Someone told me when I was a kid that, “You’re never going to be a winner until you develop your left hand.” That is so true. As a roper, you think you do everything with your right hand. Being able to catch the steer with your right hand is important, but your left hand and both your feet control everything you do with your horse. A lot of ropers are so focused on catching steers, but from start to finish, from scoring to facing, your left hand starts and finishes the run. Your feet are really important too, because being balanced and good body posture make a big difference to your horse and your run.
If you get a horse that’s trained really well—you want to turn a working cow horse or reining horse into a heel horse, for example—those horses work a lot off of your feet. If you press a horse like that too hard, you’ll move him out of position. So paying attention to your feet too, and not just your hands, is vital.
As you approach the steer, your feet are your rudders—right or left—that help you in your approach to the steer. If the steer starts to come to you to the left, you use your left hand and your feet to guide your horse over into position.
If you see a steer start to check off, a lot of horses won’t naturally read that and rate off on their own. You need to help them, and respond by taking ahold of your horse with your left hand, so you can keep everything out in front of you.
You don’t only use your feet to guide your horse and kick him to go faster. You also use your feet for balance. And you don’t want the length of your stirrups to be too long or too short. If they’re too long, you’ll be sitting on your butt and bouncing trying to absorb all your horse’s power. If they’re too short, you’ll be sitting up too high and it’s going to throw you off balance. The length of your stirrups is up to your personal preference, but is very important.
Where your feet are really going to come into play is in the box, to move your horse right, left or forward. If he wants to squat in the corner, you use your feet to move him up and loosen him up. Same if he’s quartered off a little bit.
Your spurs are really important also. If you ride a horse without spurs, you’re handicapped. If a horse tenses up and you need to make him move, you’re out of luck without spurs. That’s like tickling a horse, and he’ll stay locked up. Some people aren’t comfortable wearing spurs, because they hit their horse in the flanks or whatever. I have to ride a horse with spurs, unless there’s a rare one that bucks every time you wear spurs on him. Spurs aren’t there to hurt a horse, they’re there so that simple leg pressure lets him know where you want him to go.