The practice pen doubled as the Smith brothers’ playpen growing up, and it groomed them well for the $100,000 windfall at the Wildfire Open to the World in young adulthood. Clay, 23, and Jake, 21, took the coveted six-steer Wildfire title in 39.05 seconds. It was Clay’s second-straight Wildfire win.
“This is a big deal for me,” Clay said. “The money is huge, and it really is $100,000 for us, because it all goes back to the same place. We don’t separate our money. It’s not your money or my money in our family—it’s ours. Every dollar goes right back into what we do. And I couldn’t have picked two better guys to win it with. First Will, who’s our best friend. Now my brother. It doesn’t get any better.
“I thank God for giving us a chance to do what we love to do. The money’s great, but doing what you love means even more. This is our first major, and our best win ever. These are the guys we grew up watching.”
Clay won the 2014 Wildfire with Will Woodfin, who was this year’s reserve champ heeling for Dustin Davis. In 2015, brothers Smith were 7.26, 6.54, 6.48, 5.90, 6.33 and 6.54 to take the Feb. 7 victory lap by a little over a second—39.05 to Woodfin and Davis’ 40.24. This year’s 17th annual Wildfire Open to the World was 163 teams strong, and was bolstered by $60,100 in added money put in the pot by Wildfire Producer Billy Pipes. The 2015 Wildfire Open to the World Weekend shelled out $556,160, including $98,000 added to the Open, Ladies Open and Sponsor Pro-Am ropings out of Pipes’ pocket.
“We’ve practiced so much for this ever since we were little,” said Jake, the middle Smith brother and a second big brother to Britt, 13. “We’ve roped so many steers together that I know exactly where a steer’s going to be. It cuts the variables in half when I rope with Clay, because he’s drug ’em into my loop for so long.
“I’m tickled to death. Clay’s been rodeoing (he’s heading for Jim Ross Cooper at the rodeos) and I’ve been bronc stomping at the house. I got bucked off of a 2-year-old filly four days ago, so this is great. There are 60 head of horses at our house right now.”
The Smith brothers live in Broken Bow, Okla., with their parents, Mark and Tammy. Mamaw Betty and Papaw Vernon also were on hand for the boys’ big day in Salado, Texas, as was Jake’s girlfriend, Brandi Anthony. “It’s a team effort for us,” Clay said. “They take care of us when we’re home and when we’re gone.” The VS on their horses’ left hips is for Vernon Smith.
As everyone knows by now, the Smith boys were named after Clay O’Brien Cooper, Jake Barnes and Britt Bockius. Clay and Jake Smith used to rope the same ends as their namesakes, but made the switch in 2011. “I’d always headed,” Jake explained. “But 2010 was the last year I headed. A big turning-point event for us with Clay heading was the 2009 USTRC Finals, when we won the No. 13 Preliminary and Shootout ropings. That’s when we started figuring out that this was the best way for us to go.”
Clay’s ridden the same gray horse—Marty’s 7 now—to both Wildfire wins. The Smiths have had him since he was 4, and named him after their friend and the horse’s former owner, Marty Caudle.
“He’d been heeled on when we got him,” Clay said. “He’s the smartest colt that’s come along that fast that I’ve ever ridden. We got him in May, when he was 4, and I headed on him that October in the open at the USTRC Finals. It was just a meant-to-be kind of deal.
“This roping and the BFI (Bob Feist Invitational Team Roping Classic) take the most horsepower and a lot of cowboying up. These steers are fresh and they run. They’re great, but it takes good horses and a lot of try at both ends to win.”
Jake rode an 8-year-old red-roan horse they call Ted. “When we got him he was a 2-year-old broncy colt that had only been saddled once or twice, so we’ve had him start to finish,” Jake said. “When we were junior rodeoing, we heeled and roped calves on him. Clay heeled on him for me at the (National) High School Finals (Rodeo) in 2010, and heels on him at the Timed Event (Championship of the World, where Clay was the 2014 reserve champ behind Paul David Tierney; Jake headed, heeled and hazed for him).
