Something that I try to work on—and a problem I see in novice ropers—is not getting in a hurry when the head rope goes on. Novice ropers tend to panic and think: I need to get in there and get to the cow now. There’s actually a lot more time because of the steps that have to happen. The steer’s head has to turn, his shoulders have to come around and then his whole body has to make that turn. After all that happens, there’s still a hesitation once the steer hits to make the corner. There are five steps there that have to happen before that steer actually leaves the corner and the roper needs to be in pursuit of him.
1. My header already has the steer’s head and shoulder started into the turn, and I’m still holding my horse’s shoulders with my reins and trying to stay on the outside of that turn. If I try to cut the corner right there, I spend the whole run chasing the steer and trying to get back into position. By staying on the outside of the turn, it’s like me taking a shortcut to where I know that steer is going to be; where his feet are going to be—which is my target. I just ride around there and I’m able to keep my horse more controlled and meet the steer at the destination. They almost come to me that way.
2. In the practice pen, you can play with how late you can be and still be on time. People get a fear that everything is going to get away from them, so as soon as the head rope goes on they think they need to get in there. In all actuality, by narrowing that distance running down the arena, it makes everything that much harder. By staying in your lane around the turn, you can keep your horse more controlled and at a slower pace. In the process of turning, the steer has to slow down a little bit. As he makes the corner, you can fold around him and as he leaves the corner, you already have the speed matched up. If you’re behind him and chasing him, you’re constantly trying to work to that outside position.
3. You’re seeing the steer take a hard left on this run. I’ve been talking about keeping my width—but where the steer goes, I need to go. That’s the first time this steer has made a hard step to the left and you can see that I’m starting to go that way. To stay in the proper lane, I need to go left there and stay with him.
4. By me moving over—and keeping my width wherever he goes—I can ride the same corner here as I did in the previous pictures. That steer is almost three-quarters of the way turned, but the angle of my horse’s body and the angle of the steer’s body are almost identical. That’s an important thing: staying with the steer, but staying out around the corner. I might be a half a stride further back than I’d like to be, but usually a roper is only one swing away from where he needs to be. I might not heel that steer as fast as I would need to at a rodeo, but with one more swing, I’ll heel him on the third hop—which is a great jackpot run. If I keep riding, and I keep calm through all this, I might cost myself a half a second. Rodeoing, that’s huge, but jackpotting, that’s not that big of a thing.
5. If you’re chasing the steer when you set your heel loop down, a lot of times your horse isn’t collected and ready to stop. When you practice a patient position, you’re always collected and always ready to stop. I’m able to keep momentum with my horse and keep driving him around the corner and keep my swing going and then when I throw, I’m not putting my horse in a bind. The amount of momentum I gave my horse to get into his stop in this picture is why he can stop like this. When you set your horse up to stop, you’re allowing him to help you place your rope on the ground. As I’m setting my bottom strand down, my horse is starting to slide, allowing me an extra split second to stay with my loop and finish the run better.
Photos by James Phifer/RodeoBum Photos