Some heelers tend to keep to the outside coming around the corner. That’s their style, and how they like it. Others want their horse to get to the inside as the steer squares up in the corner, so they’re on that left side and can see him clearly on the right side. The style of how you ride position is a personal preference, and there are pluses and minuses on both sides.
I started heeling pretty young, and I was watching and studying it before then. I didn’t really think about my position in the corner all that much in the early stages of my roping career. Most guys back then tended to get to the inside, and maybe even a little more to the inside to where they blocked ’em off. They used the old saying, “block and tackle.” Leo and Jerold Camarillo—who were the best heelers of that era—used that style to ride position.
I can still see runs in my mind of Leo riding old Stick in the corner. It seemed like he would aim for the flanks or that last rib on the steer, and as they squared up, he’d be in there kind of tight. He’d let the steer start to move away gradually, and it was one-two-boom—make the shot. It was a very consistent style.
When I started traveling a lot, and watching some of the younger guys, one I paid particular attention to was Rickey Green. He wasn’t afraid to ride to the outside and almost ride by. He was coming with his shot with the steer well to the left of old Cowboy. Rickey was kind of Helter Skelter, live by the sword, die by the sword. But that was just Rickey’s personality—to try and win first every time.
Another guy who impressed me from the first time I saw him when I was in my teens was Mike Beers. He rode that outside position out there to a certain point, but at the very last second let his horse make the move to the inside right at the right time. It was a precisioned, calculated way to ride the corner.
As that steer squared up and left the ground that very first hop, Mike’s way of riding the corner had him in a spot for a quick shot. If the first hop didn’t look good, he could keep his horse moving and still have a good shot on the second hop. Sometimes Rickey’s style of being a little bit too high left him with only one shot, but Mike’s style was a little bit more forgiving.
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This all evolves as time marches on. I adopted my jackpot style from watching Leo, Jerold and Walt Woodard, who rode inside position. But when I transitioned into professional rodeoing, I thought Mike Beers’ style was the way to go, because it opened up the opportunity to rope the steer fast, but was also fine-tuned enough to give you a choice between the first, second or third hop, if you did it right.
That’s the work part of you and your horse dialing that corner in, so you’re on the same page. It separates you from the rest of the competition. No matter what kind of spin you’re getting, you’re in the right place at the right time and can close the deal by roping that son of a gun by two feet as fast as he can be roped, both fast and consistently without mistakes.
In our younger years when we were going into a new breed of guys like Rickey, Al Bach and me, it was about maximizing your opportunity by the way you rode your horses. If you look at the top guys then and now, they all get to the inside at the right time.
I always loved to watch Rich Skelton ride his corner. He was just so good at being in the right spot when the steer turned back. Some guys are just naturally good at riding the corner. Others have to work at it relentlessly to get to that very top level of heeling that gets you the best headers. You’re not going to get those guys if you can’t ride your corner to set up a good quick, consistent shot. The best guys have it dialed in and make it look effortless.