LaSalle’s Smith talks rush of bull riding, joy of competing at Greeley Stampede
June 28, 2016
When he was a kid, Jacob Smith would watch the rodeos at the Greeley Stampede, see the bulls, the cowboys, and marvel at the intensity of the longest eight seconds you can endure.
He was hooked right away. He started on sheep and worked his way up to calves, then small bulls. The former Platte Valley football star graduated to the pros and took his talents to Laramie to ride for the University of Wyoming, where he studies petroleum engineering as a sophomore.
On June 23, he sat in the chutes atop a bull named 56Z beneath the stadium where it all started, waiting for a shot at PRCA points.
Smith's day started long before that.
He never likes to sleep in on days when he competes. He tries to make his rodeo days as normal as possible, so on Friday he went to work, relaxed at home, then made for Island Grove.
When Smith got there, his real work began. He rosined up his rope to make it sticky and laid out his gear. Smith is decked out in a red button-down and jeans to go with his cowboy boots and hat. Everything else is for protection.
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There's the helmet, which is optional but he likes to wear anyway, the mouth guard, the protective vest and the chaps.
It's all necessary for a sport in which one wrong fall puts you on a collision course with a bull's hooves or horns.
Not that Smith can afford to think about that. Thinking is the bull rider's second-greatest opponent after the bull itself. Smith, like many riders, doesn't like to think about the bull before he gets on. He's familiar with a lot of bulls on the circuit, either from riding them before or hearing about them secondhand, but he feels like the less he knows, the better.
"It gets too much into the mental game," he said. "It kind of gets in your head if you try to out-think them."
So it's probably an advantage that he's never ridden 56Z before. There's no prior history, no strategizing. Just riding.
Once Smith is in the chute, he tries to shut his mind off. Oftentimes, his adrenaline is so high he can't even remember being in there. There's nothing but him and the bull. Not the fans, not the other riders.
"You're not really competing against the other guys, you're competing against the bull. Just trying to make the eight seconds and get a score"
Then, in a flash, they're into the arena. That's when muscle memory kicks in. Smith's body just reacts to the bull, drawing upon his years of training and all the bulls he's ridden before. Again, he doesn't think. If you try to think about it, you'll get bucked off.
"It's like riding a roller coaster, but times 10," he said.
Riders have to stay on the bull for eight seconds to score, and they don't want to be up there for a second longer — every moment you're up there keeps you in harm's way. So as soon as the eight seconds are up, Smith looks for a spot to get off.
That's hard, though, when you're at the bull's mercy. You look for a moment when it's not spinning too hard, then bail in the opposite direction from where the bull is spinning. Jumping into the spin will get you trampled, gored or trapped under the bull.
And, after a mad dash out of the arena, that's that. A lifetime of training and a day of preparation for about eight seconds atop a fierce, bucking, multi-ton bull. And, for Smith, the chance for his friends and family to see him do it.
That's the best part, riding at the rodeo where he learned to love it. The Stampede is always a part of him, and it's one of his favorite stops on the circuit. When he talks about it, his face lights up with a smile.
"It's really awesome," he said. ❖