You have to kind of learn as you go how to be in the right spot at the right time when you’re heeling. Being aware of the type of cattle you’re roping and the type of setup you’re roping in is important, because it all changes if the steers are a little fresher or the chute is over toward the middle of the arena. A lot of factors come into play when you’re deciding how much of a haze to give each steer. These finer details might not seem like a big deal when you start roping. But when you start trying to make money roping, you start looking at these little things a little more. Because all the little things added up become pretty important.
The more a steer has been roped, the harder it is to influence what he’s going to do, because he has his pattern and he’s not afraid of you. If you’re in a situation where the roping chute is close to the right fence and the cattle have been roped quite a bit and want to get over to that fence, then it becomes harder to keep them straight. Those old steers will come right up against you. In that case, you might have to holler at them. If you aren’t coming from behind a barrier, you might want to jump out there quicker so they react to you before they react to the header, and keep them pushed over there where you want them. This steer is trying me, and it’s making it harder on David Key.
Your horse has to be broke enough to where you can maneuver him to get to the spot you need to get to in order to put that steer where you want him for your header. You need to have the option of doing what you need to do in each situation, whether that means jumping out there and being aggressive or hanging back a little. Sometimes that means working your horse in the box, with or without a steer, so he starts paying attention to you and what you’re wanting on each run. Your horse has to be manageable and controllable, so you can do what you need to do.
Sometimes I’ll ride my horse in and out of the box when there aren’t any cattle loaded. I’ll score him and make him break off of my hand. I hold onto him, then when I release him he breaks and runs. I isolate that without a header or a steer as part of his warm-up. I’ve seen some significant improvement after doing that. My horse listens to my hand so I have control of him. It’s a communication process between you and your horse. A broke horse understands your communication.
You need to evaluate each scenario when deciding how much haze to give a steer. Consider the arena setup, type of cattle and what you’re trying to accomplish. Then make a game plan on how you’re going to haze the steer or if you don’t want to haze him in that situation. When the arena is set up so the cattle want to go to the left, the heeler should keep himself out of the equation so you give your header a chance to make his catch on a straight-running steer. It’s tricky, because you don’t want to be late when that steer is turned, but you also don’t want to mess up your header by pushing that steer too hard to the left.
If you know a steer wants to go hard to the right, your job is to get a great start and be out there in a position to hold that steer straight. In that case, you have to be totally aggressive so you don’t get beat to the right and take the header out of position. A good head horse wants to be ready to turn the steer off, so a steer going to the right is a tough move for him. Everything’s going away from the header, and the horse is wanting to stay ahead of things so he can take ahold of the steer and turn him off. A steer going to the right becomes one of the hardest shots, because the steer’s getting further away from the header.
Talk to your partner. I’ll tell my partner what I’m planning on doing, so he’s on the same page and I don’t surprise him. As a heeler, you want the steer turned for money. You’re over there to help out. There are so many people who rope good these days that the heeler’s start comes into play a lot. The more you work at these things, the better edge you have. And sometimes it’s that little edge that’s the deciding factor. STW