Stop Splitting Horns with Clay Tryan
What causes headers to split horns and how to prevent it.

Splitting the horns makes me the most mad out of any miss. If I split the horns, that means I’m not even close. If I wave it off, at least I had it on them. I’ve missed every way possible, and I’ve gone in funks where I split the horns, wave it off, all of it. And sometimes, I’ll miss different ways on certain horses. But figuring out how to make adjustments when this starts to happen is part of stepping up your roping.

1) From teaching schools and watching ropings all these years, I could watch someone rope the dummy and I could guess how he’s going to miss. Or even if I watch a roper catch a steer, I can usually tell how he’ll miss when he does. It’s something you can see after years of doing it. All ropers are different, and what works for some doesn’t work for others. But being aware of what happens when you do make a mistake and what happens when you are successful is really critical. It’s all a matter of inches, so having the awareness of what separates catching from not catching is really crucial.

2) There are a bunch of different ways to split horns. If your swing is too open, meaning you turn your rope too far over to the right, it’s too long a way to cover the left horn. People do that all the time. If I have too open of a swing and turn my hand over too early, I need to move my swing closer to my face and turn it over more in the center of the steer’s horns or more toward the left horn. Where you turn your rope over is where it will end up.

3) If you bring your hand too low to the horns too soon, that’s another way that causes splitting the horns. Your top strand has to go over the top of the horns. The bottom goes over the right, top over the left. If you come down too soon, your top strand won’t go across the horns. If the steer has some cow horns and they go up, and you bring your hand too low too soon, there’s no way you can make that catch.

4) On the horse side, if your horse is running too tight to the steer, in behind them, you’ll split the horns. You’ll want to move your horse over a little bit and finish to cover the left horn. The position you ride and your horsemanship is so important. I talk a lot in my videos about the lane you need to be in riding to the steer. If you’re in what I call lane two, you’re set. But if you’re behind the steer, you need to make some adjustments to keep from splitting the horns. If your horse is moving in behind the steer, it’s the same as the steer going left really hard. You have to really make your follow-through go past the left horn.

5) If I’m struggling, I try to work it out on the dummy or in the practice pen. The trickiest part is the summer time, when I don’t get to practice on steers a lot because I don’t have enough horses with me rodeoing. So I’ve got to figure it out on the dummy. I usually work on what I feel like I’m not doing well enough at the time. I might rope behind the dummy, too wide, and in the right spot. Say I’m having trouble splitting the horns, I’ll really focus on tightening my swing up and keeping everything above the horns. Gravity brings it down, so I need to trust what I know. Roping is a matter of inches. It is harder than we think it is. A lot of catches barely go on and a lot of misses barely miss.

Bonus Horsemanship Tip:
I think if you’re leaning over too much, that can be another reason you split horns. That will naturally bring your hand lower. Everybody does something a little bit different. I have two kids who are roping, and I tell them different things. You have to mix and match. One guy leans and it works for him, one guy leans and that’s why he splits the horns. If you’re leaning, that could be your problem. Watch more tips at

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