One of the main things it takes to be a consistent heeler is the ability to get the right position on a regular basis. After they’ve made lots and lots of runs, the good heelers find that comfortable spot that they learn to read steers from and make the entry into the corner from. It’s something they learn to do that they can repeat over and over again. And they learn to find their positioning under different types of situations, so they can ride in there the same way every time, no matter what type of setup or steer.
Each roper is unique. If you took the top 30 guys and sat and watched them rope, you’d see differences in how each guy rides down the arena. Whether it’s wide or tight to the steer, right up alongside the steer or back a little bit, each guy has a consistent characteristic for where he wants to ride. Being in that spot helps him see the steer turn and how to set up his shot right around that corner.
Some of that is learned from the horse each guy rides. Each horse is different, and needs to be ridden a certain way. A guy will learn to ride that horse, then later in his career when he has to quit riding that horse it sometimes takes awhile to adjust to a different horse. That takes some adjustment, to either teach the next horse to do the same thing or to adjust to a different horse’s style.
That time of adjustment can be tough, but you need to learn to ride other horses. No one goes an entire career on one horse
The position I ride has changed so much over the years because I’ve ridden so many different horses. I went through quite a few horses the first 10 years of my career, so I had to adjust my position riding to fit each horse. I did a lot of experimenting with different positions during that time.
When you’re rodeo roping, you try to get to the same area every time. But one horse will want to cut in a little more and have a little more stop to him, the other will be a little freer. Whether a horse can really run comes into play, too, as does your partner’s horse. When your partner’s horse isn’t quite as good, you have to ride a different position to make up some time and rope faster. There are so many factors that come into play when it comes to picking your position.
Fifteen years ago there weren’t as many tough teams, so you wanted to form a really consistent team. The heeler was the strong part of the game, because if you could be consistent on the heeling side you could dominate.
Now it’s switched. Jake and Tee (Woolman) changed the game, where the emphasis started to be on the header; that the header could dominate if he did things better than everyone else. In the last 15 years or so, the headers have really emerged, and it’s basically a header-dominated sport. There are lots of heelers who can catch and rope two feet every time.
Roping’s evolved so much. Every part of it has become so advanced. It’s not that the ropers are so much better, it’s that there are so many more of them. There used to be 15-20 decent teams out of 50. Now there are 50 or more really good teams out of 100.
Everybody’s looking to get an edge and an advantage-headers and heelers-and 50 guys are riding right up there high and firing away on the first available shot. It makes it tough, but it’s still a game of consistency. It’s still about putting together runs that are in control but just hitting the edge of the envelope. You’re pressing on that edge, but not to the point where you’re going to self-destruct. That’s where Speed (Williams) and Rich (Skelton) have dominated the last seven years. They’ve been fast and consistent. They’ve put the two elements together. And there are other awesome teams out there, too.
When I first started rodeoing, you rode in toward the head of the steer, blocked him off and turned in at the shoulder of the steer. The header pulled him by the heeler, who went a few jumps and roped him. Long 6s were good runs. That’s what won the money in the Leo and Jerold (Camarillo) era.
Mike Beers started riding the higher position and getting a faster heel shot. I learned to jackpot and rope consistently early on. When I wanted to speed my game up, I needed to change my position.
I learned a lot of that from watching Mike, which includes keeping a shorter left rein, keeping my horse’s left shoulder up and opening up that corner, to give me a faster shot.
The last 10 years of my career I’ve been on one horse (Ike). I’ve ridden him a certain way for the last 10 years, but now that he’s getting older and I’m trying to get another horse to take the pressure off of him, I’m going through a little bit of that process again of trying to find the right horse that will allow me to rope not only fast but consistent. Probably the hardest part of this game for a heeler is being at the right place at the right time every time. It takes an awesome horse to be able to do that for you. The right horse can make it totally easy, and the wrong horse can make it so hard. You have to have a great horse to be able to rope great.