Daniel Green is without a doubt among the best headers of his generation. From 1994-2003 he didn't miss a Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualification. He was nearly always in the hunt for a world title, won rounds at the Finals and for a time had the arena record at the Thomas and Mack. He roped with his brother Chris, Allen Bach and Kory Koontz and won rodeos big and small with each of them.
At the age of 31, however, the team roping phenom walked away from rodeoing full time to work with his family's construction business and raise his young family. Every year, though, he's competed at the Wrangler Timed Event Championship and the bigger rodeos near his home during the California spring run.
Now, some five years later, the Oakdale, Calif., cowboy has won the Wrangler Timed Event, the Grand National in San Francisco and the Red Bluff Round-Up in a one-month stretch.
"I get to go to big events and there are some good rodeos out here," he said. "I get to feed my competitive nature enough. The only thing I miss is when they load them up in the chute in December. When they pull that barrier string early in December I kind of miss it."
He and fellow Californian Dugan Kelly, who has also given up the road for the security of a full-time job, teamed up especially for Red Bluff and roped three steers in 18.6 seconds to win $3,415 each. The 2008 title makes three in Red Bluff for Green, one in 1997 with his brother Chris and another in 2003 with Koontz.
"I've roped with Dugan before," Green said. "When I roped with Allen Bach and Dugan roped with David Key back when we were all rodeoing Al and David lived in Texas. If they wanted to go home for a break or we wanted to go home for a break, we would switch partners. So we had some experience roping before. So when my partner (Todd Hampton) couldn't make Red Bluff, I just got Dugan. I called him, he was just hanging out over there in Paso Robles and he said yeah, I'll go over there and rope with you."
Kelly, however, doesn't play it down quite so much.
"I wasn't quite sure if my horse was ready and I hadn't been roping at that level for a long time. I was kind of nervous about it. Daniel can talk me into going anywhere. He ropes so good and he's a good friend and a legend header. Wherever he wanted to go, I'd just go," he said. "He gives you a chance to win on any type of steer in any situation. He makes it easy on me. You can't beat a deal like that. If Daniel calls and he wants to go to Okeechobee, Florida, it doesn't make any sense, but I guess I'll go."
Once in Red Bluff, it was just like old times. Despite a strong headwind in the first round that caused a lot of roped necks, the duo placed third. In the second round, they were fifth and a sixth-place finish in the third gave them the average title.
"I've been working, so I could afford to go up there and it was more like a vacation for me. I got to see all the guys that I was around for eight years rodeoing," Kelly said. "Just to see everybody and visit was fun. I hadn't been to a rodeo since August and I was riding a horse that I had started that I taught how to rope when I was riding outside horses for a while."
Kelly's little mare he calls Martini, was new to the roping game. He bought her when she was in foal and after the baby came, introduced her to the world of roping. In May of 2007, he started roping on her out of the box and by August took her to her first rodeo in Ventura, Calif. While she was terrified of the crowd around the box and the banners flapping in the breeze, once Kelly got her focused he and partner Clay Wyatt set an arena record with a 4.0-second run.
"I've got two nice horses that I've been working on for a while. They feel as good as anything I've ever had and I've had some pretty good ones," Kelly, who had the 2003 PRCA/AQHA Heeling Horse of the Year, said. "These horses have just as much potential and I've got the time at home to do what they need. If they need 30 steers a day I can do that and if they need three steers a day I can do that and if they need a break for three weeks I can do that. Whatever they need, I can do and I can do a better job on them than I could ever do on the road. Making horses on the road is hard."
Green, meanwhile, also has a new mare, Marabell, that has given him a little more flexibility.
"The horses I had were the same horses I had when I stepped out of full-time rodeo," he said. "I never really found anything I liked that was good enough, so one horse sis like 21 and the other one has ringbone. It's tough; I just have to cheat a ride out them sometimes. This horse, though, she's just kind of stayed out of my way. She usually scores pretty good, runs a lot freer to the cattle and she just gives me the opportunity to be successful. She is 14. I've never had a mare before. It doesn't matter what their gender is so long as they work good for me."
Kelly, again, shed some additional light where Green downplayed things.
"You put him on anything that's decent and he's going to take it to them," he said. "He didn't quit rodeoing because he couldn't do it anymore, he quit to stay home with his family. He was a legend. He's one of the best headers of all time."
Kelly, meanwhile, couldn't get the whole endeavor to pencil out.
"The fact of the matter is it cost me $1,500 to go up there and do that for one week," he said of the Red Bluff trip. "We did really good and won a little over $3,000 each. That's part of the reason I quit going. Financially it didn't make any sense. It puts so much stress on you and it affects everything you do.
