The secret to getting consistent heel shots? Patience and practice—and getting set up for that second hop.
When I started out, the emphasis for heelers was on consistent catching. The elite ropers of that era I grew up in were the guys who could rope two feet every time all day long. Back then, there wasn’t really an emphasis on being fast at it. Some guys would hit the corner and throw. But they weren’t the ones who left with the money most of the time, because taking higher-risk shots made them more hit-and-miss. The guys who got where they needed to be, made good shots every single time and caught all their cattle were the stars.
There are stages of development to this concept and virtually all aspects of roping. I started out junior rodeoing, then jackpotting and amateur rodeoing. I then joined the PRCA , got my card (1981) and learned how to rodeo rope. When I was jackpot roping, there was an art to where you wanted to be to set up a jackpot-style, consistent shot. As I started to move into rodeo roping, it became a whole lot more critical to be in the right place at the right time.
Patience is a Virtue
Part of what I learned early on at the amateur rodeos was that I needed to be more patient, and not rush in and overdo things trying to be fast. Just because you were at a rodeo didn’t mean trying to be too fast to the point of missing. Learning how to slow things down, gain more control and not run over myself was the more successful play.
When I was competing against the Camarillos, Walt Woodard, Allen Bach, Denny Watkins, Rickey Green and all the top guys when I turned pro, I started to learn by watching those guys how to better hit my corner. With more rodeo roping, you become more accustomed to being in the right place throughout the run. You get more of an awareness and a feel for it.
It’s critical to learn that, because being at the right place at the right time is what gives you the ability to close the deal and rope two feet as fast as possible—first, second or third hop. If you mess it up and aren’t where you want to be, you have to go another jump.
I started trying to be in the right place by the second hop. If you watch the top ropers in the world today, 99 percent of the shots taken are on the second hop. Riding that corner correctly and maintaining good position in the corner helps make that consistency possible.
Want Consistent Heel Shots? It’s All About the Second Hop
Sometimes you’re in such a good position and the steer handles so good that you’re presented a perfect shot on the first hop. And if everything is just right, you take it and can be really fast. But generally, headers have some rope out and are going left trying to make things happen fast. So it was my goal to be in the right spot when steers took that second hop. That let me be consistent with my positioning, and when the steer left the ground on the second hop, I had a high-percentage shot to pull the trigger on.
Other guys who roped in my era were more helter-skelter.
They tended to ride further down the arena, and only go for the first hop. They took shots even when things weren’t right. But that’s not as consistent as being where you need to be in any run and every scenario, where you can hit the right position every single time, no matter what happens.
[READ: Corner Position: It’s Up to You]
The top heelers who have the top headers are the guys who ride the best position and are the most consistent ropers. They know how to ride that fine line just right, and be in the right spot and position no matter what kind of run develops. They have learned to have a knack for being in the right spot at the right time.
One thing to always remember when it comes to being in the right position no matter what scenario you run into is that this is team roping. Being on the same page as your partner is a big part of it, as is being mounted on a horse that fits your style. The bottom line is that the only way to get good at it and get it all dialed in is to make lots and lots of runs. There are no shortcuts to success.