Smets spent 30 years keeping cowboys safe as a bullfighter. The 49-year-old Texan qualified for the National Finals Rodeo 17 times and was elected by bull riders to work the NFR six times and the Professional Bull riders Championship nine times. He's a long-time favorite at the Days of '47 Rodeo in Salt Lake City and after he retired from bullfighting in 2006, he began announcing at rodeo. Deseret News sports writer Amy Donaldson caught up with him at this year's Days of '47 Rodeo, and here's what he had to say:
Question: Many people see the Professional Bullriders Association as a competitor to the PRCA's bullriding. You've worked both events. Do you think the ride of the PBR hurt the PRCA?
Answer: I think they were both very good for each other. The PBR got a bunch of bullriders together and made a great association, and for a couple of years, I think it might have hurt the PRCA's bullriding. But at the same time, it brought a lot of sponsorships and t.v. time, and I think it's helped this sport a lot. With the new PRCA commissioner (Karl Stressman), I think you're going to see them work together a lot more. He's going to fix that bridge.
Question: You started (1976) just when bullfighting was evolving from rodeo clowning to a serious profession that's every bit as dangerous as bullriding. Why did you gravitate to bullfighting?
Answer: I never felt comfortable telling jokes. It's just not my forte. Doing the daredevil stuff, that's more my style. I watched Wick Peth, who was the first one to command a decent check for fighting bulls and not doing comedy. I also watched Miles Hare, Skipper Voss, Jimmy Anderson and Bill Landis.
Question: What's been the biggest change in rodeo in the last three and a half decades?
Answer: Definitely sponsorships. Things are a lot more sponsor friendly. When I made the big change from traditional rodeo clown attire to a jersey that had sponsors names on the sleeves, that was big. A bullrider is out there for eight seconds. Bullfighters are out there the whole time. I made more money. ... Sponsorships probably added to the longevity of my career.Comment on this story
Question: Have your feelings about making a living in rodeos changed now that you have a daughter that is trying to do so in barrel racing?
Answer: I want to see my daughter (Dylan Smets, 19) do good. Her horse is sore right now and we'll have to do some surgery later this year. I saw her dream get shattered here in the last two weeks as she was fourth or fifth in the rookie of the year standings. That's gone by the wayside now. But she's healthy, the horse will be fine...There is nothing easy about this sport. God has a plan for everything. What am I supposed to expect? She's been dragged around to rodeos from California, to Canada, to Texas...She loves what I love. How would I ever say no? The sport has been real good to me.
Question: Describe what that first trip to the NFR was like?
Answer: I was voted there (as a bullfighter) and I qualified in bullfighting in 1983. To get to the NFR in Oklahoma City, and then to make it back in '85 and be at the Thomas and Mack Center with 19,000 people inside - the electricity you can feel as you walk into the arena will make your hair stand on end. If you don't feel alive there, you're definitely dead.