Team Roping Competitions
Caution: The post below contains a large heap of photographs. If your data plan is extremely limited and you usually use it all up each month, you may want to NOT click on the “More” icon to keep reading (or view the brief video) because all of the photos will begin to download with the rest of the article. There are some very nice snaps in it, if I do say so myself. The photos illustrate how things work and what often happens. Reduced to blog size, each photo is tiny space-wise, but there are about 100 of them, so they add up if you have no space at all to spare. If you already squander your monthly plan on occasional photo galleries, YouTube or Facebook, make a vow to watch one less video of a monkey picking its nose, and keep reading this instead.
Once a steer is too large for one man to handle, team roping comes into play.
Wickenburg, Arizona still wears its Old West heritage on its sleeve, and for good reason. It’s still a ranching and equestrian town. As a result, each winter from November to April, there are numerous team roping events in any of several arenas in town, public and private. Team roping is a rodeo event that contains one steer, two mounted riders, and a couple of ropes.
The historical goal is to quickly capture and immobilize a full-grown steer too large for one man to handle alone. To do this, the first rider tries to rope the steer’s horns, head or neck, while the second rider must rope both of the animal’s rear legs. Once the two pull far enough apart that the steer is judged as immobilized, the elapsed time is called. Team roping is about the only rodeo event where gender means nothing. It’s a straight-up race against time and other teams.
Notice that the rider on the left has thrown his rope while the steer’s rear feet are on the ground, and also the very small size of the loop! No way, right?
There’s a five-second penalty for roping only one rear leg, and same for either rider leaving the train station early. The equipment is not particularly specialized except for the two ropes. Once you see the photos below, you’ll know why. Each rope does a different job and must behave just so in order to succeed. You’ll notice that the steers are wearing protective horn wraps, which prevent rope burns and reduce stress on the horns. I’m very glad I took plenty of sequential photos, because that made it possible for me to see just how absurdly difficult team roping is to do well. It also helped me appreciate just how much training and experience the working horses must have in order to pull this thing off.
Same riders a couple seconds later, and the impossible has occurred. Both ropes are firmly in place, and completion is about to be called.
See, each rider’s hands are full of rope and reins, and maneuvering it with split-second timing is a pretty absorbing task. Naturally, there’s no time for the usual action/response delays once that gate opens, so the horse needs to be able to make a string of executive decisions on
its own if the job is going to get done promptly. This comes through experience, so it knows the goal and what usually happens to get there. A horse may not have the intelligence to give you good tax advice (usually), but what it can do is read and often anticipate the movements of the animal in front of it in order to make its own speed and course corrections along the way. As a rider, all you’re doing is feeding in any corrections, signaling the next step, or overriding “the plan” if the steer is just not contributing to your success – as they often don’t. Oh yeah, and getting your own rope around the proper area of the steer quickly and correctly is the last thing. That’s all there is to it!
Oh, sure. I could do this…
Below is a 25-second video of one catch. For the data plan-impaired viewer (like myself), it was 5MB when uploaded to YouTube, so let your priorities be your guide. It’s purpose is to demonstrate to you the actual time span involved in a relatively fast, successful capture.
The rest I’ll explain with photographs, and lots of them. Many will have smart-alecky captions, or ones that were my thoughts upon seeing what was going on. I was only able to see these things in the pictures, because the real-time action happens and ends so quickly.
Some were taken at Rancho Rio Arena, and some the next day at the Everett Bowman Arena in Wickenburg’s Constellation Park, a rather fabulous facility for spectators. Always dear to my heart, both were free to watch, since they were contestant-oriented events, not a spectator events per se. You just find your own way in and plant it wherever you want.
Team roping is a competitive payout event, with the payout amount usually based on participation. It’s no way to get rich, but it’s worth your while to win or place well, and it looks like a great way to have fun and maybe to show where the talk stops with you. Or maybe to show how lucky you can be, or not so lucky. It’s the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” thing that ABC Sports originally harped on so well.
This is just a sequence that, not to spoil things, ended successfully.
The lead roper needs to end the full run, but must not let the steer stop, either.
The steer spends his attention forward, while the second roper waits for the right moment to throw his rope.
The arrival of that moment can take awhile, since you’re usually trying to throw the noose or loop where the steer is going to step next.
Presto! The steer is not yet immobilized, but will be in a second.
Heart-rending trauma over, the steer always seems to trot nonchalantly away, always headed toward the pen with the rest of the herd in it. The leg rope will usually fall off onroute but, if not, will be retrieved soon after.
