John Fortier, from Wild Rose, North Dakota, won the Win A Day with Walt Woodard contest, brought to you by MetaLab and The Team Roping Journal, in the winter of 2019. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the event was put on hold until May 18, 2021. Fortier and nine of his roping buddies gathered at Fortier’s home arena in North Dakota to learn from two-time World Champion Heeler Walt Woodard the basics of team roping and horsemanship.
Here, Woodard breaks down five common heeling challenges.
The first thing about heeling, and the hardest thing about heeling, is getting in position and staying in position for a series of swings before you throw your rope. Great position going across the pen happens when the right side of the horse is parallel to the side of the steer and the tip of your rope is over the middle of the steer’s back. Your horse’s nose is at the head of the steer’s tail.
2) REIN LENGTH, NOSE AND BODY CONTROL
You can have your right rein shorter to have your horse’s head to the right. That way, you can keep your right leg in your horse and swing to the left side of your horse’s head. Your horse should never side pass on the track of the steer [or dummy]. Don’t let your horse move over after you deliver.
3) SWINGING OVER
After you get into position, you have to have a series of swings before you throw. People struggle with that. As soon as they get to the steer, they take one swing and throw. I couldn’t ever figure it out, but now I think it’s because you think to yourself, ‘I might not ever get this close again. I better get me a shot now.’ But it doesn’t give you enough time to think of the next step. You’ve got to have time to think about what you’re doing.
4) MIND GAMES
Did you think about your swing? Did you get your tip through? Did you look at the target? Were you in time? Did you back off? Did you think about anything other than, ‘There he is; shoot him.’? Get to the steer and stay in position with a series of swings so that you can think about your delivery. Heeling is hard to do, but you have to have some more time.
People always say that their horses stop when they get to the steer because they lean, like that’s a universal command for a horse to stop. Next time your horse starts bucking, lean over and see if he stops. That is a ridiculous concept. The reason your horse stops is because you throw in the same place every time. As soon as you get to the steer, you throw. That teaches your horse to get short and eliminates your chance of success in most runs.