Clyde Smith began rolling back the tape in his memory, five years, 10 years, 15, 40 years… could it have been that long ago. He was 10 years old in Snyder, Okla., driving his younger siblings to school in that three-on-the-column, 1961 Ford Falcon.
Not unusual in those days, the early 1970s, not in Snyder. “I was driving a six-ton truck in the hay fields when I was six,” he said. “It was very common. I think every kid in town past five or six was driving at the time. I lived in the country. I was a country bumpkin.”
Cars and trucks were not Smith’s only means of transportation in those days. He was also into horses. Three-quarters of a mile down the road was a farm that had a racetrack on it, and young Clyde was there frequently, running his Shetland pony down the road at age seven to the farm with the racetrack, learning the rudiments of a game that would become his livelihood.
Seven years old and Clyde bought that pony himself. “I saved the money,” he said. “Mowing grass, driving hay truck, chopping cotton.”
All the kids began asking for Shetlands once they saw Clyde on his.
That’s the way it started and it seemed to grow from there. By age 10 or 11, Clyde was exercising and galloping horses, the only member of his family interested in the racing game.
“There were six of us, three boys and three girls,” he said. “Nobody else in the family had anything to do with racehorses. I was the only one.”
His attraction to race-riding would not prevent Smith from trying other athletic activities “I played them all, baseball, football, basketball, gymnastics, track,” he said.
About that time, Nate Quinonez walked into the silks room where Smith was carrying on a conversation. “Hey, whose silks are those,” Smith wondered . “They look familiar.”
Quinonez unfolded the shirt on his arm. “Harvey Berg’s,” he responded.
“Hey, I rode for Harvey in 1995 at Prairie Meadows, first year I was there,” Smith added.
Iowa was as far north as Smith got in those days after riding in New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, just about every place in the Southwest. Then, three years ago, he arrived at Canterbury Park for the first time. To listen to him talk there will be many more.
“I love it here,” he said. “Nice facilities, good people. This is the least prejudiced place I’ve ever been.”
Smith was talking exclusively about the community. “Yeah, outside of the track,” he said.
Race has not been an issue for him at the tracks he’s raced at throughout the Southwest. That hasn’t always been the case in the communities at large. It hasn’t been an issue at all for him in Shakopee.
Smith is second in the quarter horse standings with an 11-8-11 record from 68 mounts.
Life is good now, at age 50. “I’ve been blessed,” he added. “Three of my (five) children graduated from college.”
His youngest, 15-year-old Preston, is destined to become a jockey, too. ‘He’s a natural,” Smith said. “He’s like his mother, no bigger than a minute, 70 pounds if that.”
What Clyde sees in young Preston is probably an old tape of himself at about the same age. “He’s a natural. I put him on ropin’ and barrel horses and didn’t have to show him a thing.”
Clyde started out riding thoroughbreds for the first 14 or 15 years of his career and still will but is mostly a quarter horse rider these days. He’s still a good hand in the barn and when it comes to breaking babies as well.
“He’s a good horseman, different from a lot of people,” said trainer Bob Johnson, who first rode Smith around the mid 1990s. “I think it was about 1995. He won a stake for me in Albuquerque. He’s really good with colts and babies, really good. A very good hand in the morning AND the afternoon.”
It was mentioned to Johnson that Clyde Henry Smith was getting on horses and galloping at an age when a lot of youngsters were still carrying their Roy Rogers lunch buckets to school
Didn’t surprise him in the least, not with what he’s seen of the man.
“Oh, yes,” said Johnson. “I’m pretty sure he’s been doing this his entire life.”
This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.
Photo Credit: Coady Photography