There are a lot of moving parts to master when we’re learning to head and heel. That’s what makes roping so challenging, fun and addicting. To make progress, we have to learn big things and little things. In the beginning, the process evolves around learning the fundamental big things, including position, swing, timing and delivery. As we spend time roping, and studying the guys who are doing it really well, we start drilling down to a lot of little things within those major components. And as we dive deeper, we start to perfect those details that are key to overall improvement.
This sport we all love so much is action-packed. The gate cracks, and the header and heeler battle for position while working as a team to conquer the equation of making the best possible run and doing it consistently. It all goes back to training yourself to react to all the little nuances that happen during each run. Every steer is different—little, small, slow, fast, how he travels down the arena—and the traits that make him unique create different angles.
The very best guys in the world work hard all the time on their roping and staying on the same page with their horses and partners. Lots of repetition results in a successful pattern. A lot of people get frustrated with the amount of time it takes to get good at team roping. You need to give yourself a break, and recognize that syncing up so many moving parts and elements takes time.
Headers have to learn to adapt to the different sizes and shapes of horns on steers’ heads, and how to throw the type of loop that works on each steer. They need to learn to ride the right position, whether that steer’s off to the left or over to the right, and how to adjust their swing angle and delivery to compensate for what’s happening in real time.
It’s the same on the heeling side. Some steers are moving fast and lively. Others are heavy, hanging back on the rope and barely coming off of the ground. The adjustment of what you need to do with your delivery every time you make a run is what you have to train yourself to do.
Ropers trying to improve and climb the ladder need to realize that none of this happens overnight. It’s the same in every sport, and it’s easier if you start really young. You see the Tiger Woods videos of him swinging a golf club when he’s 3 or 4 years old on YouTube. Tiger went through all the developmental stages, too. By the time he got to college, he’d been drilling down on the details—including the mental aspect of the game—and competing for 10 years. By the time he got his PGA card, he had 15 years of experience under his belt.
You see the same thing in team roping. Improvement takes a ton of hard work and study, and a lot of nights going to bed thinking about how to figure out whatever little struggles you’re going through, so by the time you wake up the next morning you can’t wait to implement that plan in your head and overcome where you failed the day before. Those little increments of learning and growth are what get you to that next level.
The people who become the best at what they do become fanatics. That love and desire to conquer is what it takes to get you in that practice pen. And that’s what it takes to excel in anything you do. You have to absorb yourself in it.
Looking back on the process of how I learned and my career—40 years of whipping and spurring and going at it—nobody ever had to tell me to bear down and try harder. It was just an absolute passion. My mindset was, “This is what I’m doing, and I’m not going to be denied.” That drive was just there.
If you’re at that crossroad of wondering how you’re going to make your dream happen, please just realize that you’re going to have to dig in and work. And it’s not going to happen overnight. That’s the decision and sacrifice made by everyone who’s successful at anything.