17-year old Kade Smith of Bellevue knows a thing or two about winning. Better make that three.
The recent WoodRiver graduate captured his third consecutive Idaho State High School Rodeo boys’ cow cutting championship in Pocatello on June 18. With the win, Smith punched a ticket to the 60th annual National High School Rodeo Finals in Springfield, Ill., July 23-29.
Riding a 10-year-old gelding named Goran, Smith outclassed the competition at Bannock County Fairgrounds, compiling scores of 147 and 148 in the first and second rounds and 148 in the short go for a total of 443. Runner-up Austin Clow scored 411.5 total points. HillCity’s Andy Olson was a narrow third with 410 points.
“I was pretty pumped with the scores I got,” Smith said. “I knew I had a good enough horse and if I did not make any mistakes - with his style and how he was trained - if I just did my deal and I would come out on top.”
Goran, owned by Scott Cusick, is a sorrel quarter horse with a white star, snip, and two white socks on his hind legs. What sets him apart Smith said is his size, which is on the tall side for a cutting horse.
“He’s 15.1 hands and real muscley. When he moves he has these big strides and he keeps his head real low to the ground. He shows really well. He’s 10 years old, but he’s at the top of his game,” Smith said.
Just like Smith, Goran boasts some championship bloodlines. His dam is Laney Doc, who has lifetime earnings of $270,495, and his sire is Bob Acre Doc ($381.000), a beautiful bay who passed along his star to his son.
Passing along your best attributes is what happens in the cutting industry, for horses and humans alike.
Kade, who will turn 18 on July 9, is the son of Greg and Chris Smith. Greg has been a cutting horse trainer for more than 25 years and is profoundly respected in the industry for his ability to handle both two-and-four-legged creatures. He is employed as head trainer at the Buffalo Ranch in Farmington, Utah.
“I deeply respect his (Greg’s) honesty, his sense of values, his relationship with his family, his talent, his extreme goodness toward people and his kindness,” said Dale Wilkinson, who was named “Horseman of the Century” by the American Quarter Horse Association.
Raising three kids, Ashley, Kade and Sadie, at the Little Lost Ranch south of Bellevue, Chris and Greg turned a career into a family affair. Ashley is a noted rider in her own right, as a three-time champ in girls’ cow cutting at the National High School Rodeo Finals.
“It’s definitely a family affair,” Smith said. “My sister helps me gets the horses ready and prepared, and my mom and little sister cheer me on. My dad helps me pick out the cows. He tells me which ones to get and which ones to stay away from that have already been worked. It’s fun when we go as a family. It makes it a lot more enjoyable.”
As any veteran of the cutting circuit can tell you, there’s a lot of mud, sweat and steers leading up to the two and a half minutes you are in the show ring.
“It’s fun, but very tiring,” Smith said. “When you are going every single weekend, it gets kind of tough. It’s a lot of early mornings and late nights and a lot of work in between. But if you are off for a couple of weeks you start getting anxious to go to the next one.”
In cutting, a rider and horse must separate or cull a cow from the herd and prevent it from returning to the other cows. Once the cow is separated and guided into the middle of the ring, the rider must put drop his hand and not use the reins to guide his horse (a loose rein is one of the keys to a highly marked performance). Controlling the calf by speed, agility, balance and motion, the horse matches the cow move for move.
“The horse has to play mirror defense and not let the cow get back to the herd. You usually want to work three cows in two and a half minutes,” Smith said.
Penalties are assessed if you lose a cow, your horse “quits” a cow, the cow escapes, if you use your hands to rein your horse or if a horse misreads the cow. Judges award between 60 and 80 points per round. Smith considers a 75 a “good score.”
Picking the right cow that is going to display your horse’s abilities is half the battle.
“You don’t want a real numb cow that is not going to show what your horse can actually do or one that is going to run you over. You have to chose one that is going to honor you horse. Cutting horses are way smart,” Smith said.
“They can outguess a cow when it’s going to stop and when it’s going to turn. They’re pretty brilliant. I just crawl on and make sure I don’t get in his way.”
Smith is no slouch in the brains’ department himself. He finished up his senior year at Wood River High School last November, graduated earlier this month, and has designs on a career in medicine.
“Maybe an anesthesiologist. Math and Science were always my better classes and something I enjoyed. It was a relief to graduate. I was done at Thanksgiving and graduating was always on my mind. Graduating was a big accomplishment,” Smith said.
With his potential it is somewhat of a surprise that Smith has no plans to follow in his father’s footsteps as a professional trainer, but it sounds like he is going to leave his own tracks, one way or another.
“I think cutting is something I will always do on the side as a non-professional – people who train their own horses and compete. I see myself having a regular job and do it (cutting) as a fun hobby. Smith said he has tentative plans to attend Weber State in Utah next January after competing throughout the fall.
For now, Smith has designs on next month’s National High School Rodeo Finals, where in the past three years he has steadily improved in the standings, finishing 15th as a freshman, 9th as a sophomore, and 3rd as a junior.
“I am hoping I can win it,” he said. “It doesn’t always happen like that, but I am going to give it my best shot. I want to put two clean runs together and see where it gets me in the finals. But there are quite a few kids who have competed all their lives and they all know a lot and are riding really nice horses. You have to bring your A game.”
Anyone with any horse sense knows Smith will be packing his A game – and his family - along for the ride.