“You have to be blessed to win this roping. It takes a good horse, a good partner and a lot of hard work and focus. We all thank Billy and these sponsors so much for making this all possible. Billy loves cowboys and roping, and so do the rest of the people who get behind this roping. We’ll eat a steak to celebrate, then head to the house. I’ve got to pick up another outside horse on the way back home. I’ll be back on that little bucking filly tomorrow morning.”
We all witnessed a first, when the most decorated cowboy of all time tossed the cowboy crowd a curveball twist in the Wildfire short round. Trevor Brazile and Travis Graves were sixth high call, and Trevor backed in the box and nodded for their steer while Graves was still riding back up the arena from being ninth high back with Chad Masters. True to Trevor’s Relentless form, he drove straight to Fort Worth and won the rodeo that evening with his 2010 World Team Roping Co-Champ Patrick Smith. Also true to form, Smith immediately posted a reward for incriminating footage of the Wildfire incident, with which to heckle his header.
“On the bright side, I taught those guys a lesson that day—don’t be the second guy in the box,” said Brazile, who’s known for both his sense of humor and a short memory that doesn’t let the rear-view mirror get in the way of his next run. “Let’s just say Patrick beat me in there at Fort Worth that night.”
Like Wrangler National Finals Rodeo header Jimmy Tanner told Trevor, “You’re still setting records. I promise you I’ve never seen that before, either.”
Everyone knows rodeo is a family, and Wildfire Open to the World Weekend is an annual roping reunion that serves as a perfect example of that fact. The people who sponsor this roping get behind the sport’s big dogs in a big way, and they’re a lot more than mere money men and spectators at the Wildfire. Most of them cinch up and nod their heads in the Wildfire Sponsor Pro-Am Roping, which partners them up with roping royalty.
“Everybody here is the best of the best at his part of this business, whether it’s the top ropers in the world or the best in the Western industry,” said Wildfire Producer Pipes. “Our first sponsors 17 years ago were Wrangler and Justin. They’ve been with us since day one. Denis Carroll (who owns a number of companies, including Cactus Ropes, Cactus Saddlery, Cactus Gear, Resistol Hats, Fastback Ropes and Heel-O-Matic) does more for rodeo and ropings at every level than anyone even knows. His group of companies is invested in every aspect of the Western industry. Denis doesn’t care to be acknowledged for anything he does. He just does it for the love of the game.”
Wrangler is the title sponsor of the Open to the World and Ladies Open ropings; Resistol is the event sponsor for the Open to the World; and Montana Silversmiths is the event sponsor for the Ladies Open.
“How cool is it that these guys are not only at the top of their field as businessmen, but are cowboys, too?” Pipes noted. “The friends and the camaraderie at an event like this are the best part, and it’s not just among the ropers. The most important aspect of this event is the relationships. We could all be making more money doing something else, but we love it. This isn’t just a business, it’s a way of life for all of us. The Western industry is a fraternity, and we’re all on a first-name basis.”
Pipes added $61,000 to the Open to the World to get it to pay $100,000 for first. He also added $25,000 to the Ladies Open and $12,000 to the Sponsor Pro-Am. The sponsor roping is one of many unique thank you’s at this event. Other generous perks include Pipes feeding all contestants and sponsors dinner and drinks up in the Turnout Tavern above the roping boxes.
“We pay out more than we take in,” Pipes said with a smile. “My goal when we started this event was to be the best open roping in the world. We’re No. 3 right now, and will be until eternity because I’m up against the King (George Strait) and the Godfather (Bob Feist). It’s great that Corky Ullman and Daren Peterson stepped up and bought the BFI to carry on the tradition. There’s no replacing these major events, and my hat’s off to that new group for taking the torch from Bob.”
