Multitasking is an absolute necessity when you heel. It’s mandatory to your success, and it’s also what makes heeling fun, challenging and sometimes hard to do. You need to concentrate on several areas at the same time, and they have to be coordinated correctly for things to go smoothly.
One of the areas of this equation that I find myself helping people with most is how your horse’s stop coincides with your throw. Most of the top ropers are just really in tune with their horses and the timing of their stop. You very rarely see a horse short their throw out or be too free to the point that it affects their throw. Lower-numbered ropers don’t yet know how to make it come out right every time, which is a big factor in their lack of consistency.
A really good horse knows when he needs to stop based on feeling when you’re going to throw, and there are two ways to look at that. Do you just rely on that horse reading your body language as you start out of your swing to throw your loop? You can get away with that more if you’re really roping a lot, and your horse picks up that signal.
There can be a guessing game on both the horse and roper’s part in play, typically more so for ropers who maybe only get to practice a couple days a week. When Jake (Barnes) and I used to rope 80-100 steers a day, our horses were finely tuned into what was going on and the signals were clear.
I’ve also found that you can signal your horse to stop so it’s not a guessing game. You’re riding him, then you pick the bridle up, sit down in the saddle and cue your horse to stop right on time. You’re telling him right now is the time, so he’s not having to try and read your mind. That lets you control how you’re setting your shot up and asking your horse to stop.
This really comes into play with guys who train horses. The last few years when I haven’t been rodeoing, I’ve been riding some young horses for myself. When starting that process of teaching them when to stop, giving them a clear signal is important. You’re helping your horse know when you want him to stop, and that’s an important process for lower-numbered ropers to learn.
The majority of lower-numbered ropers let their horses stop too quick. They ride their horses good until they start thinking about their throw and quit riding. Then that becomes a tipoff and a signal to their horses to stop too early, which in turn results in too much separation and sets off a domino effect that causes the run to go downhill. Others have horses that are too free. They lean forward and turn their horses loose with the bridle. So those horses dribble forward and don’t really get into their stop.
One of the main factors that top-level heelers are keen on is their horse’s stop being precisely connected with their delivery. That’s where the consistency comes from. Their horses aren’t late or early in their stop, but exactly on time in coordination with the delivery and the throw.
If a high-level roper ever feels his horse gets too quick and stops too early, you’ll immediately see a correction. He won’t let that stand, and will correct that horse by squeezing with his legs and asking that horse to move forward after the run. A roper of that caliber knows what that feels like and how to keep it corrected, and he won’t let slip-ups go unnoticed. If a horse is too free, a top-level roper is going to pick that bridle up and back that horse up after the run to get that horse paying attention.
What I see over and over again with the lower-numbered guys is that there’s no correction, and that tells me that they don’t realize the importance of a horse stopping correctly on time—not too early or too late. These are the things you need to pick up on. Because your horse stopping in unison with your throw is what allows you to rope two feet over and over and over again.