Every horse is different and that’s what is so unique about roping and the horsemanship part of it. To become a good horseman, you have to know what the horse needs and do whatever you can to help him. Some horses need steer stopped, some need freed up, some need you to face them every time, some you need to make sure they keep pulling, some you have to score on all the time, some you don’t. I’ve had all of those kinds, and from what I’ve seen, that’s the easiest way to judge who is good with a horse: the people who have had long careers. Everybody in the business has seen ropers who only last as long as their good horse. Somebody with a long career like Jake Barnes—who has gone through who knows how many horses during his career—knows how to ride each given horse for what he is and what he can do. They all feel different. Trevor Brazile, Chad Masters, my brother Travis, we all know how to ride different horses because we’ve had to to make it this long.
1. The one thing I do when I warm my horses up is to make sure they’re not pulling on me. I like them pretty soft—they don’t need to be slow-loping show horses—but when I ask them to stop, they need to stop. When I warm up, I go in left circles, right circles and just make them go where I want them to go.
2. If your horse is being too tight or ducking—and I do this at home a lot—just rope the steer and follow them out. I don’t train on the horse at all. I just rope and follow the steer to the catch pen. You never lose your rope if you just rope the steer and follow it to the catch pen. Meaning, if your horse wants to duck, there’s some cue you’re making when you dally to make him too tight.
3. There’s tons of ways to work on this problem, but I think the best way is to just rope the steer and follow it out, even if you have to have the heeler go with you. That’s the start of it. The second thing I work on is keeping them pushed forward when I rope. If a horse is tight, you might have to use your legs more and keep them wanting to go down the arena more than you might on most horses that don’t want to be tight.
4. After you learn that feel of not cueing your horse to move out too early, you have to take that same feel to a run that you plan to dally on. You ride the same way—keep your legs the same way—as if you were just going to rope and follow him to the catch pen. Too often, when people dally they quit riding. You need to ride as if you’re not going to turn him off, then dally. When a horse gets used to that feel, it usually frees most of them up.
5. You’ve got to ride your horse right when you practice, because it’s always tougher when you go somewhere to compete. If you’re training at the rodeo, it’s too late.
You just have to ride them right enough times at competition. No matter if you’re at my level or you’re just starting, if you panic and don’t finish your delivery, don’t pull your slack and try to beat them, that’s when it gets worse. You have to trust your horse that he won’t duck—and that’s easier said than done—but that’s when it begins to work.