This year’s $12,000-added Sponsor Pro-Am Roping heading champ was GK Hall Construction’s Gary Hall, who headed for Cole Davison and roped four steers in 32.3 seconds to take the Rose Bowl-style black parade saddles, which are made by Cactus Saddlery and decked out in silver by Montana Silversmiths, along with the $2,000 sponsor-pot cash. Classic Ropes’ Kyle Archino pulled pipes on four steers behind Derrick Begay to take the Sponsor Pro-Am victory lap on the heeling side.
A touching scene during this year’s Wildfire Sponsor Pro-Am happened when eight-time World Champion Header Speed Williams’ daughter, Hali, missed the high-team steer for Coleman Proctor. I’ll never forget Speed pacing the tunnel halls at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas because he was so anxious about first-born Hali’s arrival—which happened on December 14, 2003, and was not only Speed’s 36th birthday but the day he won his seventh of eight straight world team roping titles with Rich Skelton. He was an anxious wreck before he roped his 10th one at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo that day.
To see Speed right there at the Wildfire this year with his 11-year-old little girl as she rode into the box was so cool, and he could not have been more proud—win, lose or draw. Equally touching was the way Coleman, who just headed at his first NFR thanks in large part to Speed’s mentoring, gave that girl a reassuring hug at the back end of the arena. We’ll see you in the winner’s circle before you know it, Hali!
Wildfire Producer Pipes always says the people and relationships are the best part of this Western world we live in, and he’s right. Pipes was named the first-ever Resistol Man of the Year in 2009. The honor goes to “people who dedicate time and effort to our industry because they love it,” Resistol’s Ricky Bolin explained. Pipes is in good company on this one, as he was followed by Dr. Tandy Freeman, Dr. J. Pat Evans, George Strait, Red Steagall, Michael Gaughan and in 2015 Denis Carroll.
Bubba Paschal and Kenny Kyle won this year’s Wildfire No. 11 Businessman’s Roping and $75,000 after roping four steers in 35.84 seconds on Feb. 8. The World Series of Team Roping Super Qualifier, which paid 74 ropers, featured a $250,000 payout. The advertised payout for 200 teams was $240,000, but due to the additional teams—417 of them, to be exact—there was an additional $10,000 in the pot, which maintained the 80-percent payback.
Cactus Gear (Steve Coder), Cactus Ropes (Barry Berg and Mike Piland), Cactus Saddlery (Tony Wilson and Josh Johnson), Heel-O-Matic (Chip Bruegman) and Fastback Ropes (Al Benson) sponsored this year’s Wildfire Businessman’s Roping, and many of the sponsor reps roped in both the Sponsor Pro-Am and Businessman’s Ropings. Wilson, Johnson and Bruegman all roped in the Businessman’s short round, and Paschal, of P & P Trailer Sales, won the roping. GK Hall Construction’s Gary Hall, who won the Sponsor Pro-Am Roping on the heading side, also roped in the Businessman’s short round.
The Wildfire Ladies Open shines a spotlight on the best women ropers in the country. And Beverly Robbins and Jessy Remsburg showed the packed house just how far the ladies have come—rope in hand—from the not-so-distant past when most women were found in the grandstands.
With runs of 8.54, 8.93, 11.01 and 7.78 seconds, Robbins and Remsburg roped four steers in 36.26 to take the $25,000 in first-place cash, which is presented Wildfire-style—in $100 bills stuffed in hand-tooled Cactus Saddlery purses.
Robbins, who’s mom to 9-year-old son Ridge in Muscle Shoals, Ala., is a USTRC No. 6 Elite roper who also won the Wildfire Ladies Open heading for Annette Stahl in 2012. Robbins and Stahl were actually the high team this year, but a misfire Robbins is still scratching her head over in the short round led to Robbins winning it all with Remsburg after coming back second high call with her.
“I love this roping,” said Robbins, who was roping at the Wildfire for the fourth time. “It’s one of my favorites. I like Reno, too, but it’s a long way from Alabama to go out there and enter one time. I like being able to enter four times. To have this many teams (262) in an all-girl roping is crazy. There are only three open all-girl ropings that I know of—this one, Reno and the Spicer Gripp.
