When you're setting up your approach into the corner, that's the most crucial time as far as position and horsemanship go in the heeler's run. You're seeing how the header's setting up the corner on the steer, and you're basically reacting to that and trying to read what kind of a shot that's going to present. You're trying to ride into position for that shot, and there's a transition there. You're going down the arena, then you're making the turn, then the steer's leaving and you're squared up to go the same direction that the steer's starting to go off of the corner. Your top ropers who can catch a high percentage of steers by two feet have figured out how to make that transition.
When you leave the box your horse's mind is thinking run. He's thinking about going to the steer. But as you're starting to make your entry into the corner, about halfway through that corner, the message in his mind changes from run and go to the steer to stop. A lot of ropers who haven't figured that out quite yet let their horses cheat them too much when that message transfers in their horse's mind to stop. What ends up happening is that the steer and their shot start to get away from them, which causes separation.
That causes a domino effect. You aren't able to place your loop precisely, because you're getting separation. Your horse is stopping and the steer is leaving. That creates too much of a throw to get the loop to the feet,
because instead of a placement of the loop it creates more of a throw.
When that separation happens, and that steer is leaving you, you don't have as much time to get your slack and go to the horn. Everything starts getting cut off, which leads to inconsistency. The loop isn't going in right, you aren't getting as many feet in your loop and if you do get the steer in the loop a lot of times you lose a leg because you're hurrying to the horn. Or you do catch him and you fumble going to the horn or lose your rope. That domino effect causes problems right down the line.
If you're roping right on the corner, where you're choosing to take a really fast shot-kind of an all-or-nothing shot, where you're playing for the first available shot-you can get away with it to a certain degree. You're using that horse's momentum running down the arena and going into the turn, and as he's squaring up and stopping you're taking your throw. There are a few guys who can do that very well. But it's still not as high percentage or consistent as when you let the steer take two or three hops and the steer gets balanced and in a true rhythm. A lot of times in that first hop a steer will stutter step and be out of balance, so that first shot's not as consistent.
You have to determine what kind of shot you're trying to set up, depending on what kind of roping or rodeo you're at. If you're trying to set up a consistent shot, where you're going to rope the steer on the second, third or fourth hop, you have to be conscious of the fact that when you get to that point where your horse is going from running to the point of thinking about stopping, you have to think about squeezing him through that in order to avoid the separation that affects your delivery.
When I was a kid learning how to heel, the big money you could win was average money. We went to lots of five-, eight- and 10-head ropings. I can remember learning this principle in my riding. When the corner came, I would consciously make myself start kicking-whether I was too close or being left behind. Within two or three jumps, I wanted my horse to be going the same speed as the steer as he was leaving the corner. I didn't want any separation. I wanted to be right there with that steer so I could really place my loop into position. That provided the consistency it took to be competitive in those average ropings.