Being Ahead of the Game with Patrick Smith

To be successful, it’s about being ahead of the game, not chasing. When we’re ahead of the steer and ahead of the game, we’re waiting on them to do what we want instead of just trying to catch up and make a shot. That’s why keeping the pocket is important. We set everything up so we’re ahead of the steer before the corner even starts.
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Each horse’s speed and stride varies, but a common rule of thumb is to keep six to eight feet of distance between you and the steer’s tail. That’s what I call the pocket. If you let that pocket collapse, there is no possible way to see your target. It’s amazing to me how many people who heel, when they’re done, tell me they never could see the feet. The reason for that is they let their pocket collapse. If you can’t see what you’re throwing at, your odds of catching are going to go down.

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Now I have moved into position to throw my rope. But I never got too close to the steer where I couldn’t see the feet, nor did I ever have to pull on my horse to back him off for being too close. If you have to pull on your horse, it will cause you to raise the tip of your rope. You can see how the angle of my rope is over the middle of that steer’s back. Your tip has to be over the middle of the steer’s back before you deliver your rope because that angle is the same angle you need for your tip to go in between the front and back feet. If your tip is too high or too flat, it’s just that much farther you have to try to get that bottom strand on the ground. But if you point your rope down, it’s already pointed in the direction your delivery is going to take it.

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This is another angle of the same thing. You can see the importance of my rope being pointed down and how I have made that corner and kept my distance. This shot demonstrates how I have stayed to the inside and I can see both feet clearly. It’s so much easier for a heeler to do his job when he can see his target.

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I’m in the middle of my delivery now. You can see that my horse is beginning to stop and my loop is placed on the ground. Now that separation will begin to happen as my rope hits the ground—not before. Because I never got too close or covered my target up, I was able to stay fluid through the corner and not have to speed up or slow down. The less changing in heeling, the better. There are already a lot of moving parts, so the more fluid we can stay the better. Since I’ve set everything up, all I have to do is finish the run, making sure I deliver my rope completely and place a big loop on the ground. It was easy because I never lost sight of my target and I was prepared when that shot presented itself.

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This is a different angle, but it shows the proper position again. Everybody talks about position, timing and delivery and those things have to work together for a successful result. The steer’s feet are off the ground, I’m positioned where I want to be with my horse and my delivery is all the way to the ground. All that starts back in the corner with my pocket. If I get too close, I lose my timing and my momentum through the corner because my horse will have to slow down and speed up.

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