BELLVILLE, Texas – This town of about 4,300 people understands rodeo, and there are plenty of credentials to prove it.
Just two years ago, then-26-year-old Caleb Smidt proved it by bringing home the tie-down roping world championship to Bellville, becoming just the second hometown person to stake claim to the most prestigious title in the sport. He joins barrel racer Kelly Kaminski, who won two gold buckles in 2004 and ’05.
After traveling the rodeo circuit hard over the last few months, Smidt is ready to return home for the Austin County Fair and Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12-Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Austin County Fairgrounds in Bellville.
“I grew up in Yorktown,” he said of the community 122 miles southeast of Bellville. “My wife was born and raised in Bellville, and we’ve lived there ever since we’ve been married.”
Caleb and Brenna Smidt married almost four years ago, so Austin County is now home to the talented roper. With a month left in the 2017 season, Caleb Smidt sits No. 2 in the all-around and the tie-down roping world standings.
He is a virtual lock for his fourth Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualification. He earned his first trip to ProRodeo’s grand finale in 2013, where he finished 10th in tie-down roping. After an injury sidelined Smidt in 2014, he returned to the NFR to claim gold by placing in eight of 10 go-rounds and winning the all-important average championship.
He left Las Vegas with more than $242,000 in 2015 earnings, then returned this past December. He pocketed more than $107,000 over 10 nights and finished sixth in the world standings.
Now he looks to kickstart his 2018 season in Bellville, one of the first events of the new campaign – the rodeo season runs Oct. 1-Sept. 30 each year, so the sport actually begins its new year before it crowns its world champions.
“Bellville is a great rodeo, and a lot of people come and watch it,” Smidt said. “There are a lot of rodeo fans in Bellville. The fair has concerts every night, and it’s a great atmosphere for rodeo. It’s always good when actual rodeo fans show up and know what’s going on.”
The Austin County Fair and Rodeo has been somewhat of a hidden gem, he said. There is plenty of action and plenty to do, and it’s at a perfect time of year for those cowboys and cowgirls that want to begin the new season in a big way.
There are several other rodeos going on the same week, and the contestants can take advantage of close proximity to the All American Finals in Waco, Texas, that time of year.
“I don’t know if we’ll be as big of a rodeo as some towns, but hopefully people will know what we have to offer and where we’re at,” Smidt said.
He knows as well as anyone. Locals have had his back since his first NFR qualification four years ago, and they know they have something special in the 28-year-old roper.
“I’ve had a lot of support when I left for the NFR,” he said. “A lot of fans expect a lot from me, so I try to do the best I can to put Bellville on the map.”