Kendra Santos: When did you start team roping, and how did that happen?
Jason Smith: I was raised by a single mom, Linda Smith, and my Grandma Carolyn lived across the street. My grandmother worked the concession stand on Sundays at an arena in Dallas they called the Hog Pen. My brother, Duane, and I would go with her, and we’d bring up the cattle, work the gate and whatever else they needed. That’s how I got the roping bug. J.R. Gilder owned the Hog Pen, and he had summer camps for kids. His grandson Alex Gilder is who first taught me how to rope. He started letting me rope on a horse in 2003, when I was a junior in high school, and I went from roping the dummy on the ground to entering the Sunday jackpots, which cost five bucks a run. There was no horseback practice. If you wanted to rope on a horse, you entered the roping. The Hog Pen is where I met Glenn Caldwell, who helped me with my horsemanship and helped raise me. He had a ranch in Terrell, Texas, and started me roping the machine and riding good horses when I was a senior in high school and in college. Glenn had all the nicer things in life, like trucks, trailers and horses. He let me stay with him and his family, and fed me. That’s where I really developed a passion for roping. Glenn held me accountable to rules, and helped me prosper into a young man.
KS: Are there things you learned on the football field that carry over as advantages in the roping arena?
JS: Yes. Pay attention to the details. There are rules and laws in place in every game. Always look for the competitive advantage, and don’t take any of it for granted. Every play or run can be your last. Be focused and know why you’re there—to compete; not for a social gathering.
KS: What’s your TRIAD number?
JS: I’m #5-Plus header.
KS: Do you ever heel?
JS: (Laughter) I’m a #4 heeler. I’ve entered every once in awhile, and won a little. But I don’t work at my heeling. I work at my heading.
KS: How often do you get to rope these days?
JS: My wife and I raise barrel and rope horses at our Twin Lakes Arena, and we’ve started a small oilfield trucking company, Big Boy Ranch Transportation. My gray horse, G4, got hurt. So between staying busy with our businesses and waiting on my horse to come back, I’m hoping to really get rolling with my roping again the middle of this year.
KS: Does backing in the box get your adrenaline pumping like running onto the football field did?
JS: I think even more, especially in the short round. All the preparation and opportunity are right in front of you, and it’s time to see if they line up. Anything can happen—your partner can miss or dirt can fly up in your eye—and you can’t control all of it. If it’s not God’s timing, it won’t happen.
KS: At 6’ 5” and 310 pounds, what’s the average size horse in your head-horse herd?
JS: They’re all pretty big. They have to be about 15.2 and 1,200 pounds to carry me. I can’t ride a little horse, for obvious reasons.
KS: Your mother-in-law, Oowala (that’s “Pretty Dove” in Cherokee), is Tee Woolman’s sister. How much has Tee helped you with your roping?
JS: A lot—especially with the mental aspect. Tee’s been there and done that. He helps me with the mindset you have to have to be successful.
KS: Did you watch Tee rope (with Leo Camarillo) at The American this year? How much fun was that as a family insider?
JS: I sure did, and Tee did a wonderful job. He’s such a strong competitor. He’s still got it, and he has a lot to teach the younger generation. Tee’s a cornerstone in the roping industry.
KS: Do you have goals for your roping?
JS: Yes. The World Series has created a league of its own, and I want to be an elite header under World Series conditions, which are unique. I want to be the best #5-Plus header walking the face of the planet. I don’t have as much time to work at my roping right now as I’d like, but my time will come. When you get to the World Series Finale in Vegas, that’s the Super Bowl.
KS: Have you ever done any good out in Vegas?
JS: That first year I was retired from football, in 2014, Jim Bynum and I placed fifth in the #11 roping out there, and we split $108,000. Now that was fun.
KS: How serious are you about your roping?
JS: It’s all business with me. A lot of people do it to have fun, which is fine. But for me there’s so much riding on it. I’m there for my heelers, my supporters, my family and me. My supporters—I don’t call them sponsors—are family. Lone Star Rope Company, The Perfect Bit, Twin Lakes Arena—when I back in the box I’m representing our family, and I’m out there to prove our brands work. I look at roping as a business deal that’s about to go down. It’s not my hobby or my pastime. I’m going to be 100 percent about it, or I’m not going to waste anybody’s time, including my own.
KS: How big a deal is roping in your life?
JS: For me, roping is part of a circle. If you think about my whole life, roping is what helped me meet everybody important in my life today. It’s how I met Glenn, who became a father figure to me. He took me to church, and that’s how I got saved and met my wife. Roping helped me become who I am today. It’s the avenue God used to put special people in my life.