Yorktown cowboy climbs rodeo standings in rookie season
YORKTOWN - Caleb Smidt always had a rope in his hand.
The Yorktown native roped his first calf at a rodeo in Silsbee when he was 6 years old.
When he wasn't competing in weekend rodeos, he was practicing with a roping dummy with his dad, Randy, and his older brother, Aaron, in the backyard.
Now, at age 24 and a fresh Sam Houston State University graduate, Smidt is ranked No. 6 in the world in the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association and is the ninth best at calf roping.
If he remains in the Top 15 for his event by Sept. 30, he will be chosen to compete in the 2013 National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
In addition to the prize money (anywhere from $7,000 to $17,000, depending on where you place), Caleb said the goal for every rodeo cowboy is the gold buckle.
"Everybody's goal in rodeoing is to make it to the finals - that's it," Caleb said in a phone interview. "To be a rookie and be this far is a major accomplishment - that was my goal."
Caleb will likely compete in 10 more rodeos before the end of the month. Out of about 125 competitions this year, only 75 will be considered toward his overall ranking.
Though he is considered a rookie on the pro circuit, he is no stranger to tough rodeo competition.
Roping is a Smidt family tradition. Caleb's dad, Randy, roped competitively until his sons came along, and Randy's father competed before him.
"Once he got to high school, we just knew that it was going to be what he carried on doing; it was his dream to be a professional calf roper," Denise, Caleb's mother, said.
Unlike football or baseball, in which players are scouted in high school, rodeo is a self-made sport. Competitors pay their own entry fees, equipment and animal upkeep.
"Caleb has done well throughout his whole rodeo career, and he actually paid his own entry fees from the money he won when he was young," Denise said. "He's been paying his own way for a long time."
With rodeo earnings during his college years (he participated with a permit) and scholarships, Caleb graduated with zero student debt.
"To put a figure on the amount of money (it takes to rodeo), it's a lot," Denise said. "You can't really compare it to football or baseball, where they want you and give you an exorbitant amount of money - you have to earn every penny you make doing rodeo."
Unlike many other cowboys his age, Caleb decided to get a degree in agricultural business before becoming a professional - a decision that was steered by his parents.
"You don't see that many 50-year-old calf ropers," Denise said. "By the time they're 40, they're pretty much done."
For the time being, Caleb enjoys being his own boss.
"You kind of do whatever you want to do, whenever you want - you're really self-employed," Caleb said.
Being self-employed doesn't mean that the rookie knows exactly what he'll be doing from week to week.
During the summer, Caleb has been working the rodeo circuit with veteran cowboy Justin Maass, who has qualified for the finals seven times in his 13 pro years.
"Because they're veterans, (Justin) would tell him where to go, where the big rodeos were and how you want to map everything out," Denise said. "You do try to partner up with others when you can, and it helps cut expenses."
In the nearly 20 years that Caleb has been competing, he has been lucky and only suffered a broken thumb in college. Denise said that unlike bull riding and saddle bronc roping, calf roping isn't as hard on the body.
If Caleb makes the finals, Randy and Denise are ready to watch him compete in Vegas.
Denise believes that Caleb's talent not only comes from years of practice but also is a gift from God.
"He can handle a rope - there is natural talent," Denise said.