Patrick Smith took 25 new Thunderbird heel ropes to the 2022 NFR in Las Vegas. Along with partner Tanner Tomlinson, Smith was crowned reserve champion and overall average winner - using the same rope for all 10 rounds.
That’s right. The other 24 ropes never saw the light of day.
In past trips to the finals, Smith had broken in lots of different ropes to accommodate for different weather situations. But in December, in his 13th appearance at the Super Bowl of rodeo, he took a different - some might say unique - approach.
“I made up my mind that I was going with the first rope that felt good out of the bag,” he says. “In the past, I was like everybody else. I broke in lots of ropes for different weather situations. But the first rope I took out this time felt good so I used it in Round 1.”
The Thunderbird heel rope is Smith’s weapon of choice. He and Lone Star Rope maker Guy Alford worked out every detail to create it, going “back and forth” on how the core should be twisted.
“They’re the best heel hopes ever made,” Smith says. “I may change the lays throughout the year but I love the overall feel of the rope.”
As the 10 days of the WNFR churned on, each night Smith would take out that one rope and swing it. And each night, it felt good. So good, in fact, that Tomlinson and Smith were the only team to stop the clock on all 10 head. They finished their run in Las Vegas with a 53.0 on 10, setting a new average record. They knew they had won the average after round 9, so they brought it in round 10 with a 3.7 run to split first in the round and set the average record.
It was a spectacular run for Smith, who was named PRCA Rookie of the Year (heeling) in 2003. He had learned a lot of lessons over the years - one of which was not to obsess over small details that might get into his head.
“I slipped a couple of legs on steers,” he says of the 2022 NFR. “But I knew it wasn’t the rope’s fault.”
Now that rope hangs on the wall of his trophy room.
“Every night (at the NFR) I would take that rope out of the bag and swing it,” he says. “And every night I said, ‘It’s still the one.’”