To Dally or Not to Dally?
It seems like a no-brainer—if you can tie on instead of dallying, why wouldn’t you? But the answer isn’t quite as simple as it looks on the surface. WPRA elites Jackie Crawford and Kelsie Chace break down scenarios when tying on fits, and when it doesn’t.
Jackie Crawford

A Time and a Place

Arena size, cattle speed, and horses are all factors women and senior heelers can use to help determine whether to dally or tie on.

“I’ve missed out on a lot of big money because I couldn’t get my dally,” Chace, a four-time Women’s Professional Rodeo Association world champion and 5-Elite heeler, said. “I team roped in high school and college rodeo and I had to dally, so after school, when I started going to the all-girls, I was still dallying. It definitely cost me more than once.”

On the flip side, Crawford, a 17-time WPRA world champion, said tying on has occasionally caused her to slip a leg or get a slower flag. Crawford, who started heeling tied on and has changed her roping game to include dallying as needed, agreed with Chace and said one set up they both prefer to dally in is at the WPRA World Finals.

“At the WPRA Finals, we typically rope slower cattle in a narrow barn with big concrete walls,” Crawford, who is a 6 on the heel side, said. “When I only have one or two hops before my header is into the wall, I am going to dally instead of tying on. In that set up, if I am tied on, my header is probably going to have to not only pull that steer down the wall, but then face into the wall and get us tight while I am just holding my slack hoping I don’t slip a leg while we wait on the flag. If you can dally in those kinds of set ups, you make your header’s already difficult job a little easier.”

Joe Stricklin, a 62-year-old 4 heeler and veterinarian, opts to tie-on most of the time because his reactions have slowed with age, he said. But when cattle are slower and bigger, he will occasionally go the dallying route.

“Sometimes in the lower-numbered ropings with bigger, older cattle, I will choose to dally,” Stricklin said. “Not often, but sometimes your headers can quit pulling and you’ll slip a leg waiting to come tight, so in those scenarios it’s easier to dally.”

But not every roping is in an indoor arena with easy steers. Without hesitation, both women said they always tie on at the Windy Ryon Memorial Roping.

“At the Windy Ryon, the steers are strong and the arena is great big and wide open, so even if I am tied on, we are going to come tight as soon as my header faces because those steers are moving out so fast anyway,” Crawford said. “And it is a four-head average, so I am not about to chance getting a no-time because I couldn’t get my dally.”

Kelsie Chace tied on at the Windy Ryon | Dudley Barker

Stricklin agreed—stronger cattle in big setups make tying-on the way to go.

“You don’t worry about your hands as much,” Stricklin said. “It takes out part of the equation. If you’ve got strong cattle and they’re running harder, it’s easier.”

The final factor that comes into play is the horse they are riding. If they have a horse that will slide on his hind-end and keep his front-end moving, Crawford and Chace feel confident in their ability to dally. If the horse tends to be a little short or does not have much slide to his stop, they both tend to tie on.

“The mare I heel on most of the time doesn’t have a lot of slide to her stop, so if I know I am going to want to dally at a roping I have coming up, I really work on keeping her freed up in the practice pen and on the dummy leading up to that roping,” Chace said.

Not All Are Created Equal

If you flip through a roping catalog, you might get overwhelmed with the many different options of tie-ons you can choose from. Crawford and Chace both rope and put on roping clinics for a living, so they have been through every tie-on in the catalog and have some advice that might save you time and money.

“In my opinion, there is no harder hit than a heel horse who is tied onto hard and fast,” Crawford said. “That horse not only has to stop the steer, but often the momentum and weight of the head horse too. It’s hard on them and I have hurt some really nice horses because of those hard hits.”

Before finding the tie-on both Chace and Crawford use now (Easy Now by Chute Help) that is designed to absorb some of the shock and give in to the jerk a little bit, Crawford decided she was not going to tie on anymore and only dally because she did not like the way it was making her horses sore.

“My horses were just getting so short and brace-y in anticipation of that jerk, and I don’t blame them. I can tell you I will never tie on solid again,” Crawford said.

Chace also pointed out some of the first tie-ons were actually just horn knots, which were not only really hard on your horse, but could also be dangerous.

“I have seen some pretty bad wrecks where someone is tied on solid and they can’t get loose from the steer after the flag has dropped. The new quick-release tie-ons, and especially the ones that are designed to be better for your horse, are really easy to get off when the run is over,” she said.

Stricklin doesn’t like to tie on in practice, and often uses a breakaway-style tie-on to get a realistic practice in. The long-time veterinarian agrees with Crawford and Chase—too much tying on can be hard on a horse’s front feet.

Remind Your Headers

Even if you are using a quick-release tie-on, it’s never a bad idea to remind your header before your run.

“Things happen and even if your tie-on has released easily all day, it’s always better to be safe than wind up in a wreck. Just ask your header to keep their dally until you get your rope released,” Chace said.

It’s a Choice

There are risks associated with tying on and dallying both, so just because you can tie on doesn’t mean it is always the best way to stop the clock. Both Crawford and Chace encouraged ropers to work on their dallying skills in the practice pen so if they found themselves at a roping where dallying would shut the clock off faster, they would be prepared to do so. 

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