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Time Capsule Tuesday: Smoky Snyder

by Matt Naber | Mar 26, 2019

Smoky Snyder was a seven-time world champion in the 1930s and a true legend of rodeo. He won five bull riding world titles and two bareback riding crowns, all in a seven-year span. 

The Colorado cowboy earned a bull riding world championship in 1931, tied for another with Johnnie Schneider in 1932 and won it again outright in 1935-37. He further cemented his legacy by claiming bareback riding gold buckles in 1932 and ’36.

He was instrumental in helping the Cowboys’ Turtle Association begin in 1936 (the forerunner to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) and was selected to the CTA’s Board of Directors for several years. 

Snyder’s impact on rodeo was global, as he was one of the first to win world titles in multiple countries. In 1934, he was the Canadian all-around champion and won the bull riding and bareback riding events during a rodeo held at Wembley Stadium in London. That same year, he also won the bareback riding in Melbourne, Australia. 

In addition to his international success, Snyder won some of the biggest rodeos in the U.S., including at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, Boston, Fort Worth, Texas, Denver, Calgary, Los Angeles, Salinas, Calif., Tucson, Ariz., and Cheyenne, Wyo.

The 5-foot-6, 145-pound Snyder was known for his uncommon strength and confidence in the arena. Eyewitnesses reported seeing him perform 20 chin-ups with one arm. 

Born June 1, 1908, in Cripple Creek, Colo., Snyder moved to Alberta, Canada, at a young age. His family didn’t have a rodeo background, but after seeing his first rodeo at age 15, he soon became a contestant and won the bareback riding at his first event in Hussar, Alberta. By age 23, he was a world champion.

His career ended abruptly in 1946 at the Reno (Nev.) Rodeo when his back was broken by a bull he was riding. He remained connected to rodeo until his death in an automobile accident in 1965.  

His contributions to the sport were not forgotten as Snyder was part of the 1979 inaugural class of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

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