Two-time World Champion Team Roper Clay Smith snapped both bones between the knee and ankle on his right leg in a freak barrier-related accident at the World’s Oldest Rodeo in Prescott, Arizona last night. Smith is undergoing surgery this morning in Prescott, and will be sidelined for the foreseeable future. So sadly, his heeler, Jake Long, had a front-row seat to the horror.
“We both come from the right side here at Prescott,” Long explained. “As best we can figure, the barrier went around his horse’s chest, grabbed the back of Clay’s right foot, and we think it hooked his spur. To the naked eye and casual fan, there was no horrific crash or scene. But Clay realized immediately something was really wrong.”
It happened on their Round 1 steer in the June 28th performance, and so fast that no one but Smith had any idea what was going on in the heat of the moment.
“I just remember leaving the corner,” Long continued. “I knew something grabbed him, but it happened so fast. Then I saw him pull up. Clay looked over at me right there in the arena and told me, ‘I broke my leg.’ That’s when we went to trying to get him off of his horse.”
I’m glad I wasn’t there to see it, because it sounds something eerily similar to the traumatic scene I witnessed at the Cow Palace all those years ago, when Wrangler National Finals Rodeo heeler Brent Lockett broke his leg off coming out of the box, and little brother Kyle ran out and physically picked him up and off of his horse, then left the arena with his broken big brother in his arms. In this case, there were three cowboys to Clay’s rescue.
“Dustin Egusquiza, Jake Edwards and me got ahold of Clay, and carried him out of the arena,” Long said. “We carried him into the sportsmedicine room right there at the arena, then they put him in an ambulance and sent him to the hospital there in Prescott.
“Clay’s very tough, and doesn’t show much emotion when it comes to injuries. For him to be visibly upset, it had to be really bad on the pain scale. The break of both bones is in the shin area between his knee and ankle, and surgery was the only option.”
Smith was riding a chestnut head horse he calls Flinty, that he recently bought from his father-in-law, Jason Richey. The horse is fine. Long says doctors wanted to get through this morning’s surgery before guesstimating how long Clay will be sidelined.
Smith and Long are a recent pairing, and after Weatherford, Reno, Pecos, Springdale and Greeley, Prescott was just their sixth outing as a team. A partner swap resulted in the two new teams of Smith and Long, and Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill. As of today, Smith and Tryan are eighth and second, respectively, on the heading side, and Long and Corkill are second and fourth among heelers.
“This still doesn’t seem real, so I can’t really wrap my brain around it yet,” Jake said. “I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do. My first concern is for Clay. As of right now, I’m going to go home, and just hang out with my wife (Tasha) and my kids (Haven and Haizly in Morgan Mill, Texas).
“What happens after that will depend on time frame. Hopefully, Clay can get back sometime soon, and I’ll just wait on him. I just hate this for Clay, and it was really hard to see him in that kind of pain. I feel terrible for him and his family, and am extremely sorry about what he’s going through right now.”
If there is a single silver lining here, it’s that cowboy camaraderie came shining through when it really mattered.
“It’s pretty darn cool how much everybody does rally around in an emergency,” Long said. “Travis Bard took my rig and our horses to his house, and gave me his car to go be with Clay at the hospital. It was a heck of a gesture.
“Everybody jumped in and offered help. The support everyone has for each other out here is pretty awesome. When one of us gets down, everybody steps up and it’s impressive. I’m still pretty emotional about this. He’ll be back. But the pain Clay was in was horrible. And I hate everything about this for him and his family.”