Rylie Smith bought her ProRodeo breakaway card the minute the Women's Professional Rodeo Association announced the option last year. But when COVID-19 forced the cancellation of every rodeo she entered, she threw her sucker in the dirt.
"They weren't having any of the rodeos I entered," Smith, 19, said. "So I didn't go any ProRodeos."
The young gun missed her chance to rope for the $200,000 in National Finals of Breakaway Roping prize money, but she went ahead and pocketed $90,000 anyway for her win in the heading at the WCRA's Women's Rodeo World Championships with WPRA World Champ Hope Thompson. She also won the WPRA's Rookie of the Year title in the heeling and the three-head average at the WPRA Finals in the breakaway against the best in the business. Not a bad year, all things considered.
But in 2021, Smith, number-two in the WPRA ProRodeo Breakaway standings with $4,180 won (all at the 2020 WPRA Finals), is back and more geared up than ever for the opportunities in women's roping, fueled in part by her new number-one mount: a 6-year-old mare named Hail Mary Wild Card.
Smith sold both of her top-tier calf horses as 2020 came to a close, and she's been working on the horse she calls Mary for two years to get her ready. Breakaway standout Madison Outhier's grandparents raised the mare, by their stud Wild Card Dun It and out of the Big Sky Dun It mare Chancey Big Sky.
"I went to the Outhiers' house to look at horses, and they don’t normally have anything older than 2," Smith said. "But for some reason this time they had four mares that were 4 years old. I watched Mike ride all four of them, and I rode all four. I went for one and I came home with two. Mary’s got an attitude, but all my good ones I ever rode had an attitude, too, but had so much try. It took me about a year to get through to her but she finally gave it up."
Madison's dad, all-around hand Mike Outhier, had been tracking cattle around the arena on Mary, so Smith, a 4.5 header/5 heeler, started heeling on her and the other colt she bought pretty quickly.
"The other one made a little faster because she never tried to go against me," Smith explained. "Mary, if I asked her to do something, she wanted to do something else. The other one made faster to heel on, so Mary got behind because naturally I wanted to ride the other one more. So I sent Mary to Justin Maass for two months."
Maass started Mary in the breakaway, and he agreed with Smith's assessment of the tough-minded horse.
"She was a handful to get going, I can tell you that," Maass, an eight-time NFR tie-down roper, said. "I was a little unsure about her to tell you the truth. She showed glimmers of superstar and glimmers of ‘Holy crap, what are we doing now?’ Riley told me that when she brought her to me. She was some kind of something, and Riley had her pegged. She definitely had superstar qualities, but it was a matter of getting her mind to keep up with the rest of her. I didn’t have that to where I wanted it when she left. But Rylie is so dag-gum handy. When she has the patience to take them slow and do it right, she’s a really good hand with a horse and she ropes so good it makes it easier for them."
But Smith, a student at Southwest Texas Junior College in Uvalde who plans to train horses for a living after finishing school, was patient.
"When I got her back from Justin, I turned her out for over a month and pulled her shoes, and she’s been a total different horse. A switch just flipped letting her rest. I’ve never rode anything like her. I’ve always, since I was old enough and strong enough to ride a higher caliber horse, I always have had horses left hard. But she leaves even harder than that and is just running. The ones I’ve had before I’ve had to ride them to the calf. On her, you put your hand down, and she runs as fast as she can to her spot. When you throw, she just shuts it off. She’s not stopping until you throw your rope. All the ones Mike trains are like that. But I think it’s the breeding, too."
The Outhiers agree. Mary's sire, Wild Card Dun It, is a maternal sibling to the horse Madison won the American and Women's Rodeo World Championships breakaway aboard.
"A lot of our horses are Colonel Freckles and cutting bred," Madison said of the horses her grandparents the Waters raise under the LA Waters brand in Utopia, Texas. "They’re really cowy and easy to make into breakaway horses. My second one is also by Wild Card, our main stud. I think it’s a really great combo for the breakaway roping."
The family also stands their stallions Wild Card Dun It and Colonel C Cowboy to the public at Retama Equine in San Antonio, Texas, and raise 20 to 30 colts via old-school pasture-breeding methods at home.
2021 Game Plan
With her horsepower in check, Smith plans to hit the trail hard in 2021.
"I’m going to try to do everything I can fit in," Smith said. "I have a couple weekends where I have a college rodeo and I have to drive somewhere else to go to an all-girl team roping and a breakaway and back to the college rodeo and short round. I have a really good coach, Joey Almand, who helps me get up when I need to get up so I can make it all work."
Smith plans to jump into the rig with NFBR Champ Martha Angelone for the summer run, and is heeling for Jordi Edens at the college rodeos.
"Team roping is still pretty high on my priority list," Smith said. "That’s really my passion. If I have to fly home from the rodeos to go to the all-girl team ropings, I will."
Smith is also in the top 50 in the WCRA's Open Breakaway standings for the segment and in the top 30 in the Challenger division. BRJ