Return of the Champ: Caleb Smidt Claims National Finals Rodeo Round 1 Win
In pursuit of his fourth world title, Caleb Smidt brought two of his greatest weapons to the Thomas & Mack: A confident mindset and his two-time AQHA/PRCA Horse of the Year.
Caleb Smidt
Caleb Smidt ties one down in 7.5 seconds to win Round 1 of the 2022 National Finals Rodeo PRCA Photo/Phil Doyle

Three-time and defending World Champion Caleb Smidt seemed to be right back on his game as he backed into the box at the Thomas & Mack Center on Thursday evening, clocking a 7.5-second run to win Round 1 of the 2022 National Finals Rodeo. 

“It’s awesome,” said Smidt, 33, of Bellville, Texas. “Just to give you confidence and just to know that you made a good run the first night. It’s obviously a long way to go, but I’ll just keep pushing forward. Hopefully, draw good calves, horse works good and make good runs. We’ll see how it ends up.”

Smidt’s $28,913.70 payday has helped him move from No. 4 to No. 2 in the world standings. The pressure to win another world title is on him, but he’s ready and he knows how to handle it.

Mental Game

“If you don’t get nervous coming here, you know, just being here, you probably shouldn’t come back,” said the eight-time NFR qualifier. “But as far as when you’re riding the box, all that should go away. I pray that it goes away and to just back in there and be able to do my job, just like at any other rodeo.”

It has been that mindset that has guided his preparation for the 2022 NFR.

“I actually practiced very few times. We broke the calves in at Shane Hanchey’s house. They’re [Dillon] Mundorf’s calves. I went over there and broke them in and then it actually rained a lot like the two weeks before we left. So I roped one day within the two weeks that we left. I went to Justin Maass’ house and ran a couple just on Pockets and tied a little bit and it felt good, so I went with that.”


Caleb Smidt during Round 1 of the 2022 National Finals Rodeo. Ric Andersen/C Bar C Photo

In His “Pockets”

Smidt has big confidence in “Pockets,” his two-time AQHA/PRCA Horse of the Year by Jonathan Starlight out of the Freckles Playboy mare Playful Pockets, who carried him to his gold buckles in 2015, 2018 and 2021.

“He’s an amazing horse,” Smidt said. “He’s just kind of getting this arena figured out. I would say I rode him here for seven years now; he just knows when I’m gonna throw it and he knows his job. He does the same thing every time and that’s what makes him special. He gives you a chance. I don’t have to worry about him. I back in there and just nod my head and worry about myself and getting this calf tied down.”


Caleb Smidt aboard his two-time AQHA/PRCA Horse of the Year, Pocketful of Light. Ric Andersen/C Bar C Photo

One Down, Nine To Go

Smidt’s game plan for the remainder of the week is to focus on the job head.

“I’m gonna try to do what I did tonight nine more times. Hopefully, get good calves and make good runs. Try to place as much as I can and just enjoy it. Praise the Lord, I’m back and never take anything for granted here.”

Round 1 Results:

Caleb Smidt
7.5 s
Kincade Henry
8.1 s
Hunter Herrin
8.5 s
Riley Webb
8.7 s
Cory Solomon
8.8 s
Haven Meged
8.8 s


Story by Jenna Link, Photos by Ric Andersen