For someone who ropes for a living-or even someone who has goals that he or she wants to achieve in his or her roping because you love the sport and love competing your horse is really the biggest asset to you on that journey. No matter how far you want to take your roping career, developing a relationship with your horse is of the utmost importance if you hope to achieve any level of success.
Early on, when I started my career, I didn’t really look at the aspect of developing a relationship with my horse. I thought of a horse as a machine. I thought you made him do what he was supposed to do, and that was the end of it.
When I realized horsemanship was a key place that I needed to develop and grow in order to get to the next level, I started trying to figure out why some horses work so well a long time and others don’t. That’s when I started looking at my horses in a different light.
When you work on the fundamentals of the mechanics of your roping, and get to where you can swing your loop with precision, react to the timing of the steer and deliver a successful loop most of the time, getting your horse in the right position time after time is what elevates you to the point where you can compete with the world’s best ropers.
When I looked at guys around me who had horses that lasted several years, like Leo (Camarillo) and Stick, and Denny Watkins and Banner, I started watching them and noticed they had special relationships with those horses. They cared about them, and were very much in tune with those horses’ personalities. I’ve since developed that kind of relationship with my horse Ike.
Once I realized this important aspect of roping, it has become one of the most rewarding parts of roping for me. I now thoroughly enjoy interacting with my horses.
Before I had this revelation and recognition of the importance of my horses, I looked at all horses the same and thought they should all act the same and just do what I wanted them to do when I wanted them to do it. But what I’ve learned over the years is that every horse is such an individual. Each one has his tolerances, likes and dislikes. A horse is such an intricate living being. In one respect, horses are one of the toughest creatures that God’s created. But they’re also one of the most vulnerable.
The things horses aren’t willing to do are mostly based on fear. I can remember growing up as a kid and having things happen in my life that would build a place of fear in me. I learned to walk around or avoid those situations as much as possible. Horses are the same way. When you start a horse, if you’re not careful, you’ll show him to fear something, whether it’s the box or you. If you are careful and thoughtful, on the other hand, you can show them that these things are no big deal.
When I get a new horse, I try to be really careful to study him in all aspects, from feeding him to catching him to brushing and saddling him, warming him up and roping on him. I try to get a good evaluation of what he knows and what he’s comfortable with, so I know how to move around him and how to ride him.
My old horse, Ike, has always set back (pulled back) if any little thing scares him when he’s tied up. So I have to be careful for his safety, my safety and the safety of others not to get my fingers in a bad spot when I tie him up, to where if he set back I’d be in trouble. I always move really slowly around him when I’m tying him up, and I never tie him up with my bridle reins. There’s too good a chance he’d tear them in two.
When I lead Ike out of the pen he likes to stop and stretch his hind legs. I need to stop and give him his time to do that. If you try to pull on him he thinks he’s in trouble, gets scared and goes to running backwards. So I’ve learned to just stop and let him do his thing. I’ve also learned that it’s well worth putting up with his little quirks, because when we get to the arena he’s a star.
On the other hand, my bay horse, Spiderman, is really laid back. He would never set back. He’s gentle to everything except fly spray and Show Sheen bottles. Sometimes loud noises at the rodeo, like fireworks, will kind of spook him. But besides that, he’s one cool customer.
I can wake Ike up with my spurs and my rope. But I can’t do that to Spiderman or he’ll get scared of me. It’s all about knowing your horses and that relationship you’ve developed with each of them. You can get the performance you need from your horse and let him be relaxed doing it, so he won’t dread it or be afraid. There needs to be a respect, which has a little bit of fear in it. He needs to know it’s not OK to do the wrong thing. There have to be boundaries, but you don’t want them so strict and forceful that the fear takes away from a horse’s performance. In my opinion, the best blend is respect with confidence. After all these years, Ike knows what I want and expect from him. We’re a team.