Ropers in Wyoming have been stunned at the remarkable skills of the Johnson boys for the past couple of years, but it’s only been in the past two weeks that the teenage sons of 2011 world champion heeler Jhett Johnson have commanded national attention.
Carson Johnson, 17, of Casper, Wyoming, put on a dominating show at the first-ever Hooey Junior BFI Championships in Reno on June 20, winning all three long rounds with his respective partners. He won the average with Britt Smith, 17, of Broken Bow, Oklahoma, by three full seconds and went home with $8,400. Smith, who earned $8,350, is the youngest brother of world No. 1 header Clay Smith.
The roping was added this year to Wrangler BFI Week and patterned after the richest Open roping in America–the 41-year-old Bob Feist Invitational–held in conjunction with the $500,000 Reno Rodeo. The kids roped behind a 16-foot score and softer cattle, whereas the pros deal with an 18-foot line.
“What an opportunity for the next generation to compete on the same playing field as all the roping legends before them!” said Joey Austin, president of Hooey Brands. “Hooey looks forward to helping build this into the premier team roping title for young talent.”
The roping was a big draw not only because of the prestige of the BFI but because it was formatted to also be a Junior NFR Qualifier with extra points. To that end, there were two ropings – the Open Junior BFI and a #10 Junior BFI, which limited classifications to #6-Elite and under. Contestants in both ropings had to be 17 or younger this year and could enter twice. Both ropings were limited to 50 teams with entry fees of $500 per roper.
Smith, a 7 header, and Johnson, an 8-Elite heeler, were high call in the Open roping at 20.56 seconds on three. They needed only a 10.6-second run to win the roping, so when the pair came tight in 7.57, it marked the biggest win of Johnson’s young career. He and Smith split the guaranteed $15,000 cash and loaded up saddles, buckles, YETI prizes, Resistol hats and Heel-O-Matic goodies similar to what the BFI champs took home.
Johnson knew Smith from competing as a kid in the world championship dummy ropings in Las Vegas over the years. Smith is a four-time world champion, having won that event when he was just 4, 5, 6 and 7 years old–while Johnson finished second to him twice. More recently, the pair have roped together at the World Junior Team Roping Championships in Ardmore, Oklahoma.
“He heads really good for his age,” said Johnson, who also heeled for Kal Fuller of Bozeman, Montana, in the sixth callback position with a 24.89 on three – and missed.
“I just try to take it one steer at a time,” said Johnson, who will be a high-school senior this fall. “I take my first shot every time. When I missed that sixth-high back steer, I just cleared my mind and moved on to the next steer.”
Johnson grew up watching his father, Jhett, compete at the BFI and even finish in the top three a couple of times. And last week, he watched his older brother Kellan win the national collegiate championship in his hometown heading for Trey Yates. Carson called it “mind-blowing” to watch the hometown boys bring the house down in Casper’s Civic Center from his view in the alley where he was pushing steers as part of the chute crew during the short round.
In Reno, Johnson rode the gelding he calls Itchy that he bought from his cousin Jerren Johnson.
“He did a great job,” Carson said. “When I threw fast, he rated off and when I was going to kick in during the short round, he did that, too.”
Johnson plans to hit some amateur rodeos this summer and hopes to win the Wyoming state high school championship and the national high school title that barely eluded he and his brother in 2017. And lest kids across America think they have just one more year of roping against a Johnson, just starting out now is 9-year-old Kress Johnson.
Smith, also the youngest of three, was ecstatic at the big win.
“I’d love to enter the actual BFI in a year or two,” said Smith, who two days earlier had watched his brother Jake miss the fifth one to probably become high call in the BFI with Jesse Stipes. “I can remember since I was little bitty, I’d watch BFI videos until I fell asleep at night. You can play the same one over and over and always catch something new.”
During the Hooey Junior BFI, Britt’s dad Mark–who puts a big emphasis on catching–and brothers Clay and Jake were on hand, cheering. Clay was the first down to the arena floor to congratulate his little brother.
“After the second one, Jake called me from the stands and told me if I needed help scoring or needed a rattle, he’d be there,” said Britt. “He told me to keep it up.”
Britt rode one of his two grey geldings, the 7-year-old he calls Caspar, because he scores so well and can really run. It was the horse Clay would have borrowed during the BFI Monday when his good one got hurt, but they figured he was too far out of town to get him to the arena in time. Clay borrowed a friend’s horse instead.
The littlest Smith is no stranger to attention, even though he wasn’t quite born when his two brothers showed off their roping in 1999 on the Tonight Show for Jay Leno. He won both the #12 preliminary and shootout ropings in Oklahoma City recently and is the defending reserve world champ at the World Junior Team Roping Championships.
Plus, on the drive out to Reno, he and his parents stopped about 7 a.m. in Gallup, New Mexico to rest the horses. They spied Derrick Begay being interviewed and discovered slack was about to start for an Indian rodeo. Smiths’ rig got blocked in and, when world champ Aaron Tsinigine couldn’t make it to rope with Derrick’s dad, Victor, Britt entered with him.
“We wound up winning the rodeo,” said Smith, who won a nice buckle. “There were 68 teams; we were the oldest and youngest partners.”
Smith’s objective at the Hooey Junior BFI was not to try to force anything, so when he had “all day” to rope the high-call steer, he simply stayed safe on the barrier, took another swing and made sure it was easy for Johnson to heel the steer.
“I get plenty of help,” said Smith. “I kind of like to hunt and fish, and my brothers just rope, rope, rope.”
Britt, of course, would like to make the Finals one day and will crack out at 18 partnering with his brother Jake. He also plans to join his brothers after high school in their business selling rope horses for people.
“We have a web site (JakeClayBritt.com) and people bring us horses to sell,” he said. “We charge $300 a month and put $500 on it. We sold 80 horses this year.”
Complete Results from the Hooey Junior BFI Open:
First Round: 1. Britt Smith and Carson Johnson, 6.3 seconds, $600; 2. Cutter Machado and Cody Stewart, 6.96, $400;Second Round: 1. Kal Fuller and Carson Johnson, 5.34 seconds, $600; 2. Hayden Powell and John Hisel, 6.79, $400; Third Round: 1. Britt Smith and Carson Johnson, 5.85, $600; 2. Jayse Tettenhorst and Kaden Profili, 6.31, $400; Short Round: 1. Britt Smith and Kayden Little, 6.92, $500. Average: 1. Britt Smith and Carson Johnson, 28.13, $15,000; 2. Peyton Walters and Kaden Profili, 31.18, $10,000; 3. Cutter Machado and Jake Bourdet, 31.88, $4,000; 4. Britt Smith and Kayden Little, 32.85, $3,000; 5. Hagen Peterson and Braydin Evans, 33.10, $1,000; 6. Cole Eiguren and Breck Ward, 39.13, $1,000.