In my book, you have offensive roping and defensive roping. There’s a scenario every time you back in the box, and you’re either going for it and trying to win the round or a one-head rodeo, or you’ve put yourself in the position of just having to hold onto your lead to close the deal. Circumstances dictate everything from your game plan to the size of your loop, which is also impacted by the size of the steer’s horns and whether you’re planning to reach or run in close.
I always have multiple ropes in my bag of different weights and stiffness. If I draw a steer with bigger horns, I’m going to pick a heavier rope with a little bit more weight to it. People sometimes make the mistake of gauging and picking their rope by its label. But the rope companies tie ropes differently according to season, and there are slight variations based on everything from that to how broke in they are to the weather.
My personal preference most of the time is the firm end of Classic extra soft ropes. When I’m rodeo roping and have to make a fast run, I want a firmer rope with a little more weight to it, because I’m probably going to have to reach. I’m also going to use a little bit bigger loop, because that gives you more range. Using more spoke in that situation gives me more distance and lets me throw further, which at the one-headers is almost always mandatory to have a chance to win anything.
I also go look at the steers, including horn size, when I get to a jackpot where I’m trying to put several runs together and am roping more defensively. That way, when I go saddle my horse I can pick out the rope that makes the most sense for that kind of cattle.
If the steers have tiny horns, I’m going to get a little softer end of the extra softs and use a smaller loop. If you use a harder rope that has a lot of body to it in that situation, your curl is more apt to hit the steer in the left shoulder and bounce off, even if you don’t pull your slack. I’m going to run in closer, get in a good, comfortable spot to get that steer on a short rope and give my heeler a good handle, especially if the steers are fresh and wild. Riding closer position also prevents some of the wave-offs that are more likely if you ride wide.
Some people say one size fits all when it comes to loop size, but I disagree. A big loop around small horns gives you a lot of slack, and increases the chances of waving it off. On the flip side, I want some insurance and a bigger loop to make sure I have enough rope to get around both horns on big-horned steers.
I’m also not afraid to rope a steer with small horns around the neck. My banker tells me that’s a good idea, and it’s just the logical thing to do. And unless you’re trying to go really fast and have to duck out of there, there’s no reason you can’t handle a steer right with a neck catch.
If I decide to rope a steer around the neck, I’m going to use an average-sized loop and run in there closer with a steeper angle on my loop. Junior (Nogueira) used to joke with me to “just aim for the neck and if you get the horns, it’ll be a bonus.”
If you watch the rodeo reachers, you’ll see they come across there with a big loop. And when they’re average roping, they shorten their loops up, get steers on a shorter rope and try to lead them around the corner to set the run up.
People who don’t feed their ropes obviously need to start with bigger loops than those of us who do. That can be a disadvantage if you start out with a bigger loop on a hard-running steer, because big loops are harder to swing. It’s hard to start with a perfect-sized loop every time, so the ability to feed your loop as the run develops is really important.