“Safety first” is a smart old saying that applies to team roping, too. As fast as things can happen in the arena, it’s easy for ropers of any age to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Kids can be in harm’s way and not even know it. Sometimes lessons are learned the hard way. But when that happens, they tend to last a lifetime.

Roping accidents don’t just happen to beginners. I lost my thumb in the heat of National Finals Rodeo battle. I had a bad head injury when my horse fell practicing for the NFR, and had to have a knee replacement because I’ve lived my life on the back of a horse. But some roping-related injuries are preventable if we use common sense and take smart basic precautions.

Stupid is Scary: Safety First with Jake Barnes

I still sometimes catch myself doing things when I know better. Riding a horse on pavement—which is slicker than glass—is not smart. If there’s ice or anything else that compromises your horse’s footing, get off and lead him.

If you have a horse that’s broncy or cinchy, don’t get on him when he’s cold-backed and humpy. Saddle him and tie him up awhile, lead him around or put him on a hot walker before you get on. Getting bucked off will get you hurt. That’s why I always have the owner run some steers on a horse I’m trying first. If he’s going to buck, because the seller didn’t disclose all of his bad habits, better that it’s not with me.

What Makes People Winners with Jake Barnes

When you’re tying a horse up, be careful with that lead rope. If you have it wrapped around your fingers or hand, you can lose body parts in the blink of an eye. Even a horse that doesn’t pull back can jump sideways without warning if a plastic bag blows by. I sometimes see kids draping the lead rope over and around their necks when they’re leading a horse, and it makes me cringe.

When you’re leading your horse to the trailer, don’t throw your rope bag over the saddle horn. I’ve seen so many wrecks, where that rope bag spooks a horse, he goes to spinning and knocks the person leading him down. Even just a rope hung over the horn can get caught on something and cause an accident. Don’t get me started about how my heart skips a beat when I see people put little kids on horses they’re leading, with a rope on the horn. If something unexpected happens, that horse spooks and that kid falls off and gets hung up in that rope, the wreck is on.

Another pet peeve of mine is ropers riding their horses around in halters. If something scares them and they run off, you have no brakes. I saw a young kid horseback the other day rope a dummy and dally. When that dummy moved toward him, that horse spooked, the kid fell off and that horse took off dragging that dummy through the parking lot. There’s no telling how many people could have been taken out by that little stampede.

I sometimes see people roping other people from their horse. Years ago, a kid got dragged to death that way. Don’t do that. It’s not funny. And by all means, please always shut the arena gate behind you when you’re riding and roping. One time in Colorado, a header leaned over to take his rope off of a steer, fell off and his foot went through the stirrup. The arena gate was open, the horse ran off and the guy got dragged to death outside of the arena.

I headed a steer for a student who was tied on recently, and as I started to turn him, the guy’s horse blew by me bucking. The horse started to turn in, the guy fell off and his right arm was through his loop. The poor guy was laying on his back with the rope cinched down around his arm. His horse started to drag him. Luckily, he stopped when we yelled, “Whoa.” At least when the gates are closed, you have a better shot at getting a horse stopped or cornered.

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A few more friendly reminders: Sharp pocket knives aren’t just for calf ropers. Don’t rope in tennis shoes or lace-up boots. Don’t drive when you’re tired. Better safe than sorry is just smart business. 

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