POCATELLO, Idaho — As he aims to finish his high school rodeo career with the most Idaho state and national all-around championships ever, Garrett Smith emphasizes the work ethic he gained through a lifetime of farm and ranch chores.
Growing up in rural Rexburg,, flood irrigating 75 acres of alfalfa, swathing and baling hay, shoeing horses and feeding cattle took priority to his countless hours of rodeo practice in the family's private arena.
"A lot of it is working real hard. That's the main part," Smith said. "Being around livestock and knowing about them, that's also a huge thing."
The 18-year-old will compete June 9-15 at the Idaho High School Rodeo Association finals in Pocatello for a record fourth consecutive all-around state title. If all goes as hoped, he'll head to Rock Springs, Wyo., in July to vie for an unprecedented third all-around national title.
The flexibility of home schooling enabled Smith to go pro in rodeo earlier this year. In February, he won his first professional bull-riding competition in Starksville, Miss., and he has a full-ride rodeo scholarship awaiting at Odessa College in Texas.
Smith's father, Lynn, who was raised on a cattle ranch in Howe, once worked as a rodeo pickup man — assigned to lead rodeo athletes safely out of the arena. His mother, Valorie, grew up on a farm and helped milk cows. His brother Wyatt, 25, is now a pro rodeo cowboy, ranked among the top 20 in the world. While in high school, Wyatt won three state titles and one national title. HIs younger brother, Payson, recently made nationals at the junior high rodeo level.
"It all goes back into the western heritage," Valorie said. "We want to keep this alive. We've grown up in rodeo, and the last thing we want to do is see it die out."
At the state finals, Smith will compete in six of seven events. Of 180 athletes competing in the state finals, the competitor with the most combined points from his events will win all-around champion. Points are awarded for placing in each round of each event, plus best average scores.
The finals, hosted at Bannock County Fairgrounds, start with cow cutting beginning noon Sunday and continue with daily performances at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. throughout the week. The top 10 participants will compete Saturday at 11 a.m. Kelly Duffin, media coordinator for the state finals said the pressure merely serves to drive Smith, who "works as hard as anybody could possibly work."
"I would guess it would be a foregone conclusion by Friday evening. I think he'll have that big of a lead," Duffin said. "It will be the story of this year's national finals if all goes as planned."
Duffin said Smith is already one of a pair of two-time national champions.
Renae Zollinger, secretary of the rodeo association's District 7, which includes Rexburg, has seen athletes win all four years at the district level, but she's marveled at what Smith has accomplished on both the state and national stages.
"For him to be able to carry as many events as Garrett has and to be as consistent as he's been, he's good. There's no question," Zollinger said.
Smith insists he's taking nothing for granted and won't think too far ahead.
"I'd rather not think about all-around, just do my events day by day and let it play out," Smith said.