Nobody in rodeo expected Resistol header Clay Smith to be in position to win another world championship this year.
Nobody except Smith.
When a barrier incident in Prescott, Arizona, resulted in him breaking both bones in his lower right leg during the Fourth of July run, it looked as though his remaining three months of ProRodeo’s regular season would be lost. It was a nasty break for the two-time heading world champ, who won his Montana Silversmiths gold buckles in 2018 and 2019.
What he was doing in relative secret was planning his return. He made it the first week of August, and only a handful of people knew.
“He kept saying it; he kept professing it, ‘I’m going to be back,’ ” said Jake Long, an 11-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier and Smith’s heeling partner. “I don’t think anybody believe it but maybe him. It’s a miracle he’s here.”
Yes, it is. He wasn’t only back in action, he was excelling at a great rate. At the time of his return, Smith had fallen to 30th in the heading world standings. He heads to his eighth NFR 13th on the money list with $88,852.
So, how did he make a miraculous return to rodeo? It could be divine intervention or it could be with the help of friends. Within days of limping home to recover, a neighbor showed up with a big, metal stirrup. It was applied to a saddle, which was fixed to the way it needed so he could ride without putting too much pressure on his broken limb.
He actually wore a walking boot on his right leg, and the stirrup was big enough to outfit everything he needed. Another friend served as Smith’s assistant, doing everything on the ground and helping the cowboy mount his horse in order to make the runs necessary.
A few weeks after being injured, he started his roller-coaster ride back to ProRodeo. His first practice session was mediocre. He caught half the steers he tried, but he began to realize something: He could actually deal with whatever pain he had while roping. He went three for three at his next practice session, so he and Long made their plans to reunite in Kansas.
The first stop was in Abilene, and they stopped the clock in 4.9 seconds to finish second. That was worth $2,100. A little later, they were in Dodge City, where they again made a 4.9-second run to place in the first round. They were 6.1 in the second round and held the two-run aggregate lead heading into the championship round.
Roping last, they put together a round-winning 6.0-second run to claim the Roundup title, pocketing nearly $10,200 at two rodeos. They just kept climbing their way in the standings through the final two months of the regular season.
“I give the glory to God,” Smith said in August. “He’s the one who was able to get me through this whole deal. It’s unbelievable what He’s done with me.
“Then my partner’s been mistake-free and has heeled so good. For him to even be ready for me not really knowing what to expect, he’s done an amazing job for me.”
They’ve done amazing together, and they’ll be in position to rope for gold buckles in Las Vegas. Smith is one of nine Resistol headers in the mix at this year’s NFR.