My horse has to score and be flat. If he doesn’t do that, it will mess the entire run up. For me, there are no gray areas in scoring: either he does or he doesn’t. I want him scoring to the best of his abilities. If he scores, I should be able to hit the barrier. If he leaves flat, I should be able to get to the front and rope the horns sharp. If he rocks me back or I have to pull in any way, it affects the entire run—from my throw to my handle.
I need to have control of my horse through the corner so I can get that steer’s head to slow him down as much as I can through the corner. That makes the heeler’s job a lot easier. I have a 9-year-old son who heels at home and if I can go through my whole run with him—rope the horns, slow things down enough and still keep the steer hopping—so he can come in there and heel, then I know when I head one for a #10 he can catch two feet. If my 9-year-old can catch two feet, so can a pro, so that’s what I work on. If I can keep my horse wide and catch the horns, it just really gets that steer’s head and slow the horse down and handle the steer so he is just out there bouncing, to me it’s the perfect handle. If I don’t have any control of my horse, it’s not going to be a good end result for my heeler to do his job.
The slower the better. Martin (Lucero) and Brad (Culpepper) and I have talked about it. We broke it down, and it’s like water skiing. You know when a man is being pulled by that boat and the boat slows down and turns, the skier still goes the same speed? If the boat goes the same speed and turns, it’s going to make that guy go twice as fast. If you rope your horns, stay wide and slow your horse down—unless the steer is dragging—that steer will be out there with a nice little bounce. That makes it easier so your heeler won’t slip legs. If you don’t need them to haze, they can catch up and make a really fast run. Slowing down is actually faster. The slower the steer is going—but continues to hop—the better. The heeler doesn’t have to ride so aggressively around the corner, he can just let his horse get free inside and place him. If you can do everything in the run and when you dally, slow down to where you can still keep that steer hopping, the heeler shouldn’t miss.
Once I’ve slowed the steer down, kept him hopping and made it easy for my partner to heel, I make sure that when I go around the corner I never lose control of the steer’s head. His head is connected to the tail, so if that steer’s head goes right, his tail goes left and my partner is not going to have a chance. I just stay to the inside of the steer so the steer is going around me. Then when my heeler ropes, I have still have control.
Most of the guys I’ve been heading for lately can tie off fast, so after that I just have to get my horse facing. Once I see that steer’s feet go back, I just kick him with that right spur and he’ll face. Nowadays, people are leasing cattle and they don’t want them dallied on, so they’re not practicing the face. I work on my facing on my Hot Heels. When I’m home, I log my horses with it. I might take two or three good laps and the next lap, at a long trot, I make them get around and pull that Hot Heels back-ward. If they can’t pull the machine going backward, they’re not going to be able to face. You can do it with a log or whatever, but the nice thing about a Hot Heels is when you face, it’s still coming to you and it makes that horse have to work really hard to keep the rope tight. Nowadays, when 4.7 is winning first and 5.2 is winning last, that’s a crucial step.