When a steer steps into you, you’ve got to make sure your rope is tight between your saddle horn and the steer’s head to give your heeler a fair read through the corner. Here’s how.
Before the Turn
As you’re still going down the arena, getting the rope tight between your horn and the steer’s horns is what gives the heeler a read on the turn and the steer’s hops. The easiest way to do it is if your horse rates off and you match pace with the steer. When you dally, you can use your horse’s rate to pick the steer up and get that rope tight. It gets a little more advanced if you’re on the gain or you reach at one, but you have to create some form of separation to get control of the steer. To do that, I pull my slack, sit down in the saddle, put my right leg into my horse and pick up with my left hand. I tend to like to have my horse’s nose pointed toward the steer and my right leg in my horse. I have so much body language that I don’t usually have to pick them up a ton with my left hand when I’m finished with them, but along the way in the training process, that can be important.
What Control Looks Like
When I’ve got the steer’s head, the neck then acts as a shock absorber to the shoulders to allow his hips to clear. When his hips clear, your turn is done as a header. All you can do from that point is stay in control and keep that path back up the arena that you set up in your corner, because you can actually make it harder for your heeler if you’re trying to help too much and slowing the speed of the steer way down across the pen. If you’re slowing up trying to really baby one around the corner or across the pen, your heeler could get too close or lose momentum. Or, even worse, you can slow your horse down too much and give that steer his head back—making that heel shot really hard for your partner.
Across the Pen
I want to really pull the steer—this doesn’t mean speeding up and going faster. It just means the steer’s speed stays consistent across the arena, with the steer in tow so my partner knows my line for sure so he can fully commit. There needs to be no tricks or guesses when heeling behind you. You need to lead the steer off and keep control of him. A lot of times, if you have a good honest pull, the heeler needs to just put the loop in front of the steer. If I’m loose, the heeler has to knife the steers—heeling them really sharp—and pull off a shot.