Eight-second memories

Fruita's Smith experiences joy, pain at 10-day National Finals Rodeo

Fruita’s Tyler Smith is tossed from a bull during the National Finals Rodeo earlier this month in Las Vegas. During the 10-round bull riding competition, Smith scored on three rides — including winning one. In addition to the belt buckle he earned for his winning ride, Smith left Las Vegas with broken ribs and a concussion from his final ride.

Fruita’s Tyler Smith was thrown from bulls a lot in the National Finals Rodeo earlier this month, failing to score in seven of the 10 rounds.

After a long bull riding season, Tyler Smith can breathe a little easier.

The only problem — breathing isn’t quite that easy right now.

Smith’s trip to the National Finals Rodeo earlier this month was filled with everything that defines a bull riding career.

Frustration, victory and agony were three things. And a trip to the hospital was the last thing.

Sometimes what happens in Las Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas.

“I got a little bit of everything,” he said. “The week started off rough, then things turned around and I thought I was on a roll.”

After failing to score in the first four rounds, the Fruita bull rider had two successful rides, then picked up his third career win at the National Finals Rodeo in the eighth round.

As only one of two riders to have successful rides in round eight, Smith won more than $45,000 riding a bull named Coopers Comet.

The final round in Vegas was a rough one.

A bull named Yellow Fever got the best of Smith, sending him airborne, then the bull did a little extra damage once Smith hit the dirt.

“I broke a couple of ribs. Up to that point it was pretty fun,” he said. “But that wasn’t much fun.”

Pain and injuries are nothing new to a bull rider like Smith. He accepts it’s just part of the job.

After the final round, the cowboys usually celebrate and have a fun time in Vegas.

Not Smith.

“I ended up in the hospital,” he said.

Not only were some ribs broken, but he also had a concussion and some cuts on his legs. And a real sore mid-section.

“My guts were pretty stomped in,” he said.

He probably would have laughed more about some of his comments but laughing was painful thanks to those broken ribs.

The no score from that final round also dropped Smith from fourth in the average to eighth in the standings. Still not bad in the 15-rider field.

Las Vegas is known for gambling and bull riders take a gamble every time they climb aboard a belligerent bull. And the ups and downs of the sport were never more evident for Smith this trip to Vegas.

The high came in the winning eighth round that was culminated with a victory lap on a horse around the Thomas and Mack Center.

“That’s icing on the cake, it was awesome. It’s the best feeling in the world,” he said. “It’s great to get to celebrate with your family and friends.”

His after-midnight trip to the hospital sums up the ups and downs of Vegas too.

“When I was in the CAT scan line, there were gunshot victims, stab wounds, so I guess I felt pretty lucky,” he said, laughing.

Before Smith headed off to Vegas as one of the top 15 bull riders, he was already pondering his future in the demanding and sometimes unmerciful sport.

At 29, he was the second-oldest bull rider in the competition. As he heals up from that last ride, he’s again giving serious thought to his future.

“I know my age is starting to catch up with me. Bull riding doesn’t last very long. I’d love to do it for the rest of my life, but that’s not the way it works,” he said.

The first thing he did with his prize money when he returned to his Fruita ranch was focus on a future away from bull riding.

“I bought some cows and that will help out with the future,” he said.

In the past, he’s raised bucking bulls for rodeos, but now he’s ready to start a small cattle business raising beef cows.

He’s not quite ready to say it’s time to walk away from his bull riding career but he might be close.

“I thought I’d be sad or more down on it if that was the last bull I was ever on, but I really wasn’t,” he said. “I was more excited to be moving on with other things. I really do want to be at home more.”

To make the NFR, Smith built up his season prize money by competing in 103 rodeos. It’s those demands that make Smith yearning to stay closer to home more.

“If it was the last (bull), it’s a cool way to go out, at the best rodeo, being in the top 15, and I won a round,” he said. “If that’s the way I’m going to go out, that’s not bad.”

Cows might not be as exciting as bulls, but at this point of his life, that might be OK with Tyler Smith.


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