To maintain control of the run, it’s important to stay to the inside so you can see the steer’s feet. If you can see the feet, you can put your horse in a position to rope them. If you can’t see them, then you’re just guessing and hoping. I want to give myself the best chance to make a consistent shot.
At our level, the headers almost dictate what we win. They’re the quarterbacks and as heelers we’re the wide receivers. It’s our job to end up with two feet. Heeling hasn’t changed much since I’ve been roping. It’s not like heading, where we can learn how to reach. We just have to figure out how to get to the same spot faster.
In 1994, I was heeling for Mark Simon, who told me, “Either you stay to the inside or I’ll find somebody who will.” I’ve always remembered that and I changed my roping and quit taking as many chances and we went into the Finals in the lead that year. Ever since then, I’ve become a more consistent roper.
1. Initially, I want to hold the steer straight for my header. I’m starting to get my swing in position and now I’m slowing down because the head rope is on. I don’t determine when I’m going to throw prior to leaving the box. I never try to think, I’m going to throw on the first hop. When I do that is when I make a mistake. My main concern is to ride good position; if it sets me up for a faster shot, I take it. If not, by the second hop I should have a shot.
You can see where I’ve slowed my horse and started to pull him to the inside and get my swing out in front of me. My swing is still in position and I can see the steer to the left of me, but I’m beginning the transition around the corner. When the hips clear is when they go legal. At this point, he’s not quite there.
2. Now I can see the steer to the right of me. You can see my tip is where I need to be as the feet are coming around. I’m still moving forward, but going across behind the steer. His hips clear between this picture and the previous one, but in this one, he’s starting to go forward, so he’s legal to rope.
3. I’ve got the steer pretty much measured off. Things look about perfect and I’m ready to take the shot on the next hop. This is the end of the first hop. I’ve got a really good vision of the left hock. I want to see both feet. A lot of guys will throw without a clear vision of both feet—and I’ve done it too—but I always want to see both feet. I want to be able to place my rope. If I can’t see the left leg, I’m not real certain it’s up.
4. The steer is coming up and is ready to heel. People like Rich Skelton, Clay O’Brien Cooper, Bob Harris, Jade Corkill and Patrick Smith always have clear vision of both feet and have control. That’s the most common thing that the good ones do. Some heelers get caught up in trying to be too fast. They override the corner and expose themselves too much and then they have to pull shots off instead of making easy shots.
5. It’s almost like roping the dummy at this point. He’s in perfect position. The steer just hopped to the right of my right stirrup and I just placed my loop in there. This is what we strive for. If we can put ourselves in that position every time, our percentage will improve dramatically. I wouldn’t call it a conservative position, but it’s more of a controlled position. It’s still fast enough. When it can be smooth from my delivery to my catch to my slack, it comes tight real fast. That’s what I’ve worked on the last five or six years: having a higher-percentage shot, yet being just as fast.