Ryan Motes' Step-By-Step Heel Horse Box Work Tips

With more and more people training and riding young horses, it’s important for us to be aware of how we handle those young horses in the box. There are tried-and-true strategies for keeping your young heel horses comfortable and calm in the box that will let you do your job as a heeler and keep your horses working for years to come.

Point 1

1) Sometimes in the practice pen you want to rope the steer and ride down to the stripping chute with your header to talk about how good you did. That’s tempting, but sometimes, you can use that time to regain your horse’s mind by calmly walking back to the box and waiting for your header there. 

Read: Chill Factor: 5 Headers on Keeping Horses Cool in the Box

Point 2

2) Most of the time, our horses will be calmer in the box when there’s nobody in the other box. When they’re calm, their minds are more willing to accept what we’re trying to show them—especially the cues they will need to help reassure them down the line. It’s a good idea to get in the heel box and calmly move the horse forward and backward. 

Read: Motes’ Tricks to Maintaining A Healthy Horse

Point 3

3) When it comes to getting ready to score, I’ll come through and keep them loose and not just back in and go. I like to ride all the way up to the mouth of the box and settle just a little bit—if I need to pet them, I pet them—then back in and move their feet just a bit. That way, when my header is ready, my horse is calm, relaxed and settled off the corner and not balled up.

Read: Finding Your Focus in the Box with Clay O’Brien Cooper 

Point 4

4) I’m a foot off the corner, and I go with no butt bar a lot at home. That way, my horses aren’t used to backing up in and just resting on a butt bar. When we get somewhere, and there’s a heel barrier up, we won’t be too tight in there with them—especially when we’ve been going full contact, roping stronger steers, trying to make it realistic. A horse has a tendency to be a little amped up and fresher and stronger because we’re being realistic with the runs we’re making.

Point 5

5) To end a practice session where I’m working on keeping my horse calm, I like to score, then take an easy steer, not make my horse take a jerk and make a nice, smooth run and not jerk her in the ground. 

Learn: Finding Your Target with Ryan Motes