How to NOT Lose Legs
How to not lose legs when you're heeling with seven-time World Champion Clay O'Brien Cooper.
Clay O' Brien Cooper

From time to time, everybody hits a little spell where everything feels pretty good and you’re roping your cattle, but you might lose a leg here or there. It’s kind of a frustrating pain, because everything feels good and you’ve roped the steers, but then they get out of it. What’s really irritating is that it’s usually for money. You had both feet, then they got away. Several different things can cause you to lose legs, and a guy sure wants to figure it out before it costs him too much money.

Clay O’Brien Cooper in 2005 when this article was originally published in Spin To Win in 2005. | TRJ File Photo

The first place I check when I start losing legs is to see if I ‘am going to the horn too early. Maybe my horse might be a little short, and just about cutting my throw off at the end of my delivery. That provokes a response from me to try beat him back to the horn instead of holding my slock or making my horse be in a little better position without that cheating, sudden stop, You need to concentrate on your riding a little more to get past that.

Another thing to look for is if you’ve been practicing some really fast runs and develop a rhythm and habit of doing things fast and trying to cut corners. That’ll develop a response of not lifting and holding your slack as long as you need to to keep both feet in the loop. These are disciplinary things, but if you can make yourself do them it’ll pay off. You can’t keep cutting corners at every turn or pretty soon, you look up and can’t catch or keep what you catch-everything goes haywire because of small little details that cause mistakes

I’m never one to blame my header for anything that goes wrong. I always look at myself first. But occasionally something happens that makes a header face too soon, maybe because his horse quits him early. If a header faces too early or makes a sudden direction change and moves over to the right as you’re delivering and going to the horn, it can cause you to lose legs.

Just because the steer jumps in the loop and you lift your slack doesn’t mean the run is over. If you’re really smooth in the way you set your run up, deliver your loop, lift your slack and how you proceed when you go down to the horn, and proceed in a smooth rhythm throughout all that, you’ll very seldom lose a leg because the loop will stay up good and won’t drop. But if you come up quick and then go down quick, it’ll put a wave in your rope, and that wave will have time to get back down to the steer and suck your loop in a downward motion that’ll cause you to lose a leg or even both of them. You need to stay in the rhythm of how you delivered your loop.

If you lose a leg here or there and have good communication with your header, your header will usually talk to you about it. It’s always nice to realize it wasn’t something you did wrong after all.

Sometimes if your rope is too stiff it can cause you to lose legs, depending how you bring your loop in. It seems like loops that come from the top and back toward you as you deliver are less likely to come off. That angle stays on better for some reason, whereas a loop that’s coming more from the side in a scooping motion tends to come off more because the loop’s already turned under. That also affects how well that loop’s going to stay on the feet.

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