"I love competing, there's nothing better than that, I love roping, but I just couldn't handle all the stress involved. When you step back and look at when you're not competing everyday, you realize it doesn't pan out. If you had sponsors, you could go and have fun. You put guys in that situation, they're going to do a lot better. Take the stress off of these guys and put them on a good horse-
I guarantee everybody would rope better. I'm still working on horses and I've always got it in the back of my mind that if something came up I'd be all over it."
For Green, his groove of being off the road is a good one, but he has never ruled out the possibility of going back to competition.
"I'm not planning right now on taking off," he said. "But I've said from the beginning, I'm never going to say that I won't go back out there. But I am saying that I want to stay with my family. If I can support them from here in Oakdale, California, that is my goal and has been since I stepped out. I won't say that if that changes I won't go down the road, because I will. If that's the best avenue to make money for my family, I will. Right now, I want to keep raising my family, coaching my daughter in tee ball and soccer and stuff, and I just want to watch them grow up. Just be a bigger part of it.
"I wouldn't have been able to step out from rodeo, but my dad had a construction business and he didn't make me start at the bottom. There are probably a lot of guys who would like to do that but haven't had the opportunity. Now, the construction business has slowed down so I'm still trying to figure out what's going to happen long term.
"Rodeo is what I'm best at and what I've spent my life doing the most. If I have to go back, I will, but if I can stay home with my kids, I will. More important that getting the gold buckle is being the dad they need me to be."
For Kelly, it's right back to the real world, too.
"Everybody knows I'm just working, but they called me up from the bench and I had a little luck, but Monday morning I was back to work with my helmet on digging ditches. The hero for a minute and then back to reality. I had fun and it was a good little vacation for me."
Stran Smith might start calling the Red Bluff Round-Up a vacation as well. Over the years, he's won it twice, and placed second, third, fourth and fifth at the Northern California rodeo.
This year, the Childress, Texas, cowboy won $3,318 by roping three calves in 28.4 seconds.
"It's almost been where I can go borrow money against Red Bluff," he said. "There are a few rodeos that are that way for me. I've won in every place you can win at Red Bluff. It's a big arena, it's one of those rodeos that even though it's in California, you still have to go run them down, catch them and tie them. It's always been more than two head so it's good. That suits me better, too."
Since mid-summer of last year, Smith has been Mr. Steady in the calf roping. Before that, things were anything but smooth.
In November of 2006, the nine-time Wrangler NFR qualifier had to undergo shoulder surgery. Just as he was making his comeback last year, his great horse, the legendary Topper, was accidentally killed when he got out on the road.
But then Destiny changed things. Not the mythical hidden power to chart one's life, but his new horse.
The mare, bought from Matt Shiozawa, changed the way this 37-year-old has roped calves.
"In a place like Red Bluff she's got a chance to shine," he said. "She makes it easy and takes the pressure off me so I can let things shape up and happen and just make practice runs. Ever since Reno last year, things started coming together. It's all been her."
What's more, Smith has completely changed his lifestyle to be healthier, stronger and more athletic. Recovery from the shoulder surgery prompted him to seek out Dodd Romero, a renowned trainer for the world's best athletes,
including Alex Rodriguez.
"My health is better than it's ever been," Smith said. "I'm lighter and in a lot better shape. My youth has been renewed with this lifestyle change. He took rodeo and calf roping and studied and broke it down and created a program just for me, what I needed, where my injuries had been. He specialized a workout around my knees and shoulders. He put the emphasis on calf roping and what he saw. The workout is core related, high reps and low weights. For the diet, we cut out the bad carbs, no bread, no white flour, potatoes and for sure the fried stuff. Then cut the sugar back. More than anything,
I feel better."
Call it his Bod by Dodd, and that along with a healthy dose of Destiny has Smith in the top five in the world standings.
There's a horse-owning maxim that teaches that anyone who doesn't like mares just hasn't had a good one. Red Bluff was proof of that. Daniel Green, Dugan Kelly and Stran Smith all rode the fairer equine sex to victory, as did Trevor Knowles aboard his steer wrestling mare Reba. Knowles threw three steers in 19.9 seconds to win $4,674.
In the bareback riding, Ryan Gray of Cheney, Wash., scored an 85 on Rosser Rodeo's Kattle Klare to earn $7,047.
In the saddle bronc riding, Chad Ferley and Louie Brunson each scored 83 points on Flying Five Rodeo's No. 758 and Western Rodeo's Treasure, respectively. Both men won $6,533. In the bull riding, Allan Helmuth of Ellensburg, Wash., rode Flying U's Water Works for 88 points and the win. Shelly Murphy won the barrel racing with a 17.39-second run.