“I’m a roping producer. I know what it takes to put on an event of this caliber. It’s not easy. The cattle are always great here. The barrier’s always right. It’s just a fair roping. Billy does such a good job, and I truly appreciate him doing it. Everybody looks forward to this roping, and we all have so much fun. It’s one time when we all get to hang out and visit. I’d like to see more ropings like this one.”
She’s doing her part. After Perry Bigbee put on the Biggest East of the Mississippi roping the first 25 years, Robbins took the reins the last 25. The roping celebrated 50 years in 2014, and Robbins added an all-girl roping on the occasion of the event’s golden anniversary.
It was also Remsburg’s first Wildfire win in four shots at it. “I’ve placed every year that I’ve been here, but hadn’t ever won it before,” said Remsburg, a No. 6 roper from Boligee, Ala. “I won second with Beverly a couple years ago. I didn’t do so well here last year. I had four callbacks in the short round and I choked.”
Robbins didn’t start roping until she got out of college. After two years at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, she graduated with a double major in health and physical education, and biology from the University of North Alabama in Florence. Robbins started college as a two-sport athlete, playing both basketball and tennis. She played college tennis all four years, then took up polo with her dad after graduation.
“Then I turned the polo horses into rope horses, and I’ve been roping ever since,” she said. “When I started roping, there weren’t that many girls who roped. Now you go to a roping and there are so many more women roping—wives, kids, it’s really so much different now. I love seeing it. I used to feel like I was only roping in a man’s world. Having so many more women involved makes it so much more fun.”
Remsburg grew up respecting Robbins in and out of the arena. “Beverly’s the best woman header who’s ever lived, and she’s my hero,” Remsburg said. “It’s a dream come true to win this roping with her. That means a lot to me. I’ve grown up watching her rope my entire life. She’s a really good person, and we’ve become really good friends. I look up to Beverly—the way she ropes and the way she presents herself.”
Robbins rode her bay horse Macho, who’s 10. “He’s been my second string, but I lost my good horse, Slide, in January,” she said. “That was pretty devastating. Macho’s had to step up and be No. 1, and he’s done a good job.”
Remsburg rode Cajun, who’s 7. “I bought him as a 2-year-old for $600 and I started him,” she said. “He only had 10 rides on him when I got him, so he’s pretty special to me.”
This team’s respect is definitely mutual. “Jessy ropes so good,” Robbins said. “She ropes really tough. I’ve watched her since she was a kid, and she’s come such a long way. It’s amazing. She’s got it figured out. The cream of the crop gets it figured out. The best ropers all work hard at it.”
Robbins is beyond busy running two health clubs in Muscle Shoals. Robbins Property and Development develops lake properties, and she farms wheat, corn and soybeans with her nephew, too.
“Roping’s been a big part of my life, but my roping priority definitely got moved down the ladder when I had my son,” she said. “It changed from quantity to quality. I used to spend hours and hours in the practice pen. Now I go work on something, complete a mission and call it a day.”
Remsburg was one of this year’s Wildfire double dippers. Just as Jade Corkill placed twice in the Open to the World—third with Luke Brown and fourth with Clay Tryan, to be exact—Remsburg also placed fifth with Jade’s sister, Bailey. Consistency queen Barrie Smith actually triple dipped, placing third, fourth and 10th in the Ladies Open.
“The best of the best come to this roping, and it’s fun to be able to compete with them,” said Remsburg, who rides horses for Joel Colgrove so has the work perk of daily practice sessions.
“This is an awesome roping, and the ladies don’t have very many of them. We appreciate Billy having this roping very much. It’s rare to get to rope for this kind of money at all-girl ropings, so I love it.
“Roping is everything in my life. I’ve roped my whole life. I just started getting to heel a bunch in the last couple years. I still head a little, but not as much as I used to. I’m starting to get better at heeling, and I really like it.”