People’s horses go bad in the box and out in the field because ropers have inconsistent cues with their hands. When ropers are inconsistent, horses will go bad because they’re dreading what’s about to happen. If you can stay consistent and black and white with your cues, that keeps your horse knowing what you’re asking of him and that keeps him from being confused and getting nervous and hot.
1. A team roping run is set up completely from how you leave the box. Your entire run flows from right there in that corner. In the corner of the box, you can tell that I don’t want to face my horse down the left rail and I don’t want to face him toward the chute. I want to see the steer the whole time I’m leaving. My goal is to have my horse break directly down the center of the box. That way, it puts me in the correct lane to rope. If he steps left, I have room to react, if he goes right, I’m not so far over to the left that I can’t go catch him. It’s just a small adjustment from the center.
2. In the box, a lot of people want to take too much of a hold of their horse or they score loose-reined. When it gets to be competitive, your start is so important. My horse can feel my hand on his mouth, but I’m not pulling on him to a point that his mouth is gaping or he’s uncomfortable. And I don’t have a loose rein to the degree that he doesn’t know when my hand is going to go forward. To be competitive at a high level, those horses have got to be able to leave the box off your hand. When your hand drops, they’ve got to go. That’s the fastest cue there is because it is direct to their mouths. If you want to ride your horse good out of the box, you can’t be relying on kicking, you don’t have time. My horse’s head is straight, I have contact with his mouth and when I drop my hand, he’s going to be moving forward.
Some people like to put their left hand on the saddle horn as a way to keep it still. But your horse’s mouth, head, neck and poll all move when he leaves the box. So then you have to throw slack in the reins and you lose control of his mouth. Instead, keep your hand off the horn, so that no matter where that horse’s mouth goes you can stay right behind it and have a slight hold on his mouth, feel him and keep any cue that you make very black and white.
3. The reason I want my horse standing comfortably—and I’m not pulling him too much so he’s rocked back—is so when I move my hand forward, he can break flat. With his first stride out of the box, I’m able to get my rope up by the time I’m at the mouth of the box because it was an easy stride. You can see that he moved forward because my hand moved forward—not because I just shucked the reins down. I’m giving him his head, but he’s right in my hand and I can feel his mouth. My left hand goes up his neck and I’m pushing him in the direction I want him to go.
4. After I’m able to leave flat, I keep my hand up, pushing him in a direction. You can see my reins are short enough that I’m not hanging on his mouth, but if I need to move that horse, I can have contact very quickly. Moving left or right, my reins are going to hit his neck quickly and I can control him within a six-inch circle right above the middle of his neck. Ideally, I want to be able to stay at the front of my saddle, pushing him to run, but not leaned over my horse. I’m square in my saddle and connected to it, but at the front of it.
5. I think a lot of people put too much emphasis on the roping itself instead of how important it is to have black and white cues on your horse. If you can start your run off correctly, have your horse in your hand and have him leave flat, it’s going to set your entire run up and make a difference on your time and how easy it is for your horse to work. This will keep your horse consistent and keep him from getting so hot because he’s confused.
Photos by Lone Wolf Photography