First Horry high school rodeo a labor of love and a family affair

When Erin Smith told her mom she wanted to compete in high school rodeos, her mom told her rodeos “ain’t nothing but tail-chasing cowboys.”

So, of course, Smith jumped on her horse and won the state championship three years later.

The Smiths – mom Stacy, dad Buddy and daughter Erin – have been involved in S.C. rodeos for several years, though they’ve always had to travel several hours to competitions. This year, the Smiths decided to bring the rodeo to them.

“It’s been tough, but it’s worth it,” Stacy Smith said. “I’m hoping it’ll raise some more interest in rodeos around here.”

An event this weekend was the first time the S.C. High School Rodeo Association has held a competition in Horry County, and it’s all because of the Smith family, said board member Marvin Blanton. RES-LES Farms in Conway hosted the Friday night and Saturday event.

Blanton was hired to announce during the rodeo. He’s been involved with rodeos for several years and said he’s always impressed with the family atmosphere and respectful attitudes.

“When you take your kids to a rodeo, you don’t have to worry about them,” Blanton said. “If you’re not watching them, someone else is.”

That’s partially why Stacy Smith decided to host a competition at her farm – that, and a single comment her daughter made several years ago.

“I made the mistake of saying that I wanted a rodeo here before I graduate,” Erin Smith, 18, said.

Erin Smith won the 2014 S.C. High School Rodeo state finals in cutting – separating a cow from the rest of the herd for a short time – and placed 44th in the national competition, she said. She’s been riding solo since age 3.

“It’s in my blood, it’s what I love,” Erin Smith said. “My whole life revolves around horses.”

The rodeo association agreed to an Horry County rodeo if the Smiths could arrange sponsorship, vendors and volunteers. The family spent about three months planning and gathering sponsors for the event, Stacy Smith said. They asked for help and funding from Horry County Council, the Horry County Sheriff’s Office and local businesses; the event had more than 20 sponsors, Stacy Smith said.

Most volunteers are the Smith’s family and friends, Stacy Smith said. The family opted to use Facebook and word-of-mouth to let the public know about the first-ever Horry high school rodeo, but Erin Smith said word travels pretty quickly in cowboy circles.

“We’re all just one big family,” she said. “I’d rather go to an S.C. rodeo than go to a family reunion.”

It takes about $10,000 to put together a high school rodeo, Stacy Smith said. The hosts must hire judges, an announcer, cows for roping and all the equipment, except for the main gate the rodeo association provides.

Much of the equipment was donated by the business community – such as the flood light around the pen – or lent to the rodeo from neighboring towns – such as the tall bleachers from Aynor – Stacy Smith said.

The Smiths also planned a volleyball game and “cowboy church” for the weekend, giving spectators and competitors another reason to visit the Grand Strand.

“If we are trying to sell high school rodeo to Horry County, we’re not going to be a small, podunk thing,” Stacy Smith said. “We’re going to make it good.”

The rodeo – and its 300 contestants – is good for tourism revenue, Blanton said. Families come into town Friday night and stay until Sunday, spending money on food, hotels and entertainment on the Strand.

“Everybody loves the beach,” Blanton said.

Even though Erin Smith graduates high school this year, the family plans to keep the rodeo going so cowboys and cowgirls across the Strand don’t have to travel upstate for competitions, Stacy Smith said. Besides, rodeos are in the Smiths’ blood.

“If we didn’t believe in it, if we didn’t have a passion for it, I wouldn’t have even tried to put this on,” she said.