Clay Smith Heads to His First WNFR
Clay Smith of Broken Bow, Okla., will be the only first-time National Finalist on the heading side at this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Smith, 24, will be roping with Paul Eaves.

Kendra Santos: You did it!

Clay Smith: This is something I’ve always wanted to do. Every day you practice—and I don’t remember when I started roping, because it’s all I’ve ever done—the goal is making the National Finals. I have other goals, but making it is No. 1, so this is really a blessing.

KS: This is your third year with a PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) card. Third time’s the charm?

CS: Yes, ma’am. You learn a lot from each year. I guess it took me a little longer to learn than most, but everything is working out good. My horse got a little more mature and so did I. I’ve learned so much from everybody I’ve roped with along the way.

KS: What will you ride at the NFR?

CS: I’ll ride my gray horse, Marty. He’s 8 now. A friend by the name of Marty Caudle, who doesn’t live far from us, brought another horse to the house for me to try, and brought this horse along just to get him out. He was 4, and had been heeled on some. I thought he was big enough to maybe make a head horse, but nothing happened that day. Marty brought him back a couple months later, I headed a few on him and he bucked on one steer. Marty hadn’t really been looking to sell him, but I bought him for $4,000. It’s funny how things work out like that. You never know which one will make a good one, but that was in May and by October I was heading on him at the US Open. This horse has been amazing.

KS: What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned about roping for a living in the PRCA?

CS: We ride a lot of horses all the time, and that goes hand-in-hand with the roping for me. You have to have a great horse, No. 1. It takes practice, hard work, learning, watching and always trying to get better at something.

KS: What is the one thing that you think put you over the top in 2015?
CS: The opportunity with Paul was big, and he’s been great. He’s roped amazing for me. My head horse was more ready, too. I got engaged in Reno (to Texan Taylor Richey), and that was life changing also. (Brother) Jake got engaged (to Californian Brandi Anthony) at Reno, too. We both went to buy rings the same day in Oklahoma and didn’t even know it.

KS: When exactly did you start roping with Paul, and what do you like most about your team?

CS: We started about a week before Reno at some rodeos in Kansas. Paul and I get along really, really good. He’s a great guy, our styles fit and we’re both pretty aggressive. We’re both laid back after the roping, though. Neither of us is one to complain about the other. It helps to be friends, and we are friends. Paul heels great, so all I need to do is my job, which takes a lot of pressure off of me.

KS: What’s your best advice for fellow young guns wanting to follow in your footsteps?
CS: The biggest thing is being able to ride. The roping’s big, but there are a lot of good ropers who don’t ever win as much as they could if they could learn to ride better. Learning how to ride different horses and keeping your horses working is a big part of it.

KS: I imagine there will be some serious culture shock for you in Vegas coming from Broken Bow, Oklahoma, huh?

CS: The hillbillies are coming to town! It’s going to be exciting. We have a lot of family and friends coming. It’s definitely going to be a good time. My whole town is super excited.

KS: When you close your eyes at night, what do you dream about when you think of roping at the Big Show?

CS: I want to win the average really bad. But there’s so much money to be won. And the grand entry will be cool in itself. It’s all going to be exciting. I’ve been out there watching for a long time. We went out there since we were little and roping in the dummy roping. Last year was the first year we didn’t go, because (little bro) Britt got too old for the dummy roping. We said we wouldn’t go back until one of us made it.

KS: I’ve watched you grow up, and know your family is very close. Will your mom and dad, Jake and Britt all be there with you?

CS: Yes, ma’am. It wasn’t just me who made it. This is a team effort, and I have two little brothers who aren’t afraid of me. (Britt, 14, won both the No. 12 Preliminary and Shootout ropings heading for neighbor Dillon Payne, 18, at the US Finals. By Tuesday, when Clay took time for this interview, the three Smith brothers had won almost $140,000, and the week was young.) 

Ks: You’ve roped just about every day of your life with Jake. Tell me about the decision to rope with someone else this year.

CS: Jake’s been busy riding horses at the house. He wanted to stay home and get better. I came home after this summer, and Jake’s roping both ends so good. His horsemanship’s so strong, too. He wanted to work on all of it, so that’s what he’s done.

KS: Jake’s named after Jake Barnes, Britt after Britt Bockius, and you’re named after ProRodeo Hall of Famer Clay O’Brien Cooper. What makes you most proud about where your name came from?

CS: Jake and Clay were the dominating team. There’s always a new set of ropers coming along, but to actually get to meet Clay and see how great a guy he is—that’s really something to live up to.

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