The 2018 WPRA Rookie of the Year Jimmie Smith, 22, with her winning horses Lena On The Rocks and CR Dees Play For Cash. Photo courtesy Jimmie Smith

2018 WPRA Rookie of the Year Jimmie Smith reflects on her tumultuous first year as a pro rodeo competitor.

Jimmie Smith wasn’t sure 2018 was going to be her year. She wasn’t even sure she’d fill her Women’s Professional Rodeo Association permit last fall. But the stars aligned, Jimmie hit the road with her trusted mare Lena On The Rocks, and she made her rookie year success happen. On January 1, Jimmie wrote down her goal of winning WPRA Rookie of the Year, not knowing what was ahead. But when the summer faded and time ran out, the McDade, Texas, resident was on top to win the Rookie of the Year award, beating reserve rookie Leia Pluemer by more than $21,000 to claim the title. 

Earning WPRA Card Status

Jimmie grew up rodeoing. When other kids played sports she ran track, but most of all rodeoed. The family purchased “Lena” two and a half years ago and soon realized the horse was something special.

“She had what I needed a pro horse to have, so last year in the fall I just took the risk to try for my [WPRA] card,” Jimmie said. “I was trying to fill my permit, and it just wasn’t working out.”

Jimmie turned out with a doctor release at the rodeo in Henderson, Texas. At a Magnolia, Texas, jackpot, they fell hard at the first barrel, which prevented Jimmie from getting into the crucial winter rodeos like the National Western Stock Show in Denver and the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo.

“It seemed like it wasn’t going to work out, but I ended up making it to Go Fast Races [in Taylor, Texas] over Thanksgiving [in 2017],” Jimmie said. “We ended up winning by half a second, so I filled my permit in time to enter those winter rodeos…but I didn’t actually end up getting into any of them.”

Instead of hitting the bigger rodeos in early 2018, the Texas A&M Rodeo Team member says she saved her horse for college rodeos—only winning around $3,000 before May.

“I knew my goal of being Rookie of the Year was either unattainable or it would be reached, but I wasn’t going to give up,” Jimmie said.

On the Road

Lena has a sassy personality with a lot of try and a huge heart, Jimmie says.

“She’s a princess. She’s a diva,” Jimmie said. “She just gets what she wants. She’s not pushy, but she’s my princess for sure, because she’s done so much for me.”

Over and over, Lena was there for Jimmie throughout the year. Jimmie planned to dip her toes in and hit the road until Cheyenne Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the second half of July—depending on how things went.

“It was going absolutely terrible,” Jimmie admitted. “We were fighting an abscess in her foot.”

Jimmie Smith turning a barrel at Puyallup
Jimmie’s most notable win of 2018 came at the Washington State Fair and Rodeo in Puyallup, where she earned $21,474, which propelled her to the top of the 2018 rookie standings. Photo by Kent Soule

As with any extended time on the road, Jimmie had mechanical problems—with her truck, with the generator, even the turbo in her truck went out.

“To this day, the max I can go with the trailer is 65 miles an hour,” Jimmie said with a laugh. “I didn’t want to spend the money to get it fixed, because I couldn’t at the time. I was spending all the money to go to rodeos.”

After the College National Finals Rodeo in June, Jimmie gave Lena about a month off and competed on another horse, CR Dees Play For Cash. Jimmie and “Netty” tied for third in the first round of the rodeo in Reno, Nevada, and picked up a check for $2,237.

Jimmie’s mother, Dawn Smith, traveled with her for most of the summer. Jimmie had a friend, Tess Wyly, come out to help drive and take care of the animals. Before her Fourth of July run, Jimmie picked up her friend and fellow professional barrel racer Cassidy Kruse.

“Some of the best memories ever were being with Cassidy for that first part of the summer,” Jimmie said.

The going was tough, but Jimmie hung on. One of her mentors, Jana Bean, shared wise words at the Casper, Wyoming, rodeo that Jimmie clung to in the coming months.

“She told me I did not need to give up, I needed to set myself up for 2019— so that’s what I did,” Jimmie said.

The Turning Point

By the end of July, Jimmie was $16,000 behind the rookie leader. But on July 29, Jimmie and Lena went to a jackpot in Spearfish, South Dakota, at the Seven Down Arena. The event was just after a massive hailstorm, and making lemonade out of lemons, Dawn did her part.

“There was so much hail, it was coming out of the rain gutters,” Jimmie recalled. “My mom decided she was going to ice Lena’s legs with the hail before I ran.”

Maybe the hail ice bath helped, because at Spearfish, Jimmie and Lena ran a 13.335 to set an arena record and gain a new perspective.

“That just kind of turned things around,” Jimmie said.

Jimmie Smith taking a victory lap at Puyallup
Jimmie Smith says the victory lap she celebrated in Puyallup is a moment not soon to be forgotten. Photo by Kent Soule

From Spearfish, the pair went to the Kansas rodeos—placed in the average to mark her first pro-rodeo short round at Dodge City, placed second at Abilene, Kansas, and third in Hill City, Kansas.

“We got checks everywhere,” Jimmie said. “We went to Loveland [Colorado] and hit a barrel, but we would have placed without that hit. It just kept going. After we hit a little momentum, it didn’t stop.”

Jimmie’s first professional rodeo win came at Cascade, Montana, in August.

“It paid like $900, but that was still so exciting,” Jimmie said.

She counts her win at Puyallup, Washington, at the Washington State Fair Rodeo as a treasured memory. Her efforts at the rodeo netted a whopping $21,474, pushing her to lead the rookie race by $15,000.

“Puyallup has to be one of the biggest highlights for sure,” Jimmie said.

Ultimately, Jimmie amassed $61,198, which sealed the 2018 Rookie of the Year title for her.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Jimmie said. “It’s so cool. I didn’t think it was possible.”

Jimmie Smith at A&M graduation with two horses
Jimmie Smith graduated from Texas A&M University in spring 2018 with a degree in agricultural communications. She hopes to pursue freelance writing while rodeoing and is working on her master’s degree. Photo courtesy Jimmie Smith

Future Plans

The 22-year-old is taking things one run at a time these days. She’s qualified for the Texas Circuit Finals, and she’s pursuing her master’s degree with Texas A&M Commerce, where she’s taking online classes to graduate in May and competing in her last year of college rodeo. Jimmie’s bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M was in agricultural communications, and she hopes to pursue freelance writing while rodeoing.

In the meantime, she’s raising young barrel prospects. Having learned from the talented riders she was surrounded by this year, Jimmie’s advice for aspiring rodeo competitors is simple.

“Don’t ever be afraid to talk to some of these girls—the ones everybody looks up to, like Stevi [Hillman], Jana [Bean], all the ones who are out there winning, because they are all so nice and so helpful, and if you talk to them, they will answer anything and everything you want to know,” Jimmie said. “They are just so nice out there.”

This article was originally published in the December 2018 issue of Barrel Horse News.

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