Kade Smith calls it luck, but anyone with a little bit of horse sense knows winning a state title takes more than fortune smiling on you.
It takes a steady hand, a cool head and countless hours in the saddle, all that Smith has in spades.
Smith, a 15-year old junior-to-be at Wood River High School, captured the boys' cow cutting title at the Idaho State High School Rodeo Finals in Pocatello on Monday, June 18.
Riding his family's five-year old buckskin gelding Instant Bucks, affectionately known as Peanut Butter, Smith won all three go-rounds, scoring a high mark of 147.5, to post 55 total points.
Each win was worth 10 points and Smith came in with five as the District 5 champion, to best runner-up Tyler Wines by eight points. Another Wood River cowboy, Taylor Stoecklein finished in fifth place with 32.5 points. In the girls' competition, Carey's Brittany Hennefer rode to fourth place with 34.5 points.
Of competing at state, Smith remarked.
"It's just a tough game. Anything can go wrong. You can't always tell what the cows are going to do, so you have to be prepared and be confident in yourself and your horse."
It helps when your dad is Greg Smith, who has a reputation as one of the most talented trainers and cutters in the state. But say what you will about genes, it is still who is wearing the jeans in the saddle that matters most.
"My dad helps me out as far as picking our good cows. But he helps all the kids," Smith said. "It helps when you have been looking at cows for 20 years."
A competitor since the age of five, Smith is no stranger to the winner's circle. Twice he won the 13-under age division at the NCHA Western Nationals and he claimed the Reserve Championship twice as well, once at 13-under and the other in the tough 14-18 year old class.
Winning state rates pretty high up on his list, however.
"This is probably one of the top," Smith remarked.
Savvy in the saddle at state, Smith said he would cull one of the slower cows from the herd, allowing his horse to shine.
"Peanut Butter is real athletic. He looks real good when the cow stays in middle. I would just want a slow one to stay right there. I have a good enough horse to keep most of them in front of me, but you have to be careful. You don't want one to go faster than your horse's ability."
Derived from ranch work and competitions, performance cutting involves walking your horse into a herd of cows, cutting or culling one out and preventing it from getting back to the herd. During a two-and-a-half minute go, a rider can work as many as three cows. The horse's job is to keep the cow from returning to the herd by mirroring its every move.
Points are subtracted for losing a cow, picking your hand off the saddle horn, or not "getting off" the cow at the correct time.
Smith prepares for each go by loping his horse to make sure both rider and mount are relaxed.
"I make sure he is flowing and relaxed in the cutting pen, and I try and go in confident with a smart head and make no mistakes," Smith remarked. "I tell myself it's not the first time I have done this."
And it won't be the last. The Bellevue cowboy will compete at the National High School Rodeo Finals in Gillette, Wyoming, July 18-24.
For a complete wrap up of the Idaho High School Rodeo Finals, please see the June 29 edition of the Express.