Leo “The Lion” Camarillo timing a steer behind Tee Woolman at the 1980 BFI, which they won. | Brenda Allen photo
In the beginning, I actually wanted to be a header, and was having some success heading when I was 10-11-12 years old in the junior-senior and local ropings. Then my stepdad (Gene O’Brien) made me start heeling. He wanted to go to some of the bigger ropings and couldn’t heel, so my heading days were over.
But even at that age, I was studying both ends. And when the big-dog professional ropers would come through—and we’d go watch them rope at big events like the Riverside (California) Rancheros 8 Steer—I knew timing was a big deal.
I could see from a very young age that the best ropers’ loops entered into the catching zone at a very specific time, and at the exact same time every run. It was just a vivid picture in my mind.
At that time, about half the guys who roped good stalled their swing and waited for the next jump to come before they let loose of their loop. That’s how I started trying to time steers, with that stalled, slowing-up method, where you’re looking ahead and pulling the trigger on the second jump. Leo (Camarillo) hung it a little bit, but could also time steers with his swing. And he was the icon.
Leo was the best of the best at that time, so I was really keen on watching how he did everything. The next guy who was a real hero to me was Don Beasley. I got to head for him at some of those junior-senior ropings, and he never missed.
As I was starting to learn to heel, I would ask my mom to take videos of Don. Then I’d watch those super-eight projector films on the wall. Don didn’t stall his loop. He had the ability to synchronize every swing with every jump the steer took. It was just like jumping a rope, where there’s one revolution per jump. Watching that told me that going one jump for one swing was how he could rope 40 steers in a row and not miss.
When you stall your swing, you’re taking power off of your rope. You also signal your horse that you’re throwing, so he gets a little stoppy. That never happened to Don Beasley.
I started trying to perfect that timing, and it was a game-changer. Winning the Junior World Team Roping in Oklahoma with Eddie Green (Rickey’s cousin) gave me confidence that precise timing worked.
I’ve listened to a lot of theories, observed and studied roping all my life, and I’ve always said the key that unlocks the door to heeling is timing. Timing is what took me from being just kind of average to being a pretty good heeler overnight. By the time I was 13–14–15 years old, I could hold my own in our neck of the woods in Southern California. And that’s where a lot of the toughest team ropers in the world came from.
When I got my driver’s license and started traveling to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and encountering all the tough ropers in all the different areas, I still saw some hanger-stallers, and a few that could time steers one swing for one jump. It always seemed like the one-swing-one-jump guys had the edge on the hangers and floaters. When they put that swing right in rhythm with the jumps leaving the corner, those were the guys who could rope two feet all day long and had an advantage over all the rest.
To this day, one of the hardest things for me to teach is timing. Some people see it and do it naturally. Others have to really figure it out, because it’s confusing to them. At the end of the day, the elite group of heelers—the top echelon of 8s, 9s and 10s—have the ability to throw at a specific time in a steer’s jump virtually every time right on the mark.
As you move down the line, a 7 is a pretty good heeler, but just not quite as sharp in the timing. As you move down from there, the timing issue is again a big part of what separates levels of heelers. The ability to throw at the right time is the main separator. TRJ