The Basics of Roping in Small and Long Scores
The difference between a short score and a long score is the horse has to do two different things. But in either setup, the main thing you’re trying to do as a header is set up the run for your partner so he can throw fast.
In a short score, your horse has to leave the box flat, without rearing or squatting in the corner, where when you nod and leave the corner you can start swinging. Also, if the score is short, then the arena is small so you need to be ready when you nod to swing and throw. In a small arena a horse needs to get down on his rear end, come down the left fence good and face good. In a short setup a quick, fast horse is an advantage, but they have to work good in the arena and come up the wall good in a small arena. A smaller, quick-footed horse is definitely an advantage in a smaller arena, where a bigger, longer-strided horse is not as good in small, tight situations.
Eddie is a horse that I got four years ago who works great outside, but he’s more suited for indoor arenas. I’ve ridden him twice at the Finals, last year he was crippled out there.
In a long score, your horse has to be good in the box, but you have time to get ready for the delivery as you are running up to the steer. In a wide arena, your horse has the ability to come across the arena rather than having to come back down the arena. Speed is an advantage in either setup, but even more so in a long setup because it’s a race. There are not very many horses that I’ve seen throughout the years that work well in both situations. I would love to have one that works great in all of them, but I don’t think they make that horse.
Big Daddy is a horse that is 20 years old this year and I’ve rodeoed on him for 11 years. I’ve won the Bob Feist and the Wildfire roping twice on him. He’s an exceptional horse. He’s better outside with the bigger, longer scores. In smaller arenas, he still works, but he’s not as good. He’s a sorrel, strip-faced, flaxen-maned horse. I don’t know how much longer he’ll go. He’s sound and he hasn’t shown any signs of weakening, but I’ve always got to be on the lookout for the next one.
You first have to decide if you’re at the place you’re going to stay for quite a while. Over the years, several of my arenas were just made out of nice, portable panels. I knew I might only live there for a couple years, so I didn’t want to lose any expense building a big arena. So at my first few places, I took that arena with me and it worked good because I could make it any dimension I wanted and put it anywhere I needed. Then I’d just pack it up and take it with me.
When I went to Arizona and now at my place in Millsap, Texas, I knew I was going to be there for a while, so I made those arenas out of pipe. I made everything exactly how I wanted. By making it out of pipe, they’re not going to bend, no matter what kind of stress the steers are pushed up there under, it’s not going to bow out or anything because the posts are set in cement. It really makes it user-friendly and I never have to worry about that kind of stuff.
Pipe just looks nicer, plus we painted it up. We’re out there all the time so we tried to make it something we can be proud of.
The dimensions mean a lot in a roping arena. A lot more than people think. First, the safety factor for beginners. If you build an arena too narrow and too short, your forcing the ropers to hurry up and try to rope and get their dallies and basically do some things with their horses that aren’t safe. If you make a nice wide arena, you avoid that.
A really good user-friendly arena is about 150′ wide by 300′ long. In that setup, the steer can still run and you can have plenty of distance to catch up with him without hurrying yourself. Plus your horse is less likely to start ducking out on you. And if a steer runs left, there’s enough room to keep you out of a jam.
I’ve made a horseshoe-shaped run-up alley coming up to the chute so the person putting the cattle in the chute can put up to 25 or 30 steers in there at once and they don’t have to walk very far to push the first one in or the last one. You’re basically just right in the middle of them when you put the horn wraps on and everything. Plus, you don’t have to constantly be pushing in four or five at a time and working back into the tub area.
At the other end of the arena, the catch pens and stripping chutes are also real important to me. In my arena, the roping chute sits 50 feet in from the right fence, so the left fence is 100 feet from the roping chute. My goal is for the steer to run strait down the arena toward the stripping chute. So from the roping chute to the entrance to stripping chute is a strait line.
I also raise my stripping chute up where it’s easy for you to take that heading loop off. My steers will stand up on a diamond-cut mesh so anything they leave in there just falls down through to the ground and it’s real easy to clean.
Where the cattle stand in the catch pens is also important. I made my catch pens so the steers coming out of the chute could see the steers in the catch pen strait out in front of them. It’s a nice big pen, you can hold 50 steers.
The other thing I can do is control where my steers run by which catch pen I put them in. If my steers have been running left, I’ll put the culls in the pen on the right side so they’ll have a tendency to run back toward them. I actually start them all off on the right side for the first few runs.
My return alley is 10 feet wide. You can make that alley too wide. Anywhere from six to 10 feet wide is about right.
For my boxes, I have specific dimensions. Ten feet wide by 16 feet long is a pretty standard size. Anything much wider causes you to be too wide from the steer when you come out. On the depth of the box, 16 feet seems to be real user-friendly. You can teach one to score pretty well. Some arenas have adjustable boxes and those can be useful.
On the heading box, it’s real important to offset the back posts so there are no posts behind the horse so he doesn’t bang his hocks on those posts. You don’t want a solid box, you want a bar that will hit right in the middle of the horse’s butt.
If you’re really looking for something that’s user-friendly it should be designed to where you don’t have to get off of your horse. You should be able to work your latches off your horse, the stripping chute and even loading steers.
I do a little special work on my alley coming up into the chutes. I offset a small spacer pipe off the main fence so it makes the alley narrow enough that the steers can’t turn around in there, but yet the steer’s horns can go through there without banging on every post. They can run through there a hundred miles an hour and yet not turn around.
Another thing for me that’s a part of my arena that’s been a big blessing is the Water Wheel. It’s something that does a great job without a whole lot of effort.
The other thing that’s real important is the dirt. I’ve always been a real stickler on having good footing. If you have sand, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have good footing. But a sandy arena where you have about four inches of sand that will pack a little bit is perfect. No matter how many runs you make it won’t get so deep that you’ll strain ligaments or tendons. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be so hard that it’s stressful and hard on their joints. Plus, it shouldn’t get too slick when it’s wet.
When you have really good footing, they’re not going to pull shoes off and they’re not going to overreach. I’m really a believer in having my horses shod right, and then having good footing. If you have those two things, you literally don’t need a whole lot of leg protection for your horses. I encourage people to use leg protection, and you can have all the leg protection in the world, but if you have the wrong dirt in your arena you’re going to start having problems.
I would encourage people, as they’re building their arena, that if they can’t have sandy ground on the place and they have to haul sand in, use somebody who really knows what they’re doing.