Imagine never suffering the embarrassment of breaking the barrier again, or if you're a heeler, the frustration of your header breaking out. Impossible, right? Denny Gentry, the recently retired founder of the USTRC and the folks at Priefert Manufacturing don't think so and they have the technology to prove it.
In its purest form, roping should be a contest that determines who the best roper is. The original string barriers were created (in 1949) to give the steer a head start, nothing more. But today, a roping contest often awards the person who is best at 'riding the string,' or timing when the barrier will open. Furthermore, the string barriers are cumbersome and dangerous. First, contractors must hire extra workers to maintain the string barrier system throughout the duration of an event. Second, the pigtails and snapping string can injure those close to the action, causing liability issues for high-volume contractors. Finally, there's always a chance the barrier is not working properly.
So along came the electronic eye. For safety and judgment reasons, Gentry, while overseeing the USTRC, widely promoted this barrier method to the team roping world. But there are inherent problems with it as well. The primary problem is a margin of error of plus or minus three to four feet; for example: on one run a steer's nose might trip the barrier and the heading horse's chest might be the first thing to cross the barrier while on the next run the steer's chest might break the barrier and the heading horse's nose trips it. Other problems include malfunction, wires strung around the arena and moving the system between runs to work the arena.
So what is best? Neither, they are equally as bad, according to Gentry. "Debating the barrier system is a no-win deal," he says. "The fact that barriers have become such a huge accepted variable in timed-events when our predecessors merely wanted to give the animal a head start is unacceptable. In production team roping, the rope barrier debate is long over and if you believe the three-foot variable in the electronic barriers is unacceptable then we merely need to find a way to give the animal a better head start."
The only solution is to eliminate the barrier. That is exactly what Gentry and Priefert have done with the invention of the No-Barriers chute system, patent pending.
To begin, the No Barriers chute system is a normal roping chute with telescoping lead up section to hold cattle in the "on deck" position. The chute, on rollers, can then be moved out in six-inch increments, up to 16 feet. All this can be retrofitted to the existing chute set-up. Priefert is still in the developmental stages to find the most efficient and effective way to then anchor the chute to the ground.
But to understand why the telescoping chute is innovative, it's necessary to understand how the new barrier system works. The Priefert chute has an electric gate opener operated by a button on the heeler's side of the control box. There are two lights on top of the control box.
In each box, about six inches from the butt bar, an electronic eye shoots a beam parallel to the butt bar. When both the header and heeler are backed into the box, each breaking their respective beam, both lights will illuminate. In order for the steer to be released, the head and, heel horses must be breaking the beams from their respective electronic eyes. At that moment, the header can call for his steer, a button will be pushed and all involved are released: steer, header and heeler. In this system everything starts from a standstill and other than the chute gate opening, there is no mechanical apparatus involved.
"When Denny Gentry came to us with this idea we all thought he was crazy," said Jeff Rash, Sales and Marketing Director at Priefert. "But the more we looked at it, we realized he was on to something."
The perfect start is afforded to every roper. What's more, this new concept completely eliminates the break out penalty. No one can ever break out because the chute won't open unless both ropers are backed completely into the box, breaking the beam of the electronic eye.
"The variable that was never meant to be: barriers, will be eliminated from the sport," said Gentry. "Competition will be based on ropers, horses and steers."
The telescoping chute aspect is important so different score lengths can be set for different talent levels as well as arena sizes. For higher-numbered ropers, the chute would be placed further out, while the less advanced ropers would start with the steer closer.
"Too many of the lower-numbered ropers are more concerned with the barrier than they are with roping," said Nate Priefert, president and co-owner of Priefert Manufacturing. "With this new system, they can just back into the box and go when they're ready."
The implications are many. For one, there is no timing the barrier, a skill only a handful of the most successful ropers have. Furthermore, faster horses will probably become more valuable. However, if a horse won't hold in the box until all is set, a false start penalty could apply. The No Barriers chute system will also create parity, which, hypothetically, could be dealt with by implementing time penalties for necking or half-heading a steer.
Officials at the USTRC are currently testing the product and the Priefert designers are hopeful they will adopt it.
"It really levels the playing field," said Rash. "This gets us back to the way roping originated: the best roper wins."
Gentry defends his brainchild simply: "Currently, when a team backs into the box, one of three things can happen: The first is a perfect start, which doesn't happen very often; second, they can be late and get out-run, or third, they can break the barrier. A broken barrier is basically a no time. If those three options are equal, bad stuff can happen to you 66 percent of the time. But since most don't get a perfect start, let's assume 85 percent of the time something bad is going to happen, resulting in a negative result for the ropers.
"In my chute system, the only negative thing that might happen is a steer sliding back in the box or turning his head just as the header calls for him. But rather than that being a negative for the ropers, it's a positive.
"We're going to tweak this deal, and there will be a lag time while we change philosophies, but it could change the sport forever."