It’s that time of year again, when it’s all about roping fast. Having to rope fast is usually because the setup-the arena conditions, the score and the cattle-make it so you can rope fast. Under those conditions, you have to rope fast, especially where the pros compete day in and day out. Roping fast is dictated by the conditions. What most people see is the NFR (Wrangler National Finals Rodeo), where all the elements are lined up for it to be a very fast setup. Naturally, you have to be fast to win under those circumstances. There are certain things that have to happen in a run, no matter if you’re trying to be fast or just trying to catch. There are just certain fundamentals that have to be followed in order to win consistently.
In order to rope consistently fast, you have to have an understanding of the basic principles of consistency, which include position, control and the ability to react to how the run is shaping up. Having said that, and assuming that a header can go set up 10 good, solid runs and a heeler can get in position and heel 10 steers by two feet out in the middle of the arena, the next step is adding speed. When you start trying to speed things up and make your run right out in front of the chute, you still have to operate around the same principles of position, control and reaction.
The more you speed things up, the quicker you can get out of control and the lower your consistency rate. When I really started working on my rodeo roping, I had to start changing my practice over to making rodeo runs and working with my header to familiarize ourselves with roping as fast as we possibly could without either of us losing control.
The challenge is to be able to rope fast and do that at a high percentage rate. That’s when your winning ratio really rises. No matter how fast you can catch, if you can only make one successful run out of 10 tries, you’re going to starve to death.
Getting there takes practice and breaking it down. The header has to be able to rope fast, but still be able to set up a good, fast shot for his heeler on a consistent basis. That’s why it really becomes a header’s game at the top level. He’s the quarterback who can set things up to be fast and easy. If he can’t do that, it’s an uphill battle.
With each era, the times keep changing. When I came in (to the PRCA), the guys who rodeo roped the best were Leo and Jerold Camarillo, Walt Woodard, Allen Bach, Denny Watkins and Rickey Green as far as the heelers to emulate. The headers were Tee Woolman, H.P. Evetts, Julio Moreno and David Motes. Then Jake (Barnes) and I came in, and Tee and Jake’s style turned the trend and stepped it up to be a little faster in the way they set runs up. Speed (Williams) came along after us and took it up another notch with the way he can reach and still keep things in control. Now more guys are starting to figure out what he’s doing that’s so successful and making it possible to be quick on a consistent basis. It all has to be mimicked and practiced over and over in order to become proficient at it. That’s quite a sacrifice. It takes lots of steers, lots of practice horses, breaking it down and analyzing both ends. It just takes a lot of runs.
Learning to rope fast takes a lot of time, patience and money. A lot of horses, cattle and practice sessions go into it, so there’s a price to pay to get it done. There are a lot of newcomers-younger guys coming in with the resources to achieve that and earn a spot at the National Finals. But there are still a lot of the older guys out here, too, who’ve been getting it done for a long time. We paid our dues years ago by making lots and lots of runs, and going through lots of horses and steers. You have to love it so much that that’s what you want to do and that’s your goal. I learned most everything I do today by watching and trying to mimic the things I saw that worked, and eliminating the things I saw or tried that didn’t work. I’m still a student of the game. I analyze it every day. It’s still fun and rewarding. Roping is still what I love to do.