The last time Kaylee Smith received a B in school it was the first quarter of her freshman year at Lingle-Fort Laramie. She received an 89.99 and the teacher, who she still remembers, wouldn’t round that up to a 90. That was 6 years ago.
Smith’s a self-referred competitor. Also an admitted perfectionist. And yet, none of those words seem to properly describe the Panhandle State University senior goat tyer as she sits fourth in the aggregate following her third go-round run in Tuesday night’s performance of the 2019 College National Finals Rodeo at the Casper Events Center.
“It’s a problem,” she laughed.
It’s a mentality that can be at least somewhat traced back to her parents, who always told her that she needed good grades in order to fulfill a childhood dream of being a veterinarian. Her hatred for B’s sprouted around then. She’s gotten all A’s since, with her lowest grade being a 95. All of that while somehow maintaining a job and a rodeo career fine enough to stand in the top four of her event at the national championship. She knows it sounds like a lot but she really wants to impress the admissions office at Texas A&M’s Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences College.
She hopes to be one of the lucky few accepted into that prestigious program since graduating from Panhandle State this spring Summa Cum Laude with a perfect 4.0 GPA, the only one in the school to do so. And since the out-of-state admissions rate typically hovers around 3 percent, she knows standing out improves her chances. That’s why she’s also held unpaid internships at vet clinics the last three summers, accruing multiple references from the vets that work there.
“Rodeo helps and then I had a job, too, while competing and keeping up with school work,” she said. “Hopefully with all the accolades it will eventually work out so I can get in.”
Her father, Garrett, marvels at his daughter’s accomplishments. He wasn’t able to do the same while playing football at Wyoming. But that’s just her outlook. She thought coming to the CNFR last year was a blessing, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. That is, until she finished 23rd. That’s like a B-minus.
“I was so upset with how I did last year that I told myself I’m coming back,” she said. “Then I got gritty about it and it’s amazing to be able to come back.”
Competing in her final CNFR has been a surreal experience for her. Her family still owns and operates their farm in Jay Em and she proudly admits to being Wyoming through and through — her great-great grandfather, Nels H. Smith, was the governor of Wyoming from 1939-43.
Smith won a state basketball championship with the Doggers in 2014 inside the same Casper Events Center she’s competing in this week. That’s helped her adjust to the bright lights and pressures that have been the undoing of other cowgirls and cowboys.
She admitted to feeling the immensity of the moment during her first go-round on Monday when she had a 7.2-second run. But she noticed what was wrong and fixed it on her next run, a 6.1. She wasn’t totally happy with her 7.4 on Tuesday night but it’s enough to keep her in the running for Saturday’s short go.
“That first round I was paying too much attention to the goat and not on my horse’s speed and I wasn’t able to adjust. I got into a speed jam,” she explained. “Then I told myself to get off sooner and I did and it worked out a lot better. It’s won here on the ground work and not on the horse speed. Being smooth on the ground makes a big difference.”
She’ll anxiously watch the rest of the rodeo while spending time with her family and enjoying her home state. They’ll likely talk about her decision to go to Sul Ross University in Alpine, Texas, for her Masters Degree this fall. They’ll check Friday night if her 21.0 on aggregate is good enough to make the short.
Whether it’s the 21.0 she tallied this week or the 4.0 she’s averaged since that first quarter at Lingle-Fort Laramie, she won’t stop until she’s done her best. Thanks to that high school teacher.
“That made me better,” she smiled. “I don’t give them the option now to round it.”