Why Heelers Miss
Before the mechanics and the hard grind of working at team roping come into play for kids, it’s got to be fun. It’s critical that parents make sure it’s fun, because life has plenty of time to be serious. At a certain age, it becomes work. You might enjoy your days, but it’s still work. So while kids are young, the priority needs to be on the fun—with some fundamentals mixed in. If it’s fun, then your kids will get serious about it on their own when the time is right. When it’s fun, we can work on preventing these challenges heelers face early on, while still keeping the practice light-hearted.
Poor Horse Position
Horse position—and not just at the time of taking your shot—is the number one problem I see people encounter at my schools. Proper position means being able to hold that position for a series of swings—at least three—going at the same speed as the steer. You’ll need to be able to do this on live cattle, but using the sled is a great way to master this. Practice other disciplines—ride reining horses and cutting horses, watch a dressage demonstration or go to a barrel racing clinic. That sounds silly, I know, but for kids and adults, this is key. Position is improving your riding and having your horse broke better so when you command him with your feet and hands, he responds better and you can maneuver into position. Exposing kids to other disciplines will keep things fresh and fun and will drastically improve their horsemanship and, in turn, their position.
Failure to Control Your Tip
Something we’ve done with students is take a small piece of PVC pipe just big enough to thread onto the rope. When you swing the rope, the pipe is an added weight and rotates to the tip of the rope. You start to experience the weight on the end of the rope and what that feels like to control that tip so you can swing and deliver with that tip in full control.
Lack of Timing
The reason children can learn how to get in time is because they play the inside leg game on the ground. Kids get in time because when they throw with their left leg back, they catch. When they throw their left leg forward, they miss. They aren’t being rewarded for throwing out of time. But 60-year-old men don’t do that. They aren’t walking around in parking lots at ropings tripping one another with their ropes. Kids improve so much just playing this game.
Not Backing Your Horse Off Before You Deliver
When you’re heeling, your horse doesn’t know when you’re going to throw. When that last swing goes across the steer’s back, to your horse it’s no different than the swing before it. If you don’t queue him to back off before you throw, he’ll see that rope go by his head and he’ll try to stop, but he’ll be too late and your tip will hit the ground and your loop will collapse. So when you get ready to throw, you’ve got to give your horse some sort of command. Your left arm should be in and back at your rib cage, and your right arm is out and down, outside of the steer’s right leg. It’s like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time.
Walt Woodard is a two-time PRCA World Champion heeler with more than $1.2 million in ProRodeo earnings and 20 WNFR qualifications. He’s currently teaching team roping schools all over the globe and his son, Travis, has won major PRCA rodeos like the 2013 Red Bluff (Calif.) Round-Up and the 2012 All-American ProRodeo Finals (Waco, Texas), as well as the 2003 Bob Feist Invitational.