From the time you leave the box, sometimes without realizing it, you are affecting the way you approach your corner, your rope speed, and your horse’s stop. Way before you deliver your rope, having enough distance to see the run develop impacts how you enter the corner and how you see the steer’s feet. All of that requires horsemanship and a horse that’s listening to your body and your bridle reins the whole way down the arena.
1) Leaving the box, if I go ahead and break out wide about 15 feet from the steer I won’t ever get caught up too tight. Leaving wide allows me to see things happening in front of me and see the corner better. That allows me to make judgments as the run unfolds. There are so many variables that can affect choices we need to make as heelers, riding this position allows me to evaluate what’s happening quickly. I’m able to judge what the steer is going to do and how the header is handling the steer through the corner before I ever get into a jam.
2) While I like to be about 15 feet wide, I also like to stay behind the steer’s hip. If I’m too high on the steer, I can ride by the corner or be too close when I’m ready to throw, especially if I’m roping with a partner that really tries to give me a good handle and set up the shot by slowing the steer down. If I’m too far down the arena, I’ll be straight behind him or past him. I won’t be able to see the feet, and I’ll rope an outside leg or have to kick back to him. If I get too far down the pen, I’ll want to pick up on my horse, and then the steer shoots away and then I have to kick back to him all over again. And it messes the whole run up.
3) To get into this position heading down the arena, it’s important that my horse is in my hand. Having my horse in my hand the whole time gives me control. I pick up on the bridle reins and squeeze his body forward into the bit. If that doesn’t happen, I spend more time riding him around. I’ll bit him up to soften his face, and I’ll rope live cattle less and do some slow work with him until he wants to give into my hand. I want him breaking at the poll and keeping his body lifted up. If he’s pushing his nose out, there’s nothing I can do in a run that hollows out his back and puts too much weight on his front end, eliminating a lot of his athleticism. I want him to come up in the front and stay in my hand.
4) If my horse is in my hand, and I’m wide enough coming down the arena, I am able to give my horse his head and allow him to work while I deliver my rope when the steer hits and goes into the first hop. If I give him his head sooner than that, I will usually get too close and lose sight of the feet. If I’ve got a header that is getting out of the corner right away and not setting him up, I can give it sooner. But generally, when that steer breaks over and goes to make the first hop, I give my horse his head.
5) If I go through the motions, break out wide, keep my horse in my hand, and ride the corner right, it sets my run up so I can rope consistently on the same hop. My horse will read the whole situation better if I give him room to see what’s happening and keep everything I do consistent. I’ll be able to take a more consistent shot, so my horse will read the stop. That way, he’ll do the same thing over and over. He’s going to have confidence in what’s going to happen. He’ll be able to read everything better and build a better finish to my run.