I liked to team rope as a kid but, as I got a little bigger, I loved roping calves and decided to make that my primary event. I don’t pretend to be a professional team roper but, whether it’s at the Timed Event, or when I sometimes fill in for someone who can’t get there at the rodeos, or running down the road to heel a few for my friend and neighbor Cody Snow, it’s handy to be able to catch consistently. So that’s my goal when I heel—including at the Timed Event, where we make five heading, heeling, bulldogging, calf roping and steer roping runs at Rodeo’s Ironman. The strategy I use to stay confident in my catches is pretty simple, and might come in handy for ropers with families and full-time jobs who, like me, don’t team rope all day, every day.
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When it comes to position at the Timed Event and lower-numbered ropings, there’s a fine line between being too aggressive and too much on defense—both of which will get a guy in trouble. At my level of heeling, I don’t try to get too close to the steer or up there by his eye, because I’m not trying to be 4. Instead, I stay a tick farther back and make sure I ride wide enough to maintain a pocket of space between the steer and my horse, keeping my vision of the feet clear at all times. For me, riding that position makes it where I don’t have to make any abrupt changes during the run, and can adapt to what the steer does and go with the flow of the run.
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I use a medium-sized heel loop. If I have too big of a loop, and something happens going fast, I feel like I take more of a chance of catching a front leg on my horse. I don’t want my heel loop to be head-loop-sized, either, because if things get wild, I want to be able to put a big gate down there and just catch.
I like to ride a horse that makes my job easy when I heel. The horse I rode at the Timed Event last year—and plan to ride again this year—was a working cow horse that my grandpa (Dr. Frank Santos) trained as a heel horse. His name is Special, and my grandpa rode the same position on him for years and years before handing him down to my big brother (Lane Karney, who’ll also return to the Timed Event lineup in 2021). Special’s pretty automatic—not too free and not too tight—and perfect to kick around there and rope one on the third, fourth or fifth hop. I need a horse that isn’t forcing me to throw, and lets me throw when I’m ready. That’s Special, and that’s why Lane and I both plan to heel on him at the Lazy E again this year. Lane will also rope calves on Special at the Timed Event again, and we’ve also hazed and steer roped on him.