When I started learning how to heel as a 12-year-old kid, we had a reel-to-reel, super-eight movie camera. That was the old-style video camera back in the early and mid-70s. You shot the film, then used a projector to put it up on the wall or a screen to watch it. When the good guys—like the Camarillos and Walt Woodard—roped at the ropings, I had my mom (Bitsy) film their runs. Then I would sit for hours watching those runs over and over again, trying to figure out what they were doing that made them rope so good.
Watching those old movies on the wall was a big part of my learning, because I was kind of a copycat. And that strategy has continued throughout all the years of my roping career. I still watch the best ropers and try to break down the things they’re doing better than everyone else that are making them excel above the rest.
Video cameras came a long way over the years, and I kept watching the film as they evolved. I’ve really gotten into it in the last five years or so, with the development of smart phones that can take videos. I also pick out different people I respect, and watch and study their videos on YouTube. Some of them have teaching videos out; others have runs at different rodeos. I just bounce around and study everything I can find.
I also watch a lot of film of myself roping, and encourage everyone to do the same. When I roped with Derrick Begay for three years in recent times, he was really good about getting our runs filmed. That younger generation makes a point to get every run videoed, and that’s a great thing to do if you’re serious about getting better. Whether we made a good run or a bad run, Derrick always sent me every video, so we could analyze it.
You can see things more clearly on a video. Your run might feel a certain way, but when you watch the video it sometimes looks totally different than it felt. So you can get a different take-away by studying the video. When you watch the replay of any given run, you might see things that went right or wrong that you didn’t feel or really notice when it was happening in real time. I also analyze a lot of videos for other people, and sometimes see things they might not have noticed. Other guys do that for me, too. The more feedback, the better.
Smart phones, iPads and technology in general just keep getting better, and that’s exciting. Years ago in the 1980s, I put out an ad for people to send me their videos for analysis. But back then, they were going to have to mail me a big VHS tape. Now you can go right through a website and send in film with the touch of a finger. You can rope one afternoon, send it to a pro that evening and receive feedback almost immediately. It’s amazing what we can do these days.
When I study videos, I study the whole run—the header, what the steer did, how the steer handled in the turn, where I was in my positioning, if I was reading what was happening correctly, whether I was in the right spot or not, if I set up my position correctly, what my swing angle looked like and whether or not my timing was synced up with the hops of the steer. Using video, you can slow it down and tell exactly where your swing and tip are in correlation with what that steer’s doing.
The bright-colored ropes we use today make it easier to see that contrast of what’s going on throughout the entire run. A lot of times the flagger even makes it into the video, so you can see what kind of flag you got or maybe what you could have done to get a better one. Every single element of a run is right there for you to see and learn from. Video allows you to pick apart what you’re doing right and also the things that could be done better. That makes it an important tool in every roper’s arsenal.