Rolling My Way

photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen

When you lose in Vegas, it can be the toughest feeling in the world. But when you win in Vegas . . .

by Ryle Smith

A week ago, during Round One, my calf ran harder than I expected and took me down the arena. I went to tie it, just to get a run down for the Finals, but I messed my string up. My nerves got to me. That first night we’re all on edge. She didn’t kick. I was just nervous and hit the legs on the first wrap and kept going. It was a choppy tie. I had barely finished when I threw my hands up. I got back on my horse and was like, Oh, no. I knew if she coughed, she was probably going to get up. I rode up, and it was like I was getting ready to watch a car wreck. The seconds ticked by.

If she got up, I’d have a no-time right off the bat and be out of the average. Man, that would have really let the air out. The next day, everybody would come up to me with their long faces. A bad break like that can shade the whole experience. I know, because last year at the NFR I didn’t win a penny. Not a dime in ten days. I faced a lot of critics. After all the buildup, all the friends and family who came to Vegas to watch you do good, to have it all go wrong—you just want to crawl home. I never ever want to do that again.

Watching that calf, I held my breath. She didn’t move.

As soon as they called the untie guys, she was up. I rode away thinking, Man, I just got out of jail free right there.

That’s rodeo in a nutshell. Throughout the year, there will be times when things are going your way and times when things aren’t going your way, no matter who you are. When you get lucky, you have to enjoy it.

The next night I placed. The night after that I placed.

I thought, Man, this is good!

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I love to joke. I’m always sarcastic. It keeps things fun. Before Round Four, I caught a ride with Ryan Jarrett to check the draw. That was the first night we were going to rerun calves, and I had my eye on calf number sixty-one. We got out of the truck, and, joking around, I said, “I got number sixty-one. I’m just gonna run up there and make sure.” Sure enough, I drew sixty-one. I was like, Whoa!

That night, I was 7.1 on that calf and placed second.

The weird thing is, it happened again. The next night I really wanted to draw calf number thirty-five, and I did! The guy helping take care of my horse was kind of freaked out.

Lucky streaks happen. All of us out here know the feeling, that moment when you’re just rolling. Everything is lighthearted and carefree. Things are just happening. That’s how it feels this year. I’m enjoying myself, trying to steer through it the best way I know how, because I’ve never been on a streak like this one. This is only my third time at the NFR. Last year, when I didn’t win any money, I came for steer wrestling. The year before, I competed in the tie-down and only placed in two rounds.

One thing I’ve learned is that when you’re doing bad, all your fans turn into critics. And when you’re doing good, all your critics turn into fans. Either way, they want to tell you the obvious all the time. It takes a lot of work to not become distracted.

My favorite part of the day is when we get to rope. The waiting around can be hard. You just want to go do it and get it done. But the pressure is kind of fun, because if you make the NFR, not only do you love what you do, but you also love to compete. It takes a special kind of person to put themselves through what it takes to make the Finals. Then you get them all together and make them butt heads for ten days in a row. The arena is small. Everything moves fast. Everything shifts. These fans are the best in the world. They’re revved up. The announcers are revved up. The setup is unforgiving. You can’t really lay up anywhere and survive. You just have to keep running hard at the barrier and taking your first throw and making no mistakes on the ground. It’s a true test.

Ultimately, I just want to make runs I’m proud of and win money for my family. I’ve got a daughter who’s a year-and-a-half old. It’s important for me to win for us.

My parents and family and tight friends understand what’s going on. It’s the opposite of last year. They’re trying to hold back their excitement, but they’re not doing a very good job of it!

There’s no place like Vegas. When you lose in Vegas, it can be the toughest feeling in the world, but when you win here it’s the world’s best feeling. Things are rolling my waythis year. I’m enjoying it and trying to soak up the whole experience.

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