Body position is something that’s really overlooked when it comes to teaching and working on your roping. We talk about horsemanship and roping, but we don’t understand how much body position has to do with horsemanship. I’m as guilty as everyone for getting after my horse and being disappointed in my horse, only to study the video to realize it was pilot error. Ultimately, we spend all this time training our horses to respond to buttons we push, and we don’t realize we’re pressing these buttons in the middle of a run.

[Read: 12 Things Anyone Can Master to Become a Better Roper with Patrick Smith]

Patrick Smith holding his slack up in the air; Luke Brown preparing to face.

Point 1

From the swing in golf to the quarterback’s throw in football and the free throw in basketball, position is everything. But somehow, it gets overlooked a lot in roping. It comes down to this: the less change in your body from the time you leave the box to the time you deliver, the better. There are scenarios when you have to deviate, but in the ideal run, you have to focus on where your feet are, what you’re doing with your left hand and where your shoulders are. Watch the videos of yourself and honestly evaluate what you’re doing throughout the run. What do the professionals do with their shoulders in comparison to the target?

[Read: Being Ahead of the Game with Patrick Smith]

Luke Brown setting the corner; Patrick Smith coming into the corner on the heel side.

Point 2

Think about when you rope a dummy or a sawhorse on the ground. You don’t get your shoulders cocked in your delivery. The less change you show your horses, the better horseman or horsewoman you’ll be. You’re eliminating the mistakes you make when leaning one way or the other or rocking forward or back. 

Patrick Smith heeling

Point 3

You can work on it if you’re roping a goat on foot, trying to mimic what you want to feel like in a run. I spent a lot of years of my career working on that because I knew how crucial it was. My loops were better and my horses worked better if I maintained better body position. I’ve gotten into bad habits from time to time, and it’s a constant battle. It always needs to be on the front burner. We get caught up on the horse and the rope and we forget about us.

[Read: Keeping Your Team Roping Horse Looking Good with Patrick Smith]

Luke Brown and Patrick Smith

Point 4

I’ve always liked to teach that forward is good. Good heeling happens from the front of the saddle. But leaning? Leaning changes all of your angles. You squeeze your horse when you lean. Your left hand is no longer lifting if you lean forward. When you lean, it also changes the angle of your swing and takes it away from your target. I see a lot of heelers leaning left going down the arena. Their horses will shoulder in and get tight in the corner, then they’re pulling or rocking back to throw, and neither of those situations end well. Remember, though, that you don’t want to be so mechanical that you’re stiff and square in your saddle. Stay in the center of your horse with your body smooth and round, making a smooth and round corner on your horse.

[Read: Developing a Good Stop with Patrick Smith]

Luke Brown and Patrick Smith leaving the heading and heeling boxes.

Point 5

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Headers stand, score and leave the box as hard as they possibly can across the line. For a heeler, you can ease off the back a little bit more. I might let my horse start and then pull a little. Sometimes I’m rocked back or too far forward. Ultimately, the steer dictates how fast I’m leaving the corner. So no matter what the situation, being in the middle of the saddle is most important. Being in the middle is where you can position your body as your horse gets into position so you can set up all your fundamentals before the corner starts. You’ve got to have a good foundation with your body position so all those hours you spent roping the dummy aren’t going to waste because you’re pressing the wrong buttons with your feet, seat or left hand through the corner.

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