I’ve helped a lot of people with their roping for a long time now. One of the things I stress to all my students is the importance of setting specific goals for every single practice session, so you make the most of your time and actually get somewhere and get better. When you go to the practice pen, there should be a list of things you want to work on, whether it’s horsemanship, scoring, timing, handling steers or facing your horse.

What you’ll find—regardless of whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, advanced or top-dog type—is that the more specific you get with what you’re going to work on improving, the better chance you’ll have of making progress.

So many ropers go to the practice pen and go through the motions of making runs without being disciplined and focusing on specific parts of their roping they want to improve. A lot of ropers get home from work, then run out and rope a few while drinking beer and BS’ing their buddies before it gets dark. That’s fine, as long as you lower your expectations to sync up with how you’re going at it and just want to rope for fun.

But if you’re doing that and you’re also frustrated at your lack of improvement, you might want to consider changing your ways and making even limited practice-pen time as productive as possible. Serious athletes in all sports—including team roping—take their training seriously.

Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been a fanatic about roping the dummy since I started roping. I rope a lot by myself these days, so I still do that. I rope machines and slow steers a lot also. I score a lot of steers, too, since I’m always practicing to get the most out of my horses in addition to myself.

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Don’t rope too many cattle that are strong and fast in the practice pen, or you’ll wreck your horse. If you make horses score perfectly, run hard, face sharp and go at it full contact every time, they’ll burn out and start making mistakes. I practice on a lot of older, slower steers to try and get my horses to relax. I don’t want them to be chargy, and slower cattle teach horses to score and rate better, and like their job more.

If you take a hot-rod horse that has a big motor and run big, strong steers over and over, his blood pressure will get high and it’s likely to turn into a fight. A practice horse that you don’t plan to jackpot or rodeo on—a utility horse that allows you to work on your roping, practice your reaching and make fast runs for yourself—can be very handy and helpful.

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But when it comes to the horses you do plan to compete on, your practice has to include a high percentage of horse training. Please also don’t make the mistake of making too many runs on a young horse you’re trying to bring along. That’s a recipe for flairing tempers for horse and human, and will likely result in one that’s bad in the box, doesn’t want to rate and pulls too strong.

Roping really is supposed to be fun. Try and keep it that way for both you and your horse. And don’t just go through the motions. Practice with specific purpose, and work on your mental edge while you’re at it. Because when you put your name down, put up entry fees and they call your name, the game changes.

The Importance of Goal Setting with Jake Barnes

Set scenarios when you practice. It’s short-round time at the World Series Finale, and you’re high call. If you haven’t been in that situation yourself before, you’ve surely seen it live or online. Imagine what that might feel like. A lot of people get their skirt blown up pretty easily, because they don’t work on their mental toughness. That’s a big part of the game, too. Practice being in those situations, so when you do step on a big stage somewhere you don’t take your eye off the ball and you’re able to go execute the play—just like you do it in the practice pen.

We all love to rope, but it’s not all fun and games if you want to get better. Work through your frustrations, and put in the blood, sweat and tears. There’s no time like the present to write your next chapter. 

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