When do you safety up, and when do you take the shot? My theory on it is that I never want to rope scared. If I ride a proper corner and the shot presents itself, I don’t want to be afraid to take it. If the shot is there on the first or second hop, I want to heel the steer if I’ve set the shot up. I don’t want to become one dimensional to have to throw fast, but riding a good corner will allow me to take my first good shot.
At the Wildfire, on my fifth steer with Luke Brown, I was a little later at the barrier than I intended—so I had to push my horse with my legs through the corner to get to the steer, and it took me a few swings over his back to get to where that steer was heelable.
That situation is one thing—because I wasn’t in position to rope him on the first hop. But I don’t want to ride a great corner and be scared to throw. It just gets harder to catch the steer the farther across the arena I track, so when I ride a great corner, I want the confidence to take my first shot.
My dad told me the first shot is your best one. When I was a kid, I took that to mean I needed to turn and throw. I don’t want ever to be scared to take a throw, but I want to be aware when I’m not in the right spot. I want to take the smart shot—sometimes that’s the first shot, but when I’m not in the right spot in the corner, that’s not the case.
What I mean by riding a good corner is this: to be patient in the corner and let the steer start to turn before I go to follow him. I think of it just like driving. If you’re driving down the highway, and there’s a sharp curve, if you anticipate the turn, you’re trying to stay in your lane the whole way around the turn, having to keep correcting the wheel. But if you drive into the turn then come around, you’ll stay in your lane the whole time. I want to let that steer start to turn before I let my horse follow him. When I turn too early, it makes it feel like the steer is hopping faster because I’m trying to fight my horse and my rope to get back to where I want to be.
I had to be 9 to win the Bob Feist Invitational last year, but I came around and heeled him on the second or third hop because my shot was set up. If he’s good to heel, I’m going to go ahead and heel him. It’s got to be so much about reactions and the thousands of steers in the practice pen and on the Heel-O-Matic. All of that muscle memory is what we use when we’re competing. I don’t want to take my muscle memory out of it by allowing my head to get in the way.