This month, I would like to share my observations on the changes in roping steers over the last 50 years. I believe the present-day steers are different in a number of ways from the steers we roped back then.
The first difference I will address is the genetic makeup of the steers. I believe there was a significant dairy-breed influence in Mexican (i.e., Corriente) steers in the past. You could see this influence in the color patterns, conformation and attitude in those old Mexican steers. Holstein, Guernsey, Jersey and Brown Swiss breed coloration was quite evident in the cattle.
However, there was also fighting-bull blood evident in some of the Mexican cattle. That's why, generally speaking, you didn't want to draw those solid-black steers.
Another difference I observe is the age of cattle that are crossing the border as roping steers. The steers crossing today appear younger to me than they used to be. The cattle are more beef-breed influenced, and they appear to have been on better nutrition growing up than in the old days. Today's steers are more compact in conformation, and have shorter horns. Their attitude is more "flighty" or wild than the old Corrientes.
Another factor that may contribute is the background of how and where the cattle are raised. The cattle today look and act like they're being bred and raised on ranches or open range. I've heard stories that, in the old days, cattle buyers would pick up "rodeo steers" two or three at a time from villages that raised them. Those steers might have been three or four years old and raised on survival nutrition. Some, I'm told, were "staked out" to graze around a village. They also might have been out of a milk cow, and were handled a lot growing up, so were sometimes pretty gentle.
The functional differences in roping steers today compared to 50 years ago are several. Today's steers are smaller, quicker and have smaller horns. I believe these differences in steers have resulted in changes in roping techniques and equipment. Head horses have gotten smaller and quicker. Ropes have gotten smaller and, especially head ropes, more limber, due to the smaller horns on cattle.
I personally don't feel that the difference in cattle roped today has made team roping any easier or more difficult than it used to be. Team roping has evolved so much in the last 50 years due to people working at it intensely. The number of ropers with great skill levels today simply amazes this old timer.