Heeler's View: How to Make Reaching Work with Shay Carroll

Headers get plenty of coaching on their reaching. Here’s how heelers can make the hard shots work.

Jamie Arviso Photo


I’ve found myself in two situations that require reaching more than I like. The first situation is if I must ride to the end of the turn at a rodeo, and I don’t cut across and I’m farther behind. I hit the turn at the right spot, but I hit it late and the steer is way out in front of me. I’m OK with reaching when I do that one because I’m riding to a spot, and I know I have to hit that spot to hit the first shot off. All of the top headers right now want their heelers to leave the steer straight, and that naturally puts me a tick behind.

The other time that I have to use it is when I get to the turn too soon, I’m in there too tight, and the steer leaves me too fast. Instead of gradually letting the steer out in front of me, my horse gets short, and by the time the move hits he’s out there in front of me. I’m not OK with that. I’m good at it because it’s all I did for a lot of years, but it’s not my favorite shot at all.

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When I’m heading, I can simply drop the first coil in my hand, letting it go into the throw. Heeling, if I let that coil go, my loop won’t stand up. So to gain that distance that I need to reach, I feed my hands together to make my loop bigger, but as I throw, I pull everything out of my left hand so the coil goes from normal-sized to shrunken down around my hand. All of that distance is between my hands, so I still have to keep the tension between them.

On my last swing, I’ll pull everything out of my left hand, but the coil is still there—it’s just shrunk. I’ve gained a whole coil to reach with and I have the distance tight between my hands so when I do set it down it stands up.

Learn when reaching works and doesn’t work on the head side

This was our first steer on the second day of the Lone Star Shootout, and you just can’t miss that one. If I don’t take that shot, what are my options? Four more swings and I’m out of the roping? If the steer is getting away from me, I’m going to have to kick over him and heel him on the sixth shot. Taking this shot kept us in the roping. | Jamie Arviso Photo


The loop will enter differently, because the farther away I get, the flatter my loop will come into the feet. Reaching, I have to break the top strand on the hock and leave it flat. You know the argument about delivering with your hand flat or shaking hands? If I were to deliver like I were shaking hands, it would catch too much bottom from right to left and I’d slip a leg.

In the past, I always delivered with my right hand just like I did in this photo. After I went to heading, I deliver like I’m shaking hands. But if I get in a bind, I need to have this shot, with my hand in this position, in the bag. I view it like different golf clubs in your bag. This isn’t a shot I’m trying to make, but at the same time, I have to know how to do it at some point. 

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