Heeler Kirt Jones just made his Wrangler NFR debut in December, roping behind Steve Purcella. The duo finished thirteenth on the year, pocketing over $69,000 and $74,000 respectively.Obviously, you don't make it to that level or any level of success without great-fitting and comfortable equipment for you and your horse. If something doesn't feel right, it's a distraction, or if something goes wrong, it can mean a wreck that'll cost you everything. Buying a new piece of equipment is cheaper than what it could cost you if it breaks.
"One time we were high-call at the college finals, and the weather had been damp," Jones recalled. "I guess my saddle soaked up quite a bit of moisture from the air, because during my run, my cinch hobble (the strap under the horse's belly that secures the back cinch to the front cinch) stretched enough that my back cinch got in my horse's flanks. Of course he broke in two and I lost my rope and the steer," he said. "Ever since then, I check all of my equipment for tightness and security, every time, before I rope."
Here in this first installment on equipment, Jones shares what he uses and why. Starting with halters, I don't like snaps. I have to tie my horse to the trailer at night a lot on the road, and if the horse gets in a bind, a snap will be the first thing to break. Sometimes you may want that, but if it's just a case where your horse spooks and gets loose, it's not a good feeling to look outside and not be able to find him.
Since my horse chews up lead ropes, I just go to the hardware store and buy sections of rope because he'll just eat the fancy ones anyway. I attach it to the halter, and there's no snaps that'll break. If a horse does set back hard on one of these halters, the nice thing is, if you tie the knot correctly, you can always get it loose (see inset). If you tie that knot another way, chances are you'll have to cut the halter off; that's something some folks don't realize. Also, I like the fact these halters are so adjustable they fit different horses, and they last forever.
I usually use overreach boots, unless I'm just exercising my horse. I don't use splint boots unless I'm competing. The thing about splint boots to remember is to take them off regularly; don't leave them on your horse all day because they tend to gather gravel and rocks that'll sore your horse pretty fast. Make sure you put them on tight enough to help prevent that, then I'd advise taking them right back off.
As for skid boots, I don't use them at all unless I have a horse that's stopping so hard he's burning his fetlocks down to the hide. Other than that, I just don't trim his fetlock hair, because that's natural burn protection. You can see the dirt implanted in that hair on my horse (see inset) and even where he's worn some of the hair off, but he's not burned at all. Now, if I get to a rodeo and the ground is really hard, I will put skid boots on for extra protection.
I do recommend wearing a glove, and I prefer dyed cotton. They seem to last longer than white cotton, and white cotton seems to have a spongier feel to me. The dyed cotton variety like this seem to be tighter knit where I can close my hand on my rope better. The advantage to wearing a glove is keeping the hide on your fingers. There will come situations with your rope you can't control, and besides that, those blisters get painful if you rope a lot.
Originally, I didn't like a glove because I thought I couldn't feel my rope. I just made myself practice with one until I got used to it, and now I don't go without. As for leather, I don't think you can feel your rope as well. What I've seen happen is that due to the stitching in the fingers, you sometimes can't feel or find your slack. And the only way you can tell your rope is running is when the leather gets hot. This may make you more apt to just let your rope run and then try to muscle it around. With cotton, you'll immediately feel it running and try to lock it off, and you can more easily find your slack if you miss it. However, I do like leather at home on the ranch, dragging calves to the fire!
I like a thin saddle pad on this horse. He's very round-backed and doesn't have much wither, so I want my saddle to sit as close to him as it can. He's never been sore with limited padding. On the other hand, a high-withered horse takes a lot thicker padding to keep him comfortable. This is a PRO pad and I haven't had problems with it getting his back too hot or anything; the sweat runs out from under it.
I don't make enough runs in extreme heat to worry much about it anyway. I like leather. I don't care for nylon much at all. I guess that comes from my ranch background, and I like that leather has some flex and give to it. I like a leather latigo like this, because I have seen nylon ones rip where the holes are burned out. Most of the time, leather latigos won't do that. I even prefer a leather latigo on the back cinch. I'm also "old fashioned" when it comes to cinches. The wider a cinch, the more stable it is, and I prefer mohair and leather to neoprene. The thing to remember with any cinch is to check the Ds regularly, because they'll wear out where the tie down pulls especially. Replacing the cinch is much better than the headache of it breaking at a roping. The wide back cinch keeps the saddle flat on the horse's back. A heel horse takes such a pull; you don't want the saddle to rock forward and you want more leverage on the back of the saddle. It doesn't hurt to cinch the back as tight as the front, even if you're not up for five or ten teams. You want it tight; that actually saves your horse's back. You probably don't want to cinch real tight too early, like when you warm up, because your horse may lay down on you. But, it doesn't hurt anything a few teams before. Just loosen it right after you run.
Also, I like a heavy-duty cinch hobble like you see here, and I want it short. The wide back cinches seem to work their way back into the flanks pretty easy, and a good solid cinch hobble will prevent that. STW