In less time than it takes to run in cattle, wrap them and rope, I can use the Smarty to get a lot of practice in. The machine allows me to control and create situations based on what my horse needs. The drills you do on the machine should be exercises that truly help you and your horse in live-cattle situations, and the goal of this drill is to keep your horse running to the steer, even if he checks off to the right. This drill involves following the Smarty in a right-handed circle, keeping an even speed and keeping your horse following the cow.
First, you’ve got to be sure the horse you’re doing this with needs this exercise. If you’ve got a horse that wants to follow in behind the steer or is running by, then this drill probably isn’t for him. This is ideal for a horse—like most horses—who wants to get a little tight and anticipates going left.
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Have your driver start a circle to the right. You can start at a walk or jog or lope—in whatever speed you still have control of your horse’s body. In the lope, you’ll want your horse in the left lead, so you might need to start a circle to the left first and figure-eight him over to the circle to the right. It’s not the end of the world if he’s wrong, though. He’ll switch eventually.
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Some people like their horse’s noses tipped one way or the other, but I’m an even-rein kind of guy. Make sure your reins are even, and your horse is listening between your hands and not bending too much either way. I’m focusing on staying to the left and making him use his left hip, using my feet to push him toward the steer. You’ll be tighter to the machine than you’ll want to be going down the arena in a live run, but that’s the point. This is why I don’t do this drill on a horse that wants to run by the steer or one that wants to get back behind the steer in a run.
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Most ropers have trouble roping steers going to the right. So you have to work on opening up your swing a little more because the right horn is fading away. This drill, aside from helping your horse, keeps you up and makes you carry your delivery past the tip of the left horn. After a while, it feels easier.
Once I’ve thrown my rope after tracking the machine a few laps, I pull my slack and keep asking my horse to go forward. Don’t stop your horse and pull it off. I want you to keep loping, building your loop, and following it. You’re not stopping and going—that defeats the purpose of the exercise. I usually rope it three times in a row, head it, pull it off with my hand, keep loping with it, then eventually stop to let him rest for a while. It’s good to do it with two or three people so you can give your horse and your arm a break.
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