Justin Smith gave an emphatic fist pump after throwing his hands in the air and seeing his time of 8.4 seconds on Friday night, April 14, 2023.
The show of emotion was not just because Smith had pulled off one of the biggest wins in his career by claiming the three-head average win (in 23.7 seconds) at the San Angelo Rodeo, nor because the big check coming his way will put him in contention for a second qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR).
It was mostly because of the horse that carried him to the win.
Smith was back on his good horse Doc at a ProRodeo for the first time in more than a year—since the 2022 Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo.
“I rode him at the Junior High School Finals when I was twelve years old,” Smith, 25, said. “He’s been around with me my whole career.”
Doc carried Smith to the Wrangler NFR in 2021, to top 20 finishes in 2019 and 2020 and to wins at Reno Rodeo, the Horse Heaven Round Up, and the Southeastern Circuit Finals Rodeo amongst others.
But Smith had to go it alone in 2022 when Doc came up sore.
Kissing spine stops Doc in 2022
“Fort Worth was his only rodeo last year; he was hurting,” Smith said. “He had back surgery for kissing spines in eight spots.”
Kissing spines is a condition in which the spinous processes (the parts that stick up from each vertebra) are not properly spaced out to the point of touching or rubbing against each other.
“We didn’t know if it was going to work but hey, if I had eight spots hurting in my back, I’d want to try to fix it,” Smith reasoned. After surgery and a long recuperation, Doc is ready to go in 2023.
West Texas strategy
Smith roped his preliminary runs in San Angelo during the initial slack on March 28 and 29. With his first run there being Doc’s first back in action, Smith tried to go be smart and methodical.
“That first run was just solid,” he said of the 8.4 second effort which did not end up in the money for the round. “I was pleased with that.”
On the second run, Smith said the plan was pretty much to do the same, stay consistent and give himself a chance at the short round. But things came together much faster than planned and Smith posted a lightning fast 6.9 second run.
“I was pretty pumped,” he laughed. The time held up as the fastest of the 2023 rodeo and was worth a big $7,000 check for the round win.
With a smoking 15.3 on two head, Smith left West Texas to wait out the nearly two weeks until the final round was decided.
“It was awhile between my runs for sure,” Smith joked of the long wait to see where things would end. “The cattle were stronger so I knew I had a chance to stay high in the average. I felt like I would stay in the top three but as the rodeo went on, guys had some trouble and things just held up.”
Riding into the box on the final night, Smith had a lead of half a second after ten performances and another slack of competitors had come after him. With the benefit of roping last and watching things unfold, he knew another solid run would clinch the title for him.
“A lot of guys there in the short round were being long eights, short nines so I figured I could run out there three or four swings and make my run and still be good.”
That was exactly what Smith did, matching his first round time of 8.4 seconds to split third in the final round. His three run total of 23.7 seconds took the championship by a second over Cody Waldrop and Jerry Adamson.
The start of momentum for Justin Smith?
While Smith had some success early in January, including a win in Homestead, Florida, he had been a bit cold since then and his second go win in San Angelo actually more than doubled his season earnings to that point. But the total checks from the season’s final big winter rodeo were worth $18,891, more than enough to push him up to 15th in the current PRCA | RAM World Standings.
Smith started 2023 behind because of his tough luck last year. After struggling through the early part of the year without Doc, Smith had decided to take his young horse home, go back to the jackpots and try to get him more seasoned for the road. As a result, he wasn’t ranked high enough to go to many of the major winter rodeos for which entries are limited.
“This was the first year in like five years that I haven’t gotten into Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston,” Smith said. “San Angelo was the only big winter rodeo I got into so I definitely had some catching up to do.”
“It couldn’t have gone better,” Smith said.
Capitalizing on opportunities is the strategy for the remainder of the season for Smith, who will use Doc at the bigger paying events and spell him with his younger horse.
“He was too green last year but I went around the house a lot with him and now he’s going to be a good backup for Doc to save some runs on him,” Smith said. “I just need to capitalize when I ride Doc.”
Though he’s 19 this year, Doc is feeling as good as he ever has according to Smith, who is gunning for a return trip to the Finals this season and was heading out from San Angelo for Logandale, Nevada and the California spring run.
“That’s absolutely the goal,” he said. “Keeping my horse sound and healthy, that’ll be the key.”
San Angelo Rodeo results
Tie-down roping: First round: 1. (tie) Hayden Ford, Brushton Minton and Chase Webster, 7.6 seconds, $6,105 each; 4. King Pickett, 7.8, $4,273; 5. (tie) Ty Harris, Quade Hiatt and Michael Otero, 7.9, $2,442 each; 8. Kyle Lucas, 8.0, $610.
Second round: 1. Justin Smith, 6.9 seconds, $7,020; 2. Jerry Adamson, 7.2, $6,105; 3. (tie) Preston Pederson and Cory Solomon, 7.4, $4,731 each; 5. (tie) John Douch and Trenton Smith, 7.6, $2,900 each; 7. (tie) Cimarron Boardman, Beau Cooper and Caleb Smidt, 7.7, $712 each.
Finals: 1. Cody Waldrop, 7.9 seconds, $1,990; 2. Westyn Hughes, 8.2, $1,730; 3. (tie) Trevor Hale and Justin Smith, 8.4, $1,341 each; 5. Jerry Adamson, 8.9, $952; 6. Brushton Minton, 9.3, $692; 7. Chase Webster, 9.6, $433; 8. Ty Harris, 10.1, $173.
Average: 1. Justin Smith, 23.7 seconds on three head, $10,530; 2. (tie) Cody Waldrop and Jerry Adamson, 24.7, $8,470 each; 4. Trevor Hale, 24.9, $6,410; 5. Westyn Hughes, 25.2, $5,036; 6. Brushton Minton, 25.9, $3,663; 7. Chase Webster, 26.6, $2,289; 8. Ty Harris, 27.1, $916.