Williston native competing in National Finals Rodeo
Published: Friday, December 6, 2013 at 8:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 6, 2013 at 8:23 p.m.
Jared Smith grew up on his parents' farm in Williston fantasizing about one day winning a coveted gold belt buckle at a rodeo.
The 25-year-old, who now lives in Eastland, Texas, will have the chance to achieve this dream during the 10-day Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, which runs through Dec. 14.
The rodeo features competitions such as steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing, bull riding and bareback riding. The top 15 highest-earning riders in each category this year are gathering to compete at the event.
"For me, it's kind of a dream come true," Smith said.
Smith will compete in bareback riding, which involves riding a horse that wildly rears its head and thrusts its back legs into the air. Riders have one hand in a rawhide rigging and try to hold onto the horse for at least eight seconds. However, riders can't touch the horse with their free hand.
Smith said the first time he qualified to compete in the National Finals Rodeo was in 2009. This year, he is ranked No. 14 in the world standings for bareback, with his earnings totaling $68,026.
For Smith, his goal this year isn't necessarily to take home the gold buckle but to win the average championship, which is a prize for the best combined score over the 10 rounds. He said winning the average would put him in good shape to win a gold buckle later.
"I feel like if I can win the average, (then) that's the best I can do," he said.
Smith's history with the rodeo goes back to when he was a child.
He spent countless hours at the Williston Horseman's Park off U.S. 41, where he got on his first horse at the age of 12.
His father, Chris, and his mother, Julie, were both involved in the sport in high school. His older brother, Casey, 27, has been competing in rodeos all his life, and he also competes professionally. He said if his parents never rodeoed and they didn't bring him up in that environment, he might not have decided to do it professionally.
"They're the reason why I am where I am," he said.
Smith received a full-ride scholarship in 2006 to Ranger College in Ranger, Texas. Two years later he went on to compete in a rodeo team at Western Texas College in Snyder, Texas. Shortly after he began competing professionally, Smith won rookie of the year in 2008 for bareback riding.
"I love what I do," he said, noting that without the money earned, he wouldn't be able to attend competitions.
But Smith's success has come with struggles.
In early January 2012, he was thrown from a horse, and his collarbone separated from his sternum. He said his doctor advised him to take six months to a year off from the rodeo to see if his injury would heal without surgery. Smith ended up taking a 10-month leave from the sport.
"Taking a year off allowed everything else to heal up, too," he said, adding that other areas of his body were injured and needed that time to recover.
During his break, Smith returned to Williston.
Julie Smith, 50, said it was difficult seeing her son hurt. She said she was nervous when he did go back to the sport because she didn't know if his body was going to be strong enough.
"You never know if that's really ever going to be strong enough to come back from an injury like that, and we're just thankful that he was," she said.
Julie Smith said it's exciting to see her son pursue his dream even though it's dangerous.
"When your child is doing what they love and has worked and accomplished to this level, of course you support them," she said.