Everyone has different ideas about how to handle steers. Heelers have different preferences, which explains why certain teams work better together than others. Their styles just fit together. What kind of run you’re trying to make also comes into play. If you’re trying to be really fast, you don’t have as many choices, because you’re sticking it on him and getting out of town. If you’re in an average, there’s more finesse to it. In that situation, you have to do everything you can to help your heeler.
I’m very conscious of my handles, and I apologize to my heeler when I mess one up. Some headers don’t believe in handles. They have that “he was loose when I caught him” attitude. I can’t understand that way
of thinking, because team roping is a team effort. The only heeler that fits that program is a heeler that’s really aggressive and likes to throw fast; heelers that like a fast corner. That’s a faster shot, but the consistency tends to fall off.
I can tell by the way I’m handling a steer and how my heeler goes into the corner whether he’s going to catch him or not. Just the rhythm of the steer and the approach of the heeler give me a pretty good idea about what’s going to happen. You can see that timing come together. As I’m pulling a steer off, I’m not watching the heeler. I’m watching the steer’s hind feet to make sure he has an easy rhythm with a nice hop to him at a moderate speed. My theory is that steers are easier to heel with a nice rhythm than if they’re blasting out of there out of control
Clay and I have roped together so many years that he knows how to read what I’m going to do in every situation. That explains why our rhythm and timing are so good together. We’ve just roped so many steers as a team that we know how the other guy’s going to react, regardless of what happens. I don’t try to make the adjustments for him. You overcompensate a lot when you try to do that and can end up making things worse. If his approach is a little bit early and I can see he’s in a little bit tight, I don’t speed up for him. The only adjustment I’ll make is if a steer starts trotting, I’ll speed my horse up a little to try to get him to hop. If my heeler’s really late, I will try to hold up in the corner and wait for him-
if it’s obvious he’s not going to be there.
The steer basically dictates the handle. So much of what I’m talking about here has to do with the type of steers you’re roping and the kind of horse you’re riding. If I’m trying to make a fast, 4-second run, I don’t want my horse to use his hind end as much to slow the steer down. On the other hand, if I’m at Salinas or the BFI or Wildfire, I want the type of horse that helps me set the run up more. I run in closer, and when I rope the steer I make my horse stay in there and slow the steer’s momentum down before I turn him. That allows me to keep the run under control.
You have to understand how cattle operate. The slower the steer, the less set you’re going to have. Those kinds of steers will typically check off and slow down when you rope them, and a lot of times get heavy and drag or trot and shuffle. You need to keep a slow steer moving through the corner to get him to hop and not allow him to set up or get heavy.
On a medium steer, you start using some finesse and your horse to break down the steer’s speed before you make that corner in order to soften the corner. You don’t want steers to stall and die in the corner, either. When you’re running a fresher, faster steer, you have so much speed built up that when you rope him your horse wants to turn off. A steer like that will tend to slingshot out of there if you don’t really break him down in the
corner and use your horse to slow him down. Control is the key to consistent success on fast steers.