From the first issue of Spin To Win, the predecessor of The Team Roping Journal, from March 1997.
Handling steers is critical to a team’s success, and it’s not the sole responsibility of the header. If a heeler helps a header out, it’ll pay off when it’s time to throw his rope. You need to communicate with your partner. If a steer goes hard to the right, your heeler needs to haze him. If a steer goes hard to the left, your heeler needs to back off.
Point 1. Handling cattle is an art. A big part of your success in handling a steer is predetermined by three things: The kind of horse you’re riding, the steer you’ve drawn and the pattern your heeler makes the steer run. All three factors are in my favor here, thanks in part to my heeler, (three-time world champion team roper) Allen Bach.
Point 2. When a heeler misses a haze on a steer and lets a steer go to the right, the header is at a big disadvantage. The steer’s going away from him at an awkward angle, which usually forces a header to take longer to catch up to the steer. And when you rope a steer from that angle, it’s hard for a head horse to make the move to bring the steer back up the arena, which often forces the header to take a steer down the arena. That, in turn, makes the steer move away from the heeler. In other words, when a heeler lets a steer move too far to the right, it causes a chain reaction that’s hard to overcome in winning time.
Point 3. In the past, many headers were taught to take a steer straight across the arena. You need to be careful about how you interpret that advice. It’s true that you want the steer moving straight across the arena, or even coming back up the arena slightly. But you can’t ride your horse straight across the arena to get that result. If my horse is running straight across the arena, the steer isn’t following in that direction. If you angle your horse back up the arena slightly, you’ll force the steer to stay on the end of the rope.
Point 4. There are exceptions to point three. If you draw a steer that doesn’t run too hard and starts to slow up, turn on his own and hang back on the end of the rope after you rope him and start to take ahold of him, you can lead him straight across the arena.
Point 5. The faster a steer’s running, the more you want to slow him down. A lot of steers that run hard run up the rope. If you have too much speed around the corner, that makes a steer swing out and run up the rope, which puts your heeler on the defensive.
Point 6. The more you come back up the arena with a steer, the more you make a steer hang back on the end of the rope. Here, I’m coming back up the arena slightly with my head horse, which is resulting in a straightaway shot for my heeler.
Point 7. The faster a steer is running, the more you need to take ahold of him around the corner to get him slowed down so you can take him back up the arena. If you let your head horse duck out and drift down the arena, like I did here, you give your heeler what they call a “fishtail” handle, which is wild and unpredictable.
Point 8. If you know you have a steer that drags, talk to your heeler about it and make a game plan. It helps to angle down the arena with a steer like that, because a steer naturally wants to go to the catchpen, and angling down the arena lets him see the catchpen and makes him feel like he’s headed in the direction of where he wants to be. Having a steer follow you down the arena also takes some pressure off of his head, which makes him less likely to drag.
Point 9. Whatever angle you need to go with a steer, you always want to pull him in a straight line. You don’t want to circle with a steer because that causes him to swing to the outside. The end result is a tougher shot for your heeler.
Point 10. When a steer runs to the left fence, get him off the fence about 10 to 15 feet, before your heeler can rope him. I suggest you angle back toward the header’s box. If you angle too far to the other side of the arena, toward the heeler’s box, a steer will tend to shoot behind the head horse and under the heel horse.
Point 11. A good handle makes a heeler’s job so much easier, especially under challenging conditions like a hard-running steer. Handling a steer that runs hard on a short rope gives you more control. It helps keep a steer from running up the rope, shooting behind your head horse and winging away from your heeler.
Point 12. When a steer drags or gets heavy, he’s harder for the head horse to pull because he’s dead weight. A header needs to pull a steer like that in a steady rhythm so your heeler can get in time with him and rope the steer when his hind feet come off the ground.