Pressure’s on this pair, because the steer is halfway to the pen already.
And it’s a miss! The header missed the horns, and it’s game over.
Here, the heeler gets ready to toss his rope as the steer does its version of a skid.
The steer digs in to pull, and that’s the end of the story for the heeler’s noose, which is bouncing back empty.
This is the same couple that had problems earlier.
Holy mackerel, no way this fat, wavering noose is going to catch anything!
She pulls of this hat trick and the steer is caught, and caught by the horns no less.
The header is about to pull the steer into an arc, while the heeler faces his turn.
The heeler has the steer by a back legs and is pulling up to try to keep the animal from kicking free.
This is a different couple with a fine outcome. Notice her smile?
With ropes going loose, the steer contemplates how to get rid of them.
Time for a hardware break! Large rig!
Naturally, there were tons of horse trailers, including a few from dealers on display.
Not everything has to be big and fancy to do the job.
This is at Wickenburg’s Everett Bowman Arena, and the header just missed her throw.
No point in going on, but the horse looks like, “Whaaa…I was doing good!”
These guys are bang out of the gate, and she’s dropping the bomb already. Look at that loop!
She’s got it, and it’s time to steer the steer.
Time for Daddy to get his end going.
She keeps the critter moving, while he looks for the moment.
And there he goes! Lasso away!
A rarity, he’s actually got both rear legs, so there’ll be no penalty.
Ahhh, that noose is still loose and could come off…
But it doesn’t! Once the steer is held firmly, they’re done.
With another couple trying, here comes the header’s lariat…
The forward edge of the noose drops a bit…
And it’s a neck catch, which is perfectly fine in the rules.
The header has to insist on a leftward arc…
…and we now have a steer stopped on the train tracks with the 4:10 about to arrive.
Fortunately, the header is able to get the steer going again.
The noose comes down against the steer’s right leg with foot on ground…
…and comes up empty. Sure, luck plays a part in these things, but experience and ability greatly shift the odds.
This is the most photogenic sequence of the lot. The noose comes down generously…
…but catches on the left horn and goes around the steer’s head.
I think they call this a “half-head” and it’s fine, by the rules.
A hard left rudder gets the steer into the needed course.
I absolutely love this shot. Anyway, the steer is kept moving.
The heeler’s horse moves left of the steer, allowing a great vantage point.
With the clock ticking, the moment approaches.
And it looks like a profitable throw, with the rope wound around the steer’s right rear leg.
But it was all on one side, and the noose returns to sender with nothing inside.
And this is the agony of defeat, with a missed throw and nothing to do about but try to set it aside and go on to the next.
She appears to be dealing with the shock, while he figures he may as well get in some practice.
Here’s the second-prettiest photo sequence, as this pair explodes out of the gate loaded for bear.
There looks to be a specific way to work that lariat…
…and it seems to be all in the wrist.
The little gal drops the hammer and the noose looks like it’ll go around the steer’s neck.
But she yanks back quickly before it can drop under the steer’s nose.
The result being that she’s doing amazing things at this point.
Good catch! Cutting hard left…
And the steer is coming around, though it’s a longer than average lead there.
Umm, this is a problem. Something’s wrong.
Okay, got the rope going taut again, though how the heeler will deal with this is a mystery to me.
Moot point. End of the line, literally. Dang!
This is a quick and competent catch…gone wrong.
The header rapidly gets his rope out there, and it’s looking good.
He yanks the rope back to secure it.
But now must do something to limit the line out.
Okay, good things are happening here as the pull is about to begin.
Looks like a small noose in the heeler’s hand, but it’s actually just aimed toward us.
The steer is pulled left at a good clip.
But it begins to reveal a somewhat uncooperative attitude.
The header applies horsepower – literally – while the heeler’s horse goes left to present working access to the steer.
No choice but to continue the run while the heeler looks for his moment.
And that moment appears to be here. These photos were taken in half-second intervals.
Presto! Both the steer’s feet are inside the noose, and it’s a matter of reeling it in.
Both legs still inside, the steer tries to free itself…
…and succeeds. Game over. These guys were very good. In this one instance though, the steer was better.
With the afternoon’s events over…
…it’s time to practice for tomorrow.
His toss looks good from my vantage point.
But it isn’t. This is not so easy!
Here’s a crappy but short video showing about how long it takes a decent team to rope cattle successfully.
Thanks for looking!