Reacting to What Arises in a Run

There’s a definite domino effect in any roping run. Basically, the header has to react to what the steer’s doing and the heeler has to react to what the header does. If I rope a steer and duck out of there, my heeler better get to the inside because it’s going to be a sharp corner. If I rope a steer and hold my horse in to smooth out and slow down the corner, my heeler better hold his horse’s shoulder up and wait until the steer gets around the corner before he releases or he’ll end up on top of the steer.

The header sets the tone of the run, and the heeler has to react and do whatever it takes to adapt to the header’s moves.

If you get a velvet handle and the heeler cuts the corner too much it can also mess the handle up by making the steer drag or get heavy. It’s like reading your option. If you understand how cattle react to certain handles, you can play things into your favor.

There’s an old saying that if you don’t have a good left hand on you you’ll have a hard time becoming a good roper. The left hand basically sets up a run. A run has to be in control, and the left hand’s in charge of that. This applies to headers and heelers. It’s basically passed on from the header to the heeler.

To be an effective header or heeler, you’ve got to have total control of what you’re doing with both hands. They both have their separate identities, but they work together.

If you just totally focus on roping the steer, your position’s going to suffer on either end. You’re basically going to take whatever the steer presents you, whether he’s up underneath you, off to the right or whatever. When you let that happen, you have to rely on your hand-eye coordination, and need to learn to rope when you’re out of position.

If you’re trying to be consistent, you’re in trouble if that’s how you go about it because shots taken from poor position are much lower percentage shots. With the position I have here, there’s no way I can miss this steer.

The more experience you get of controlling your run in the practice pen-whether it’s steer stopping, tracking or breakaway roping-the better. They all go hand-in-hand. As you approach a steer your biggest concern is catching him, but in your approach there should be just as much concentration on your position as your roping.

The better, more automatic your horse is, the less concentration you have on position and the more focus you have on roping. That’s what makes the seasoned veteran of a horse perfect for a beginner.

Green horses or chargy horses usually don’t agree with novice ropers. A beginner hasn’t developed the skills of coordinating both hands simultaneously to control his or her position and rope at the same time.

Learning to read cattle on your approach is important, too. If a header doesn’t read that a steer’s slow and overruns a steer, you’ll set the steer up. You’ve got to recognize that situation fast and react quickly. Pull back and take your fast shot. Don’t run by your shot or set the steer up.

The whole concept of this game is to maneuver the steer in the portion of the arena where he’s the most vulnerable. That’s when he’s either running straight down the arena or breaking over to the left slightly, and that’s where most of the money’s won.

You give the steer the edge if the heeler lets him run to the right fence. When that happens your ropes are more likely to collide and there are more waveoffs. If the header does get the steer caught it’s natural for the steer to hang on the fence and the heeler to cut the corner, which makes the steer get heavy. (Fortunately for Clay’s partners, this never happens.)