There are certain basics and fundamentals that everybody, headers and heelers, have to use as a base for their own personal style. Keeping good center of balance on your horse when you're riding, for example, and having your body in a position where you can have a good fundamental swing is important. The different basic characteristics of a good fundamental swing, which sets up your delivery, is also important. Everyone has to develop these things within themselves and figure them out. That takes work and study. I've been practicing ever since I was a little kid, and have pretty much roped every day for 30-some years. Even though I'm always trying new things, a big part of practicing is to stay sharp on the basic fundamentals, like balance, position, swing, delivery and horsemanship. Everybody thinks there's a secret, but there really are no secrets. It's all about work and focusing on the fundamentals that wins. The ropers with the best fundamentals are the most consistent and the fastest at it, too, because it takes great execution of the fundamentals to be able to rope fast and still stay in control.
For me, when everything starts feeling like it's off and things are out of whack; when nothing feels right and you're missing, but don't really know why; or even catching, but it doesn't feel smooth or quite right-I always go back to the fundamentals. That means keeping proper balance, and keeping my head and feet in the right spots. I go through my checklist of things I need to do correctly, and that prompts me to find the area that's a little out of whack. Once you identify the weak spot, you can get it back in line.
One thing that I really have to work on a lot that might surprise some people is my swing. It seems like it always gets just a little out of kilter after awhile and I have to really concentrate on it, how it's feeling and how I'm turning it over so it stays balanced and feeling right. It's kind of like a golf swing. I watch golf all the time, and golfers all have to revolve around the same principles. There are a lot of different ways of swinging a golf club that are slightly different from golfer to golfer, and each way works for each guy. Roping is a lot the same way. It takes roping lots of steers for me personally to keep all that feeling really good and to keep my confidence up.
My horsemanship is also a key area. If I feel like my position isn't quite right, I know I'm doing something wrong to put my horse in the wrong pattern. Maybe I'm setting things up to make it hard for him, and that's causing him to mess up. I need to go back and think about what I need to do to make him end up in the right place and give me a good, solid, high-percentage throw, where I don't cut myself short on my delivery. All that's set up based on how I ride my horse, so I'm always alert and evaluating how I'm doing that.
I want to keep things as simple as I can, and keep everything under control as much as I can from day to day to stay on top of what I'm doing. That's what makes roping challenging and hard work, the fact that there are several elements that you have to do correctly to make a successful run every time. To be able to repeat that good run time and time again takes maintenance and hard work. I get up at 6 in the morning so I can be out there roping by 7. I work at it every day to stay on top of it. That's how several of us have been doing this for 25-30 years and making a living at it. We realize it takes a lot of dedication to stay on top of it. It's a job for us.
My delivery is another key area. As I practice each day, it's another thing I'm staying on top of and trying to be alert to. How's that feeling, and how are my loops landing and hitting? How am I getting my slack off the end of my delivery, and am I keeping the feet clean? If I lose a leg here or there, and my loop isn't coming in and looking just like I know it's supposed to look, then I know I'm doing something there that isn't quite correct. I try to isolate that area and really concentrate on watching those loops to keep them looking and feeling right.
I watch a lot of golf because I see a lot of similarities to roping. The guys in the top five or six in that sport have a work ethic like the top ropers. They're out there hitting balls hours before and after every round. Roping's the same way. To be good and consistent at it takes a lot of time and effort, and staying on top of the basic fundamentals that it takes to do the job.