They say you can’t keep a good man down. In the case of Clay Smith and Jake Long, that old saying seems to apply to team roping teams, too. Just when the horror of last summer’s freak accident that snapped both bones between the knee and ankle on Clay’s right leg starts to fade, Jake’s been powering through in a cast covering his right foot that’s currently fractured in four places.
The 38-year-old heeling half of this top-10 2023 team took the tumble that broke his foot in round four at the February 22 Mike Cervi Jr Memorial Pro Classic in Casa Grande, Arizona.
“It happened so fast, but my header (Jake Clay) curled a front leg, the steer went down in front of me, and my horse tripped over the steer and fell sideways,” said 12-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo heeler Long, who’s stacked up well over $2 million in his roping career.
Long was riding his roan backup horse, Roger, who jumped right up and was fine. Heck, Jake thought he was fine, too.
“I had no idea I broke my foot,” said the Coffeyville, Kansas native, who now makes his home in Morgan Mill, Texas. “I honestly just thought I bruised or twisted it. I got back on, and rode my horse to the end of the arena. Then I got off, and walked around a little, because I didn’t want my ankle to get stiff on me. But I really didn’t think it was any big deal.
“It got to hurting pretty bad when I was riding around right before the short round, but I was high call with Riley Minor. So I let my stirrup down one hole. I could only kick with my left leg during that last run. The adrenaline got me through it.”
Minor and Long’s 31.68 on five topped the 174-team Cervi field, and earned them each $17,070. Long limped back home to Texas, and went to the Urgent Care in Stephenville when he got there.
“They took X-rays, told me nothing was broken and put me in a walking boot,” he said. “I roped at the Lone Star Shootout the next day. Then I sent my X-rays to Clay’s good friend Dr. Dan Carroll in Kansas City, who’s an orthopedic surgeon. At first glance, he told me I had a couple broken bones. Then the more he looked at it, he found four that were fractured.
“Thankfully, he said everything was lined up really good, so I didn’t need surgery. My wife (Tasha) and I flew to Kansas City the day before Clay and I ran our first steer at Houston, and Dr. Carroll put a cast on my foot. He told me if it didn’t hurt too bad, I could keep roping.”
It’s not a weight-bearing cast, so Jake’s been getting around on crutches and a scooter when he’s not in the saddle. If you’ve looked closely when they’ve roped here lately, you’ve noticed Long’s right foot looking rather large. It hasn’t fit into a regular stirrup, though he thinks he might try it at the rodeo in Mercedes, Texas tonight. Long’s been roping with a big black sock over the cast, and using a makeshift shock-absorbing innertube-rubber stirrup.
“It’s been harder to ride my horse,” Jake said. “I haven’t really been able to stand up to rope, because the innertube stretches so much. I just have to focus my way through it a little more. It’s an added challenge, but we’ll get through it.”
Smith and Long got off to a hot 2023 start by winning Odessa and Denver early on.
“I’d never done good at Odessa, and Denver’s been good the last few years,” Jake said. “It’s been a little slow since, but winning the first two rodeos of the year was nice to get into a rhythm. After getting off to a good start like that, hopefully we can keep it rolling.”
Just like they gutted it out through Smith’s broken leg and miraculously made the Finals last year. What are the odds of two team ropers being tested twice like this? They have surely laughed in the truck about that, right?
“Yeah, we have kind of laughed about it,” Long said. “Everybody’s said we’re the dangdest team that it’s happened to both of us. I don’t remember the last time a team roper broke a bone, let alone a pair of teammates. It’s pretty crazy.
“But we’ll get through it. That’s just what rodeo people do, and any of the team ropers would have done the same thing. We’re going to do everything in our power to compete. Us going on with it is nothing overly special or unusual in this sport. That’s what cowboys do.”