Time to Change? J.D. Yates Talks Old-School vs. New-School Starts

Is it time for J.D. Yates to change his horsemanship? He thinks maybe so.

Yates riding the 5-year-old Slick By Design son Probably By Design at the 2022 Royal Crown in Buckeye, Arizona. TRJ File Photo/Jamie Arviso

There are two schools of thinking on the start: The old-school method, where your horse is rolling from the corner, full-speed to the cow; and the newer style of throttling across the line. I’ve always preferred the old-school style, and I still haven’t figured out how to throttle effectively. But to play the game today, I’m going to have to learn. 

J.D. Yates’ Old School Scoring

I personally don’t like to reach, so, when I release off the corner, I want to drop my hand and have my horse running full-speed to the cow. I want them full blast. Back in my day, when I headed all the time, the scores were longer, so you wanted to get full run off the back of the box. I give everything to them.

That’s probably the reason I broke the barrier on the second [steer] at Cheyenne in July with Jake Long. I sat there and got a really good start, knowing I had to be 9.0. I saw what I wanted to see, and the guys behind the box said, ‘Yeah, yeah!’ They thought I was getting out. But I didn’t throttle at all. That’s just never been who I am—to throttle. But I’m still going to have to learn some things and change some things with how my horses work and how I ride to do that.

One thing that might have to change: I always have held the horn leaving the corner. Even when everybody was packing their ropes at the Finals, I was still holding the horn. There again, that’s habit. I think if I learn to pack my rope or hold my rope to get it up, I might need to learn to balance on the reins because I wouldn’t have the saddle horn to pull me to the front of the saddle.

I think that’s another reason some great headers balance on the reins and can throttle so easily, because they’re not pulling themselves to the front with the saddle horn. They pull themselves up with the reins, and I can see that—am I talented enough or smart enough to get it done? I don’t know; I try hard and I have a lot to learn. I want to be mad sometimes when I see them do that because, man, I thnk that horse could really run. But maybe I’m the one who needs to learn. They know they have to get forward to come with it, and I’m still waiting for my horse to get there. 

New School

Guys who reach, they will pull across the line and go a little earlier and have them lean on their hand as they come up. Now, the scores are shorter and the cattle aren’t as big and they’re reaching more. Headers have their horses pull them across the line where they can stand up and throw 30 foot of rope. 

Today, at the World Series, you want them pulling on you and almost taking off at the gates and hesitating a little across the line if you need to. It’s a completely different game for these horses, and I’m training a lot of horses that will end up at the World Series with their owners. I don’t think a lot of horses that are great World Series horses make great rodeo horses, because they want to leave the box too quick. But, some of the great horses adapt, too. 

The ropers are incredible as far as how they score today, but I’ve had to change a lot. One of the reasons I want to go to ropings and jackpots is that, at my age, I want to compete against the best guys in the world and try to stay sharp so, when I do compete against the young guys who are roping all the time, I feel capable of having the chance. 

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