Eight seconds of joy
Fruita bull rider Smith back in National Finals Rodeo
Two years ago, Tyler Smith departed Las Vegas with a belt buckle and the thrill of being one of the best bull riders in the nation.
In the final round of the 2014 National Finals Rodeo, Smith had an electric ride and stayed on a grumpy bull named of Hard Wired for 8 seconds.
The Fruita cowboy won the round, won a coveted belt buckle and returned home a champion.
Last year, a return trip to Vegas wasn’t in the plans.
“I took last year off. I needed to get some things done around my house,” Smith said. “I just didn’t want to ride last year. If I’m riding, there’s no time to do anything else.”
Working his 10 acres next to his dad’s 10 acres and his grandpa’s 10 acres was the plan for 2015.
The Smiths raise livestock and rough stock for rodeos. They have 12 bucking bulls, a few rodeo steers and bucking horses.
Tyler is planning for his future after bull riding, which might be sooner than later at this point of his career.
Last week, he looked cool and relaxed on his ranch near Fruita. Riding, roping and ranching.
Bull riding pays the bills, but Smith loves ranching and being a cowboy.
His profession is anything but relaxing.
A lot of rodeos
This year, Smith is back in Vegas ready to give it his best shot at winning another buckle or three. The 10 rounds of the National Finals Rodeo begins Thursday.
One thing Smith didn’t miss was when he was off last season was being injured.
“It’s nice to not be hurt and stuff but that’s how I make my living, so it’s part of the job,” he said, adding that he’s been hurt a lot over the years.
It’s the reality that every bull rider knows and accepts. Sometimes the rider wins and sometimes the bull wins.
When the bull wins, there’s disappointment and sometimes pain — a lot of pain.
To make the final 15 bull riders to qualify for the NFR, it takes a season of rodeos and a seemingly endless ribbon of white lines and pavement.
Qualifying for the NFR is based on prize money. To win money, riders have to ride and ride a lot.
“I did 103 rodeos this year,” Smith said. “I was gone a lot more than before. This year, it was a lot more work.”
Smith is in the autumn of his bull riding career, maybe even in the December of his career. The 29-year-old is considered an old man in the demanding profession. Only one NFR rider, Utah’s Shane Proctor, is older than Smith.
“It was a lot of work this year and it’s getting tougher to compete with all those young guys,” Smith said with a laugh.
But he was serious.
The rules were modified to allow bull riders an unlimited number of rodeos. Smith said some of the young guys will do up to 150 rodeos a year and that means a lot more chances to build up their prize money.
Smith squeezed into the No. 14 spot with his 103 rodeos.
“It’s just hard for me because I’m older now and those 18-, 19-, 20 year-old guys ride so much,” Smith said. “It sure makes it harder to keep up with them.”
He then let his thoughts of all those young guns linger for a moment.
“I’m dang sure going to slow down,” he said. “I want to stay home more.”
Back to Las Vegas
Smith knows his bull riding mortality is near its end, even though he’s not fully ready to admit it yet.
But when he decided to ride this year, he put Vegas in his cross hairs, clamped on his spurs, strapped on his chaps and held on for a wild season.
“I knew I was going to try it at least once more as hard as I can,” he said. “I wanted to give it my best effort and see what happened.”
Bouncing from one rodeo town to the next, Smith rode and rode and rode. And he stayed healthy — a mandatory part of making the NFR.
As his traveling buddy Ty Wallace discovered this year, an injury can quickly derail the train to Vegas.
Smith didn’t make it through the entire season unscathed. In his last ride of his season in October, he broke a bone on the top of his shoulder. Fortunately, he was somewhat comfortably in the final 15 at that point.
“It was close, I thought I was going to have to ride one more rodeo to try and get in,” he said.
But he’s healed now and ready for the NFR.
It’s a long season of long road trips, sometimes doing multiple rodeos in one day.
During the Fourth of July, Smith got in three rides at three different rodeos, including Cody, Wyoming, then traveling180 miles to Livingston, Montana, to try and get in another 8 seconds of work.
“Sometimes, to make it, you have to drive your truck as fast as it will go and hope you don’t get stopped,” he said, laughing.
Bull riding is Smith’s job, but for every professional rider, making the NFR and riding in front of a packed house at the Thomas and Mack Center is the ultimate goal.
Winning money is the job, but winning a belt buckle is the dream.
Smith laughs about where he keeps his buckle from that 2014 winning ride.
“It’s just at my house. I wear it around a little, but I don’t want to get it scratched up,” he said.
But the Fruita cowboy, who got his start at the Rim Rock Rodeo a little more than two decades ago, will sure be wearing that buckle at the NFR.
“I hope it brings me some luck,” he said.
The NFR is 10 days, 10 bulls, 10 chances to win a buckle or three at 8 seconds a clip.
And this might be the final time Tyler Smith rides a bull before calling it a career.
“If this is the last bull I get on when I’m out there, it’s not a bad place to do it,” he said.