Hawk Rodeo - CNFR Saturday Preview

At one point, Kaci Smith nearly gave up on her horse, “Rebel.”

After knocking over barrels on every barrel racing trip for an entire year, Smith began riding her backup horse.

Now, just a few years later, Rebel has a chance to carry the Howard College barrel racer to a national championship on Saturday night.

“I really didn’t like him and hit barrels for a whole year on him; I never had a clean run,” Smith said. “Finally, my mom coached me a lot and I finally got with him. The reason I got him was I rode my [backup horse Bullet] and my mom rode [Rebel] and she started beating me and I didn’t like it, so I took him.”

Smith’s grandfather, who owns race horses, gave Rebel to Kaci about six years ago and then learned under the tutelage of her mother, a successful barrel racer in her own right.

All of that is paying off now.

After three blazing runs here at the College National Finals Rodeo, Smith sits atop the standings in the race for a national championship with a total time of 43.18 seconds.

Sam Houston State’s Elizabeth Combs is knocking at the door, just 0.9 seconds back.

“She gets a little tight, but the other night, before the third run, ‘I just told her to go have fun,’” Howard coach Greg Kernick said. “It worked out.”

Though she’ll participate in a grand opening featuring all of the national leaders, Smith will attempt to shrug off the bright lights and follow the same plan.
“I’ll just go in, try to be clean, try to be fast and say my prayers,” Smith said. “I’m pretty good [at keeping the bright lights of the big stage] out of my head. Knock on wood.”

Smith isn’t the only Howard College rodeo competitor with a shot at a title.

Sophomore team roper Cullen Teller, roping with a new partner in header Brodie Self from Tarleton State, sits in second place entering the short go-round.

The two have completed three penalty-free runs in 24.6 seconds and are 3.5 seconds back of Western Oklahoma State’s Andrew Ward and Northwestern Oklahoma State’s Tanner Braden.

“We haven’t drawn in the top end of that herd in the steers but those guys know how to go play catch and hopefully we’ll get together one more time,” Kernick said. “Typically here in the short round of the team roping, anything can happen. If you’re first or 12th, you have a chance.”

Kernick hopes his team can bring home at least one title for the second consecutive year.

Last year, Jason Schaffer -- who suffered an injury and missed most of this season for Howard -- captured a share of the men’s all-around championship.
The short go-round begins at about 7 p.m. MT. Follow the action live at rodeo.trib.com
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