About 15 years ago, Kim Smith was in the process of switching a roping horse over to the barrel pattern. The horse clearly needed a tiedown for balance, but Smith never liked the way a traditional tiedown restricted the lateral movement so vital for barrel racing.
“Honestly, it’s a combination of being cheap—I didn’t want to go buy one—and I had this idea just come to me,” laughed the Touchet, Washington, horse trainer and broker. “I didn’t like how a regular tiedown restricted your lateral mobility, and I thought I could make something better. So, I sat down on the couch and started taking apart my husband’s old team roping ropes.”
Smith had been braiding her tiedowns for almost a decade when she met National Finals Rodeo champion heeler Monty Joe Petska. He taught her how to braid rope halters and she incorporated some of those techniques into her tiedowns.
Her finished product is a tiedown and strap made from one continuous piece of rope. While the noseband is about 12 inches of twisted rope, the headpiece is one round braided strand, and the strap is a multiple strand flat braid. The only piece of metal is the Conway buckle that allows you to adjust the length of the strap.
“They all have a little give,” Smith said. “I think the stretch in the rope is what gives you a little more flexibility. It only restricts how high the nose can go. It doesn’t have that same restricting feeling that a normal tiedown does.”
Smith said the effect is almost like an in between of a regular tiedown and a bonnet.
Her neighbors Kasey Gartner and Karen Gleason each had Smith make them one. Gartner was the one who called it magic.
“The give is what makes them magic,” said Gartner, who runs her great mare Rebel Look (“Mercedes”) in one. “I love them for the simple fact that they’re way more forgiving. They’re so lightweight but they’re there if you need them. They don’t have a lot of pull on the poll, just a light noseband.
“I can’t ever run Mercedes without one. She runs so hard it keeps her where she needs to be without me having to pull her face. The last thing I want to do is pull on her to keep her from being so strung out. It’s a piece of equipment that I use that helps me keep my hands soft.”
It’s also the tiedown for the horse that doesn’t need a tiedown all the time, but might in certain situations, as Gartner explained.
“There is a difference between jackpot ground and rodeo ground,” Gartner noted. “I feel like if you do get in a little bit of trouble, it’s there for them, but they don’t always have to use it. That’s what I really like about it.”
Smith never intended to have a closet business making and selling tiedowns. When her daughter made the Junior NFR a few years back, they made and sold tiedowns to help pay for gas. Smith has also made them for various fundraisers.
Their popularity has spread throughout the Northwest. At the recent Northwest Barrel Racing Finals, Smith said there was at least one Magic Tiedown going down the alley every 10 runs out of 400. “I’ve never advertised,” she said. “I honestly don’t want to because I don’t have that much time to braid. People just started telling people and I started getting these random messages— ‘Could you bring one to a barrel race? Could you ship me one?’ I’m not trying to make a business out of this by any means. I just like to help people, help horses, when I can.”