My hobby is playing golf. I watch it on TV, and listen to the analysts when they’re commentating on the big tournaments. They sometimes refer to what they call a swing key, which is a conscious thought that produces the result golfers are looking to accomplish—to make the club hit that ball in a way that gets them the shot they’re trying to make.
The same principle applies to heeling at the highest level. I’ve been able to visit with the elite guys and really break roping down. How people explain their method kind of goes into that area of a key thought in your mind that produces the result you’re trying to accomplish.
To get good in a specific area and build your level of ability, that thought process of trial and error and finding your own, unique system or thought process to produce the result you’re looking for with consistency is very helpful. I like to ride into the box with a plan, whether I’m practicing or competing. It’s that mental thought process, focus and concentration that set up and structure my method as it pertains to position, swing, timing and delivery.
The way you think about what you’re trying to do doesn’t have to be the same as everyone else. One guy explains that he does it this way, and the next guy explains that he does it that way. They’re both awesome ropers, they just look at things differently and have developed their own key thought triggers that they’ve developed to reproduce the results they’re after.
One of the hardest things to explain and help somebody with when teaching roping is how to deliver the heel loop so it’ll fire every time. You try to build a mental image of what has to happen in the delivery, but sometimes you may have to explain it in different ways, so it turns the light bulb on for someone else, and they can translate it into working for themselves.
It can be such a variety of thought triggers that produce the successful result we’re all looking for. Years ago in a teaching video, Steve Northcott explained his thought process as just using the tip of the rope. Dennis Tryan used to say he thought about getting his rope to graze the ground about two feet out to the right of the right leg, and that’s what produced his best results. That’s just one example of two guys who can throw a beautiful heel loop every single time using a totally different thought trigger. Then there was Britt Bockius, who told people to focus on putting the top strand right on the hock.
Those triggers are different for all of us. Each of us needs to find those go-to triggers that get us what we’re looking for. That comes from lots of runs, loops, practice and thinking those thoughts that you’ve worked out that are your own thought triggers that work for you.
Jake (Barnes) and I have a lineup of roping schools this year. We’ve done schools in Utah, Arizona and Missouri, and at press time had more coming up in Texas, California, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico and Nevada. We’re going to get a good opportunity to work with a lot of ropers who are trying to build and perfect their roping skills and take their roping to a higher level. That takes the work of being out there and really thinking through the process.
I like to watch a lot of videos of myself roping to try and pinpoint every move I make—what I’m doing and why. I also ask some of the other guys to send me some of their videos. I was up the same as Wesley Thorp at Houston the other day. In the third round, I thought he set up the most perfect shot—position- and timing-wise. I asked him for his video, he sent it to me, I watched it eight or 10 times, and slowed it down. I then used that video at a school, because it illustrated what I was trying to explain. We might as well make the most of modern technology, including when it comes to coming up with which thought triggers work for each of us.