Editor’s note: This is Part Two of a four-part series with Smith on learning to heel.
Learning to heel is just like building blocks. There are steps you have to take and to get better, you have to learn how to finish each step completely. That’s what happens when we make mistakes. We cut some of our steps—we do 80 percent of one step, 70% of the next. If you practice 100% of each step, that’s when it all comes together. Position, timing, delivery, slack and dally, and this month I want to talk delivery.
The delivery is one of the most misunderstood parts of heeling. It gets overlooked, but it’s just as important as position and timing. You’ve got to finish it 100%. Your delivery is a continuation of your swing, so your swing already has everything built into it. So many people try to change from their last swing into their delivery, and that’s where problems arise.
Slow It Down
The delivery is the simplest part to do mechanically, but one of the hardest things to do mentally. What I mean by that is people want to get too quick and not finish their delivery completely before they get their slack. When you’re swinging your rope, you’re turning your hand over. When you deliver, it’s natural to roll your hand over to get your slack, but it’s very easy to cut that short and roll your hand over too quickly to get your slack. It only takes a little bit of grabbing that slack or lifting before the delivery is completed to mess the entire delivery up.
The best thing to do when you’re working on your delivery is to be very deliberate in your practice. I personally teach that when you deliver, deliver with your thumb up and your pinky finger toward the ground as if you’re reaching out to shake hands. Your loop does what your hand does. The top part of your hand represents the top strand. Your pinky and the bottom part of your hand represent your bottom strand, and your finger tips represent the tip of your rope. Your loop will mimic what your hand does. The most common mistake is to roll your hand too quickly, forcing the bottom strand up. So, keeping the pinky down just a touch longer can make all the difference.
When I say be deliberate, I’m big on making sure that you set your loop all the way to the ground before you even touch your slack. Be deliberate about that when it’s a steer, a sled or a sawhorse. Be deliberate in that pause. Let it marinate, let it finish. When you practice, overdo that. Make sure your loop is completely on the ground. We want to cover an area and leave no room for error. Regardless of what the steer does, he has no choice but to go over that bottom strand and into the loop.
One of the other most common mistakes is that people let their horses stop and they’re at a complete stand-still trying to finish their delivery. That’s impossible. When you’re roping a saw horse, you don’t run backward when you’re delivering. If your horse is stopping before you throw, that’s taking your throw away from you, giving you too much separation—just like running backward as you throw on a saw horse. I use my feet a lot in my delivery to make sure I keep my horses in position so that I can get that bottom strand on the ground.
Patrick Smith is a two-time World Champion heeler, husband and father of two girls and a boy. He’s won the Bob Feist Invitational, the George Strait Team Roping Classic, Cheyenne Frontier Days and the California Rodeo Salinas, as well as RFD-TV’s The American. His instructional DVDs, Driven and Legend, are available at patricksmithroping.com.
Photos by Lone Wolf Photography