No matter what level of roper you are, scoring is one of the most crucial fundamentals there is. The start you get dictates a lot when it comes to how successful you are. Scoring is most important to the rodeo ropers and guys who rope at the big open ropings. When you break a barrier at one of those events, you might as well pull up, because the partys over for you. Its a little different at the lower-numbered USTRC ropings, because its only a five-second penalty and if youre roping in an average you still have a chance at one of the bottom holes.
The scorelines are longer for the open ropers, so your horse has to sit in that corner a little longer. Scoring is a way bigger factor in the open ropings, because the start you get is so critical. The tougher a roping is, and the tighter the times, the more crucial a good start becomes. The open head horses have to sit there longer, then run harder and do everything sharper.
It's pretty common when open ropers buy horses from lower-numbered ropers then apply the extra pressure of more extremes-waiting in there longer, running harder, facing faster-that some horses don't take that very well. That shouldn't come as any big surprise, because you're asking that horse for so much more. That's why the age factor is so huge in our game. Older horses are more mature in their minds and can handle that extra pressure.
The scores are so much shorter at the lower-numbered ropings that your horse doesn't have to stand there that long. Typically, if you don't leave before the steer does, you're OK. That's why those horses score so much better. They don't have nearly as much pressure on them in the box.
A lot of lower-numbered ropers score their horses on a loose rein, which also makes them a lot more relaxed in the box. They can get away with that, because they don't have to stay in that corner very long. They basically nod and then kick-start their horses whenever they want to go, which is fine if that's what works for them.
The top ropers score their horses on a snug rein, and after they nod they tend to take ahold of their horses a little. When they release them, those horses leave off of their hand. An open roper is like a drag-car race driver. The pedal's to the metal, they've got the brake on, the smoke's coming off the tires and when the light turns green they're off. The engine's about to blow at all times. That's the intensity the open ropers' horses have. The reins are the brake, and that horse needs to be ready to explode out of there, flat and at full throttle, when you release him to go.
There is an art to scoring a horse, and the list of cues that make a horse anticipate leaving include you nodding your head, the bang of the gate, the steer leaving the chute and the heel horse taking off. Some guys have a natural knack and feel for scoring. In my book, the ultimate heading and tie down roping scorer is Trevor Brazile. His horses stand there like statues, and I don't think it's a coincidence that every one of them does that. A big factor in successful scoring is patience. You have to try to be patient when you're competing and try not to let your nerves affect your horse. You also need to take the extra time when you're practicing to score as many steers as your horse needs, and work on your scoring on the steers you run, too. If your horse doesn't respond off of your cue, and leave when you tell him to, home is the place to fix it.