ROAD TO CASPER: Emma Smith no stranger to the big stage



Pleasanton cowgirl and barrel racing regional champion Emma Smith is no stranger to the big stage after qualifying multiple times for the Junior NFR as a high school student. She’s taking aim at the collegiate national title now as a freshman at Texas A&M. SAM FOWLER | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

Pleasanton cowgirl and barrel racing regional champion Emma Smith is no stranger to the big stage after qualifying multiple times for the Junior NFR as a high school student. She’s taking aim at the collegiate national title now as a freshman at Texas A&M. SAM FOWLER | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

Pleasanton cowgirl Emma Smith has been quietly making a name for herself as a barrel racer in her freshman season at Texas A&M.

Smith won the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Southern Region title in barrel racing this season. She scored a total of 591 points in the 10 rodeos on the schedule to edge out her teammate, Hailey Finnegan. Two wins in addition to a second place finish at McNeese State and fourth at Texas A&M-Commerce helped put Smith into the driver’s seat for the regional championship and qualification for the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo., with just one rodeo left on the schedule in Athens at Trinity Valley Community College May 7-8.

As she does at every rodeo, Smith wasn’t watching the standings in Athens and was able to focus on making sound runs with her horse, Lola.

“Honestly, I don’t pay attention to where the standings are because it’s very much a mental game,” Smith said. “I knew if I looked and tried to calculate it, then I would just get in my head. So I would just try to focus on being better than my last run and leave everything in the arena.” 

But the Pleasanton native is no stranger to the big stage. Smith was Reserve World Champion three times at the Junior NFR during her time in high school and also blazed her trail on the THSRA while attending Pleasanton High School.

Still, winning the region and qualifying for the sport’s biggest stage at the collegiate level in her first try was incredible. The differences between rodeo at the high school and collegiate levels were stark and she was just hoping to qualify for the CNFR.

“It’s been very exciting,” Smith said. “I’ve grown up in [rodeo] and I know how it works. I know the ins and outs. I came to college rodeo and it totally felt like a new ballgame. I felt like a small fish in a big sea. It was very unexpected for me to win. I was gonna be extremely happy if I just made it in the top three [to qualify]. To come back and win it, I was completely blown away.”

Emma Smith rounds a barrel on her horse Lola during a race in the 2021 season. Smith is excited about the opportunity to compete at the CNFR in her freshman season at Texas A&M University. PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNINGS PHOTOGRAPHY

Emma Smith rounds a barrel on her horse Lola during a race in the 2021 season. Smith is excited about the opportunity to compete at the CNFR in her freshman season at Texas A&M University. PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNINGS PHOTOGRAPHY

One of the biggest adjustments for Smith this season has been doing most everything on her own, from finding jackpots to practice at, to hauling her trailer and horse to and from rodeos and veterinarian appointments.

The freshman has made those adjustments with the help of her parents as well as her new rodeo family in College Station.

“My parents, they’ve really helped me. They’ve always been very supportive of me,” Smith said. “But honestly, it was probably the friendships I created at Texas A&M University. The girls that are on the rodeo team with me, we all really help each other out. If one of us was gonna go to a jackpot, we would all load up together and haul over there together. They’ve helped push me to be the best.”

Smith is a competitor at her core. The CNFR is billed as “the best of the best.” She’s excited for the challenge she’ll get in Casper later this month.

“I’m very excited and very honored to get to compete against the best people my age in the United States,” Smith said. “All of us work very hard and do everything we can to get here. To just be here, it’s an incredible honor.”

The CNFR kicks off on June 13 with its first Bulls, Broncs and Breakaway competition. The first full performance is on Tuesday, June 15.

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