One of the questions people ask a lot is, "What are you looking at on the steer, and where are you looking during different points in a run?" A lot of ropers want to know where I'm looking when I'm running down the arena-whether it's the steer's legs or horns. Then they want to know where I'm focusing with my eyes when I make the turn and when I'm delivering my loop. The different guys who rope really well have some different answers to these questions. Not everybody goes at it the same way, but each person finds a focal point that helps him.
I've experimented with where I look and what I focus on during a run. I don't really even think about it anymore. What I usually do as the steer leaves the chute is watch his head. That helps me read his direction and where he's thinking about running.
I usually watch the head loop go on. I get a lot of read on the development of the run as I'm going down the arena. I'm paying attention to the head horse, the header, the loop being thrown by my header, his slack and dallying. That all gives me information on what the steer's going to do. From making lots of runs over time, you pick up the ability to see little things. A lot of it comes from your peripheral vision, which allows you to take in the big picture. Even though my eyes are focused on the head of the steer, as my header's making his catch and going to the horn, I'm reading all those little things peripherally and factoring them into the equation.
When I see the head rope go on, my eyes start to drift down the steer's body toward his hind end. Because I'm on the outside at that point, before I cross over to the inside I have a clear view of the outside right leg of the steer. My eyes go to the steer's right flank area just before the turn and in the turn. As the steer squares up, my eyes drop down into that area. I can't tell you that I pinpoint an exact spot on the steer, but I'm gathering information on how that steer is being handled in the turn and trying to detect his rhythm.
The timing of my being able to deliver my loop to the feet at the right time depends on an overall view of the picture of what the steer's doing. Even though my eyes are on the right flank area, what's giving me information is what I see, again, more peripherally than an exact spot. Being able to see the whole steer, the legs, the way the steer is moving in rhythm and the surface of the ground where I need to bring the loop into position-all of that information comes from being able to see the whole picture.
As I start to make my delivery, see the shot that I'm going to take and start to bring my loop out of my swing and into the delivery, I still see the whole picture. I'm focused on watching my loop come in, the bottom coming along the surface of the ground and the tip coming through the feet. I'm focused on watching my loop to see what it's doing. That gives me the timing of when to bring my slack up. I'm watching that process all the way through. If the steer swings away from me or shoots away from me a little quick as I start to lift my slack, it tells me I need to come back to the horn a little sooner. If the steer stays up off the ground a little too high and long, I know I have to keep my slack up a little longer before going to the horn or I'll lose legs.
It's good from time to time to really focus on pinpointed areas, when you're roping the dummy or the lead steer or a machine. But when it comes to making live runs, being able to put your eyes on an area but also being able to gather information out of your peripheral vision gives you the ability to store those runs that you make and you start to be able to identify little things that are about to happen before they happen. You can do this because you've seen these things before and they're logged into your memory bank. You have to practice seeing it that way first. If you don't see the whole picture enough times, you'll have tunnel vision and will lose a lot of helpful information by being focused on just one spot.