Setting Up the Handle with Charly Crawford
The right position when heading can make all the difference in the handle you give your heeler.

Photos by Lone Wolf Photography

Everybody, when they rope the dummy, has a certain spot that they get to on the ground that’s comfortable for them. They have a certain loop size and a certain amount of rope between their hands that fits the horns from where they’re standing. It’s really important to understand where that position is so when you get on a horse, you know how far behind the steer you need to be and how much width to have that will correspond to your loop size and how much rope you have in your hands. It’s so important to know your spot, so in pressure situations it becomes second nature to ride to that spot and catch. If you do all that, it will set up a good handle.

I’ve been trying to help people build a strong foundation based on where your horse should be and what position you’re riding, then where your loop is. Then, what you’re doing after you pull your slack to set up a good handle. You can build from that. 

1. You need to maintain these elements to build a strong foundation: When you leave the box, stay in your lane—that’s your width, no matter where the steer goes. The second step is to maintain position, or how close to get to that steer. At most jackpots, it’s with your horse’s nose between the steer’s tailbone and his hipbone. After that, it’s your swing, delivery and slack that sets up the handle. Maintain these elements, then your roping gets so much more consistent. 

2. My horse is in the left lead, my elbow is in position and my rope is covering the horns. I can see my target and my loop is headed for it. This is a good position right here for a successful catch and a good handle. This sets up the whole run.

3. When you deliver your rope, your hands should be throwing toward the target. You should have enough room between your horse and the steer that you have enough room to follow through and find your slack. 

4. When you’re pulling your slack, you want your left hand between the horse’s ears. Not to the left or leaning back. You should be able to pull your slack and maintain the same width between your horse and the steer. Keep your position and body posture while you pull your slack. A lot of people pull their slack and either lean back or lean to the left. This picture shows pulling your slack, keeping your horse’s shoulders up and holding your body where it needs to be. Your horse’s shoulders are going to mirror your shoulders. So, if you’re staying up and square, there’s a good chance your horse will, too. 

5. This shows what I’m talking about. I’ve got a good dally and my shoulders are up and my horse’s shoulders are up. I have my feet up under me and my shoulders up under my horse’s shoulders. I can put that horse where I want him to go from that position right there. If my horse’s shoulders mirror my shoulders, the steer on the other end of the line will mirror what your horse is doing. It all comes back to me. If I drop my left shoulder, my horse will drop his left shoulder, which drops the horn down and jerks the steer. But like this picture shows, I can do whatever is necessary to handle the steer properly. If he’s running, I can sit down and lean back, or if he’s a good steer I can maintain that momentum, or if he checks off I can move my horse’s shoulders over and keep that steer going for my partner. I want my horse to stay in neutral so I can dictate what gear I put him in for the handle. You can’t handle every steer the same, you have to react to what each steer does. It’s important for me to be the leader of the team so my horse is responding to what I do. If the horse is dictating, he’ll develop a lot of bad habits. 

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