It’s interesting to listen to each person’s view on the important factors to becoming a successful heeler. For me, several things are important, including being able to ride position, having a good swing and delivery. But the most important component throughout my whole career has been timing—seeing the rhythm and the jumps—and trying to make a play on the steer when he’s at the most vulnerable point in his stride, which is when he leaves the ground, and roping him before he hits the ground again.
Roping is a game of timing just like every other sport we played in school as kids. Basketball, tennis, baseball, ping pong—anything with a bouncing ball requires good timing. There’s a time in every sport to make a play—to hit the ball or make the play on the bounce. That’s how I look at heeling.
As the steer’s running down the arena, he has a running stride. When the header ropes him and pulls him into the corner, that stride changes. It puts the feet together and actually makes the steer easier to rope than when he’s running and his feet are apart. When the header pulls the steer into the corner, it opens that stride up. The bouncing ball right then is making the play on a jump and being able to see it—hop, hop, rope.
Timing is the name of the heeling game. It’s also the fun of the game, and the challenge of the game. Success requires us to be able to react as heelers to what we get from the header’s turn. We need to process it in real time, make a plan, then make the play with our loop from the time the steer leaves the ground to the time he hits the ground again. That’s the cool part of heeling, and the part that really counts. If you don’t work on the ability to do that, then you’re pretty limited on how far you can go with your heeling.
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Another aspect of timing is timing the corner with your horse, and judging your distance from the steer. That’s a relationship between you and your horse that’s a timing factor. Being able to be at the right place at the right time in the corner, and to have everything come out correctly distance-wise throughout the corner and in the first few hops as he leaves the corner is crucial.
The ability to ride your horse to best handle the setup is also a timing issue, as is the timing of your horse stopping with your throw. You have to fit your horse’s stop into the equation, as well. You’re coming with your loop as your horse is starting to get into the ground. Then he’s completely stopped as the steer goes into the loop, and it all comes together. Your horse can’t be dead stopped as you start to throw or there’ll be too much separation.
There has to be a correlation between roper and horse to fit the stop, which makes the timing of it all sync up to where it all fits just right. That’s what allows you to be consistent. If you allow your horse to beat you all the time with his stop, you aren’t going to be able to get the loop to its destination without separation affecting it too much to be consistent with it.
Listen to Clay O'Brein Cooper on The Score HERE.
It takes quite a bit of work and practice to start to perfect these timing elements in heeling. No one perfects it all overnight. It takes lots of runs, some analyzing and some understanding. You have to do it a lot to get a working feel for what needs to take place, so you can create that pattern and do it every time.
It can’t be hit and miss. A 50% catch rate is not going to cut it. You need to get that catch rate up into the 80s and 90s. When the very best ropers run 100 steers, their catch rate is close to 98 or 99%. The best in the business have cracked the code. They’ve figured out that when you do things right, you can catch every time.