We all watched in horror when disaster struck on Clay Smith’s 2022 rodeo season at the World’s Oldest Rodeo in Prescott, Arizona this summer. The freak neck-rope accident that broke both bones between Clay’s right knee and ankle happened on June 28, and sent him to the sidelines for surgery. Doctors said to sit tight for three to four months. It was astounding when Clay came back only a month later, which was only possible with the help of a very special sorrel horse by the name of Flinty.
The two-time champ of the world was actually riding Flinty when he got hurt.
“Pecos was Flinty’s first pro rodeo, and Prescott was only his second one,” Smith said. “But the accident had nothing to do with him. It was just a freak deal that will hopefully never happen again.”
The wreck was not his doing, but Clay’s incredible comeback has everything to do with this horse.
“He’s irreplaceable is what he is,” said Smith, who fell fast in the world standings while home healing up. “For a guy who didn’t have a chance—Flinty gave me a shot. And he has me excited for next year, no matter how this all ends in 2022.”
Smith was square on the 2022 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo bubble, and he finished the regular season 13th. He returned far earlier than expected, thanks to family, friends, Flinty and his unstoppable will to win.
“My wife (Taylor) ordered a tall walking boot that you put air into to keep everything straight, tight and stable,” Clay said. “My leg broke at about the shin, so if my foot turned in the stirrup, it would not have been good. A neighbor brought me a walking-boot stirrup, and I had to replace my regular fender with one made of really thin leather for more flexibility. With the thin leather fender, I could tie a string from my back girth to the outside of the stirrup to keep my foot and toe turned out and square.
“I also ordered a Magic Seat (think Velcro in the seat of your saddle; Martha Josey first used it in the barrel racing), because the last thing I needed was to get blown out of the saddle. That kept my butt down in the saddle more, so I wouldn’t get thrown around. Flinty’s the smoothest horse I’ve ever ridden out in the arena, but he leaves there so hard he will blow you out the back.”
Flinty’s passed through some notable hands in his eight short years here. He’s an own son of Corona Cartel, and was raised by Gary McKinney, who owns the Lazy E Arena and Reliance Ranches.
“They ran Flinty on the track, and had high hopes for him as a racehorse,” Smith said. “He had some great outs, then he hit the starting gate leaving there, and they couldn’t get him to start good after that.”
Interestingly, scoring is one of this horse’s great strengths now. Perhaps that’s because after McKinney, Flinty’s journey next included Trevor Brazile buying him as a 3-year-old barrel-horse prospect for his wife, Shada.
“The way I understand it, Trevor then started heading on Flinty when he was 4 or 5,” Smith said. “I think Wyatt Imus bought him from Trevor, then Kaleb Driggers bought him, then he sold him to Clint Summers. My father-in-law, Jason Richey, bought him from Clint in 2020 when he was 6, and told me he was the fastest horse he’d ever ridden. I rode him at the BFI a couple years ago.
“Jason let me ride Flinty to finish him out and season him a little at the jackpots, and I loved him. Speed Williams borrowed him for the US Finals from Jason, then I bought him right after that, in April of this year. The plan was for him to be my jackpot horse. I like to jackpot on a horse for about a year before I rodeo on one. If they stay scoring at the jackpots, they tend to stay more solid rodeoing.”
Flinty would get the call at long-score events, “Because he can score and really run,” Smith said. “His best quality is running, and I wanted to keep him running for the long-score average rodeos and jackpots. I don’t like to brag and say I have the best horse in the country, because every horse has a hole or something he could do a little bit better.”
He mostly rode a sorrel horse he bought from Clay Deen in East Texas in 2019—General—in short-score setups this year. But it’s been Flinty when running hard was required.
“The hardest thing to overcome since I got hurt is trying to get up to the front of my horse and kick,” Smith said. “I haven’t had enough strength to get up in my saddle, drive with my feet and help my horse get to the cow. I sit pretty much flat on my butt, and haven’t been able to hustle my horse. Flinty’s basically had to run to cattle on his own without me driving him.
“If I’d broken my left leg, there’s no way I could have done this. It’s been hard sitting on my butt and trying to keep more weight running down the left side. But if I’d broken my left leg, I don’t think I’d have had a chance.”
Clay was advised by his surgeon to stay seated for 12-15 weeks, as that’s typical healing time for his injury. Dr. Tandy Freeman removed his staples at two weeks post-op, took X-rays and at Smith’s request sent them to Clay’s orthopedic surgeon friend, Dr. Dan Carrol, in Kansas City.
“Dan said it looked like the people in Phoenix who did the surgery did a great job,” Smith said. “I talked to him about rigging up my stirrup and coming back early. I was worried about bending the rod they put in my leg, but I thought if I could come back right at a month for Dodge City, I might have a chance to make the Finals.
“Dan told me I didn’t need to be walking on it, because it might break the four little screws holding that rod in place. He told me if it was bearable, it probably wasn’t going to kill me. That got me fired up. To me, it was worth a little pain to try to make the NFR.”
Smith’s first rodeo back with partner Jake Long was the first week of August in Abilene, Kansas. They placed second, which gave Clay great hope.
“That week was huge for us,” Smith said. “Second at Abilene, third in the average at Lovington (New Mexico), we placed in the average at Castle Rock (Colorado). And winning Dodge City was a huge hit. We went on to win Ellensburg (Washington) and Canby (Oregon). My partner’s roped as good behind me as anybody I’ve ever seen.
“This has been a very challenging year. I’m thankful, but I’ve also been frustrated. It’s been a battle, but I’ve been blessed with a great family, partner, friends and this horse. The good Lord wanted me to get something done, I guess, because I couldn’t have done this on my own.”