Zac Small qualifed for his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2016 heading for fellow Finals freshman Wesley Thorp. One of the team’s most memorable highlights from last season was winning the Bob Feist Invitational Team Roping Classic in June. Small, who turned 22 on January 11, is from Welch, Okla., and is currently attending the College of Veterinary Medicine at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.
Kendra Santos: At your first Finals, you and Wesley won three go-round checks, including splitting Round 10 with World Champs Levi Simpson and Jeremy Buhler. You finished seventh in the NFR average, and won $74,519 at the Finals and $143,787 on the season to wind up ninth in the world. What stands out most about your first NFR?
Zac Small: It was a lot of fun. I didn’t have a whole lot of expectations. I just wanted to get there and do my job to give us a chance. We had some ups and downs, but we were there and that was the goal.
KS: What was most memorable about the 2016 season overall?
ZS: We did pretty good up until about the time I started school, then for about a month or so we didn’t win much. When I left for school we were probably sixth or seventh in the world. By the time we finally won something, we were about 15th. It was pretty stressful. Placing at San Juan (Capistrano, Calif.) helped the cause and turned it around quite a bit. We didn’t make a spectacular run, but we caught, they paid us for it and we knew we could still do it.
KS: You started vet school in August. How stressful and hectic was it trying to balance school and making your first Finals the last couple months of the regular rodeo season?
ZS: Very. It was the most stress I’ve ever been under. Trying to make it to all the rodeos and pass all my classes was not easy.
KS: How crazy was the last week of the regular season for you guys? Which run got you in, and just how close was it to the wire?
ZS: We went into the last week 15th. That’s better than 16th, but… It was kind of tricky, because Wesley couldn’t count a couple of the rodeos. We won Kansas City, and he couldn’t count it. We placed at Amarillo, and he couldn’t count that one, either. But he counted the best two that week—Pasadena, Texas, and the Champions Challenge there—and we placed at both of them. Those last two rodeos we went to did it for both of us.
KS: You and Cayla (Melby Small) got married on October 29, right before competing at your first Finals together. How hectic was it going to school, planning a wedding and trying to get the Finals made all at once?
ZS: It was hectic, but Cayla, my mom and her mom planned the wedding (which was held at his parents’ place in Welch). I’m not going to take credit for that one. I worked on my school work and went to the rodeos. They did the rest.
KS: What was it like riding into that arena alongside your brand new wife on opening night?
ZS: It was pretty amazing—a dream come true, for sure. We’d thought about it and talked about it. But to actually get there and have everything work out the way it did was a blessing, for sure.
KS: How tough has vet school been on you academically?
ZS: It’s been good. I’ve made good grades. I’ve been able to prioritize my time enough to study plenty. It’s challenging, but I work at it and it works out.
KS: How is vet school impacting your rodeo and roping plans?
ZS: My rodeo and roping have been taking a backseat to school. That was the plan. I’ve gotten to go to some of the winter rodeos. And Will Woodfin and I are going to rodeo some over the summer.
KS: I know your dad, Tony, is a vet and with your mom, Kristi, has a business they call Flying Cow Genetics. Tell me about that business, and about your future plans for fitting into it.
ZS: A few years ago they moved out to Welch and built a lab area and a bunch of pens. People send him cattle, he flushes and transfers embryos. He has a bunch of recipient cows. The business keeps them busy. The goal is for me to do what he does.
KS: Is another run for the Finals in your foreseeable future, or will you be prohibitively busy with school the next few years for that?
ZS: We’re going to go some this summer. If it goes good that would be a possibility. I can’t be sure about being really serious about rodeo again until I get out of school.
KS: Name the one header in the world that you admire most, and explain why.
ZS: I admire Chad Masters, because he’s really friendly and really nice. SWR