The world’s No. 1-ranked bull rider is from Idaho — and he’s shooting for history

Here's a backstage look at the athletes behind the leather chaps

Just like other athletes, cowboys at the rodeo have to physically and mentally prepare for the competition ahead. This is what that's like.
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Just like other athletes, cowboys at the rodeo have to physically and mentally prepare for the competition ahead. This is what that's like.

Idaho has a storied history on the professional rodeo circuit. But for all its success, no Idaho bull rider has ever won a world title.

That streak could end soon though with a young bull rider taking the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association by storm.

Rexburg’s Garrett Smith, 22, entered the 102nd Snake River Stampede at Nampa’s Ford Idaho Center this week No. 1 in the PRCA standings. He’s earned $113,476.58 so far this season, and a second-place finish in Wednesday’s go-round at the Snake River Stampede has him in contention for another paycheck in Saturday’s finals.

Smith turned pro right out of Madison High after becoming the first cowboy to win three national high school all-around titles in history. Four years into his professional career, he said the hard-earned lessons from the tour are paying off.

“The bull riding game doesn’t change, but the mental part of it gets extremely harder,” Smith said. “Once you conquer that, everything goes a little smoother.”

Smith said a rough outing in nearly every other sport leads an athlete to the same remedy — extra practice. But a bull rider can’t follow that prescription. The physical demands and danger of bull riding prevents him from straddling another bull until his next event.

Instead, a bull rider faces a choice — sit and stew over a bad ride, or move on.

Smith said that lesson sunk in thanks to tips from Tag Elliott, a Utah rider who nearly died during a 2007 ride but recovered to make the 2012 national finals.

“It’s pretty much if you get bucked off, learn something from it and move on,” Smith said. “You can’t dwell on it. You get about 30 minutes to dwell on it, and then it’s over with. You’re on to the next one.”

Smith’s success brings extra pressure and attention. Every time he rides, the announcer makes sure everyone in the arena knows they are about to watch the No. 1 rider in the world.

He said that gives him a confidence boost. But he tries not to focus on the hype around his place in the standings.

“Even if you’re No. 1 in the world, the bull doesn’t know that,” Smith said. “So your job doesn’t change too much.”

Smith isn’t the only Idaho native climbing the PRCA standings. New Plymouth’s Roscoe Jarboe, 21, ranks fifth, and Caldwell’s Brady Portenier, 22, is 12th.

Smith said the young trio is putting Idaho bull riders back on the map.

“We kind of thrive off each other,” Smith said. “That’s what makes what we do so great. We basically get to rodeo with family. We all become so close and help each other out. It makes it so much easier.”

Michael Lycklama: 208-377-6424, @MichaelLycklama

Snake River Stampede

Where: Ford Idaho Center, Nampa

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 12:30 p.m. Saturday matinee

Tickets: Start at $13.75 (evening), $10.25 (matinee) at

Payout: A record $444,026