing yet. I moved over there in their place in Broken Bow and lived at that year, when we were home me and my wife were there. I become real close with their family, Mamaw, Britt, Tammy, their whole family. Clay and I were getting ready for the Finals, and Jake wasn’t home. I got on him to run a few. He felt so good to me. He hadn’t been rode in a couple weeks. But I just threw him right into it and he was lights out.”
So when Eaves realized he didn’t have a number-one for Arlington, he called Jake to see if he could give the horse a try about two weeks before Round 1.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m tickled to death that Paul thinks he’s good enough to ride there,” Jake said. “But I’m also really wishing it was me riding him there. But that’s the plan for next year for sure. I’m excited that somebody wants to ride him there and thinks he’s that good, besides me. Everybody always thinks their horse is that good. But to have somebody else think that too makes you feel good. Especially because I, not Clay, well maybe Clay had like 15% to do with it—whenever we trained him here at the house ourselves, that’s what makes it special.”
“I think he’ll shave two-to-three tenths off the clock because he will stop, I mean stop like a banker,” Dad Mark added. “He was really fast, now I just call him fast.”
And Mark’s sure he’ll see the horse at rodeo’s big show again, but next time under Jake.
“I have every intention—I’ll bet Smith Arena—that I’ll have three boys at the NFR. It just took Jake a little longer. Jake’s such a good person. Jake takes care of all my business. And Britt—I think Britt’s as good as Clay—but he wants to hunt, he’s just 19. He’s not doing anything bad, I just don’t think he’s working as hard. He is mad that he didn’t make the NFR this year. I think that woke him up.
“All three of them, I put them on so much junk,” Mark added. “I don’t have a cull factor right. I just act like you’re out in the desert and you’ve got to get home and you’ve got to ride the bucking horse. It’s just not giving up and hard work. And not just being mean to them all the time either. They know when to pet one too. I’m so proud that my boys are horsemen.” TRJ
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