The first thing a younger guy needs to do is learn to catch 90 percent of his steers and not worry about reaching right off the bat. I started out reaching, and I had to learn to be more consistent. If you learn to be more consistent first, the reaching will come.
First and foremost, you really need to rope a big-horned dummy. Reaching on little horns can be more forgiving. Big horns make you learn correct angles. It’s vital to keep your swing opened up so your hand isn’t in front of your face. You want coverage, like throwing a baseball or football, so you can cover the horns also with some leverage.
I rope the dummy a lot flat-footed and at different positions. I go one coil back, then two coils back. I change it up all the time. I believe standing flat-footed is the correct way to practice reaching so you aren’t powering it there with your entire body and you’re actually learning to use your swing. While you’re roping flat-footed, you’re learning to measure your rope off—learning where one coil is, two coils is. That takes a lot of practice. Having too much rope out can be sloppy and takes forever to come tight. Standing flat-footed and roping the dummy over and over will help a lot. That helps you know how far away you need to be. I would wear a dummy out for hours and hours at night as a kid, looking like an idiot trying to get it right.
Have the Horse
Nowadays, you have to get all that you can out of your horses because people are riding good, fast horses and reaching. For me, I have to have one that scores really well and breaks and runs really flat. I also prefer a shorter-strided horse for reaching. Longer-strided horses can rock you back and screw with your swing and your delivery. Shorter-strided horses are in time with your swing. It’s so much easier to get up over a short-strided horse to reach.
You need to be really solid with your left hand before you start reaching. Your hand, your horse, your body—they all have to be pushing forward. If your hand is off to the left when you’re reaching, you’ll pull your horse to the left. You take everything out of your delivery if your horse is widening too much when you’re throwing. I’m still learning that. Your horse has to keep running through your delivery.
Proceed with Caution
Do not reach in the practice pen on your good horses. That will catch up with you. A guy has to have a practice horse that he can reach and reach on. You can screw a good horse up by practicing your reaching. If you need to reach on your good horse at a rodeo, that’s one thing. But keeping him working in forward motion in the practice pen is a necessity.