Controlling the Situation with Travis Graves
Working on position with a Heel-O-Matic.

I always have live steers. I’ll warm my horse up on the machine, and then rope a pen of steers, and then come back to the machine. I like to slow it down and show them you’re not going to go all out every time. I rope the machine nearly every practice session.

The things I work on when I’m on the Heel-O-Matic are slowing things down, positioning, making sure my horse is not dropping his shoulder in the corner and getting him to the same spot each time. I also work on my delivery and getting my bottom strand on the ground.

1. I’m swinging as we head down the arena. The machine is about to make the corner and I’ve got my horse picked up good. I’m using my left rein to keep his nose looking at the dummy. I want my horse to stay real soft in this situation—listening to me—as I’m going down the arena. The corner is just fixing to happen. You can tell my rope is over to the left. As we turn, my swing will come level across the steer’s back. If you tip your swing too far over to the left when you deliver, it’s harder to get your tip under the steer. If you have it pointed toward the dummy, as I do here, it allows it to be level when we make the turn and I can rope on the first hop.

Credit: Photos by Dudley Barker

2. You can see the position and the angle of my swing—it’s starting to level out. My tip is down, pointed toward the feet. As I turn the corner, I still have my horse picked up. He’s bent around and he’s listening to me. He’s in the left lead and I’m just fixing to set the run up. To me, that’s the perfect look I want for the corner. This machine just slows it down. I can have the driver make whatever corner I want, so I know what to expect and how to help my horse. It’s just so much easier to make that perfect corner. If you start that way and build that foundation, when you go to live steers, the horse just goes back to what he knows. It’s just a lot easier for them to see it with the Heel-O-Matic. I’ll have it go slow and fast, then switch it out with different looks. I’ll have it go to the left and I’ll make sure my horse is cowing. Then to the right and I make sure he’ll give me his shoulder and let me move him. There are just so many things you can teach a horse.

3. You can see that my tip is down over the steer’s back. It’s almost like I want my horse looking through the loop. When your tip is down, it keeps you from hitting the steer’s front legs when you deliver. I’m always working on my timing. The steer’s feet are back and I’ll make my delivery on the next hop. My left hand is still picking my horse up and I’m making sure he’s listening to me all the way around the corner. My body posture is also just like I want, I’m basically straight up and down.

4. This is the delivery. This is where I work on my horse’s stop. You can see I have a nice big loop down there, and I’m just fixing to pull my slack. My weight is in the stirrups and I’m sitting down helping my horse get in his stop. My horse’s head is out of the way where I can see the feet. This is something that develops as I work on keeping the horse bent all the way down the arena and through the corner. When I rope the Heel-O-Matic, I try to hang on to my rope as long as I can when I place it. That’s the key to delivering your loop—getting that timing down. You can really work on that with the machine.

5. I got the machine roped and I’m using my left hand to pick up on the horse. My right hand is taking up the slack. That’s another great thing about the Heel-O-Matic. You can dally on it and it’s realistic as far as feeling the jerk. It’s got that spring on the tongue and so it’s not hard on your horse when it gets tight. I don’t do it every time, but it’s good to do it some and get a young horse used to feeling that jerk.

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