When reigning World Champion Header Clay Smith flies into the Thomas & Mack Center Arena carrying the Oklahoma flag on opening night, some fans might be tempted to reach for their binoculars after doing a double take on his “horse.” The leader of the heading pack riding into this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, who this year is roping at his fifth straight NFR, will be aboard a pint-sized paint pony they call Stripper.
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If you find yourself scratching your head over why such a funny sight feels faintly familiar, it’s because little Stripper is the son of Clay’s childhood ace—a black-and-white paint stud he called Zipper. Clay and Zipper basically grew up together, and joined forces to win three trucks. The Smiths crossed Zipper and a mustang mare to come up with little Stripper, who was purposely named to rhyme with his standard-sized sire.
The Broken Bow, Oklahoma, Smith family is notorious for the “what’s in a name” game. Mark and Tammy Smith named their three sons Clay, Jake and Britt after Clay O’Brien Cooper, Jake Barnes and Britt Bockius. Now Clay O’Brien Smith and his wife, Taylor, have followed suit and named their little boy Jade O’Brien Smith after Jade Corkill and Clay O’Brien Cooper. It’s been a fun twist for those who carefully follow Clay Smith’s life and career to see him heading for his baby Jade’s namesake. It’s one of those deals where Clay says, “Jade,” and two heads turn and both his little boy and his heeler think he’s talking to them.
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Today was grand entry practice at the Thomas & Mack, and there were a few snorts and snickers in the near-empty house when Clay—who earned a record $150,512 heading steers in this 2019 regular season—came barreling down the tunnel and made his grand entrance to NFR ’19 aboard the back of Stripper, mini-me of Zipper.
“Clay brought Stripper to ride here on a family dare,” chuckled dad Mark. “Uncle Clay’s getting him tuned up for Rhett, who’s Jake’s baby boy.”