See the Hop Sooner with Jim Ross Cooper
How to get faster as a heeler

The big question I get from buddies or people who come rope with me is: How do I get faster?

As a heeler, you can’t control the quickness of a run. You might be able to control tenths of a second, but at the professional level, the seconds are controlled by the header. So, if you get ahead of yourself, you’ll cost yourself more than you’ll ever make up by trying to speed up. On the heeling side, being fast should always take a back seat to consistency. If you can be more consistent, you can always start picking it up a little faster. We’re going to be as fast as we can, but if we catch more of them, we don’t have to be as fast on a single steer. There are a lot of little things that I don’t think people are necessarily aware of, so here are some of those little things that will help you get faster.

1. My eyes are on the target.

I’m looking at the steer’s hips or feet as he leaves the box. I’m not looking for the head catch. A lot of novice heelers—and even a lot of us pros if things aren’t going well—are watching the head catch. I relate everything to sports and I’ve heard about [National Basketball Association point guard] Steph Curry getting his eyes on the rim as soon as he can once he catches the ball, and that’s kind of the same premise here. You need your eyes on the target as quick as you can.

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2. When you’re trying to be fast, a lot of guys are hunting the corner with their tip and their bodies.

What they end up doing is leaning to the left as they come around, because they want to quicken things up and get there faster. But you can’t cheat the balance of riding your horse when the steer’s starting to turn. When you do, you’ll just rope an outside leg. When your tip starts to get lower and you come around there leaning, you lose all your range. I like to keep balanced coming around there—and I’m still watching the feet.

3. My biggest problem, along with many other heelers who you’ll watch, is when I’m wanting to be fast, I ride my horse real fast into the steer instead of keeping some distance.

In this picture, you can see my tip is over the steer’s back and I’m not leaning and my tip’s not pointing at the ground, which would take my range away if something crazy happens. The best heeler I’ve ever seen at doing this right is Jade Corkill and I’ve tried to pick it up from him. You can’t be consistent when you can’t see the steer.

4. Al Bach is a believer in seeing a good hop, and then roping one. I think this is the most important thing I want to emphasize.

You’re not necessarily trying to rope faster when you want to be fast heeling, you’re trying to see the hop you’re going to rope sooner. Amateur or novice guys will see the steer turn and then start getting ready to throw. On our level, we don’t have that luxury. As the steer is starting into the corner, we’re watching that timing and picking our spot right about then, if we’re really going to be fast. I used this picture, because you can see I’m really opening up right there. I’ve seen one good hop and he’s coming out of it. At this moment, I’m about to start my delivery.

5. You can’t take any shortcuts to being fast.

Trying to be fast, some heelers won’t hold their slack and they’ll lose legs or their headers won’t know when to face. This shows that the fundamentals always stay the same. If you hold your slack up, the steer won’t pull a leg on you. I’ve always been taught that a header should begin to face when he sees the heeler pull the slack up. This keeps the team working together and it helps you get a better finish so you won’t lose as many feet.

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