breakin' it down

Two Countries, One Header: Heading in the U.S. vs. Brazil
How does heading in the U.S. compare to heading in Brazil?
Sergio "Junior" Fornazin heading a steer in Brazil.
Sergio "Junior" Fornazin heading in Brazil.

Team roping is a worldwide sport, with the largest concentration of ropers in the United States and Brazil. Both countries go by the same overall rules in the sport, but there are some differences that change the way heading is done in the U.S. versus Brazil.

U.S. roping steers vs. Brazilian roping steers

A huge difference lies in the cattle. The majority of cattle used in the U.S. are the “famous” Corriente cattle, the first cattle brought to the New World by the Spanish as early as 1493. They are well-known for of their great horns and rustic nature. 


In South America, Brazil often uses a mix of beef and dairy cattle as roping steers. Usually, a mix of Nellore cattle—originally from Ongole (Bos indicus) brought from India in 1868 and well-known by their hardiness and resistance to extreme heat—and Girolando cattle—a dairy breed, created by crossing Gyr cattle and Brahman cattle in Brazil—are used. They became an official breed in 1996, offering high adaptability to different weather conditions and the characteristic of minimally grown horns.


The horns play a crucial role, influencing headers in both countries to develop different techniques to achieve the same results. The Brazilian style is visibly distinctive, with an angled swing that brings the tip of the loop to the left as most heelers do before the corner. Their target is the hump of the steer, where they cross the tip of their rope over or down on it, creating what is called front-to-back delivery. The tip is moved quickly from the hump to above the head, creating an action which once delivered brings the tip up to the left shoulder, catching only the neck and no front legs.

Techniques in the U.S. vs. Brazil

Most people may not realize that Brazilian headers actually use heel ropes. 

I remember starting when I was 7 years old old with a head rope. But when I turned 10 or 11, I already had a medium or a hard medium Cactus heel rope in my hands as a header.

READ: Take off That Head Rope

The reason Brazilian headers prefer heel ropes is because of their stiffness and long length. Times have changed the way team roping is performed in South America, but there was a culture behind Brazilian headers using more of their rope than their horses; they reach and throw a lot of coils. Because of this, they prefer stiff heel ropes which can hold the loop open all the way to the steer’s head when they deliver it.

We always practiced to be as fast as we can, even if that affects our consistency a little.

Sergio "Junior" Fornazin heading at the 2022 IFR.
Sergio “Junior” Fornazin at IFR 53. | Darlena Roberts photo

Things are done differently in North America. Headers have their swing flatter, or a little angled down to the right. The main reason for their flipside style is because they need to work their tip and delivery differently to be able to catch the Corriente horns. Their loop crosses above the horns, targeting the right one with an angle. Once delivered, the tip crosses from the right side to the left side while staying above the steer’s nose. It then finishes on the left side with a figure eight.

It was extremely difficult when I started to compete in the United States. Fornazin admitted. It was like everything I knew didn’t matter anymore; I definitely had to learn from the beginning all over again. All the techniques were weird and funny for me. I had to learn how to use a head rope and the difference between a head and heel rope.

Despite having the same goals, the most significant difference between Brazilian and U.S. headers is the angle; everything can be altered through it. The angle is a powerful point and can define the way you will perform wherever you are in the world.

WATCH: The 2023 NFR Steer Break-In

I roped at the USTRC Finals in 2018 for the first time ever. I saw from a distance this guy who had been my hero since I was 7 in Brazil. I went up to him to try and ask a question I had in my mind for a couple months already. What is the biggest difference between my Brazilian swing and the American swing? Why I am waving it off on most of my runs?

Speed Williams, the eight-time world champion, said one thing that changed my whole way of thinking and preparation: the angle.

The angle separates the Brazilian and U.S. headers, but the goal remains the same for both athletes: catch the steer. 

Sergio “Junior” Fornazin grew up in Santa Barbara do Oeste, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and now makes his home in Indiana. The Brazilian-born team roper has been roping since he was 7, taking to the heading side of the sport. Fornazin has been in the U.S. for six years and has an International Finals Rodeo (IFR 53) qualification under his belt. Fornazin is also third on the WCRA Stampede at The E leaderboard, set to rope in Guthrie Jan. 3-6, 2024.

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