Team roping began not as sport, but necessity. A wayward steer is not an easy beast to return to the herd so, in the interest of time, two cowboys rope the animal from opposite ends. This maneuvers the steer into an optimal position for branding. As this task evolved into a sport, rules and techniques were refined. A steer is released ahead of the ropers--the "header" to the left of the bovine and the "heeler" following on the right--who must then pursue. Once the header ropes the horns or neck and the heeler lassos the hind legs, their horses stand square on either side and the event is completed. The duration and perfection of this procedure are the factors for team rankings.
Managing the Horse for Headers
A major penalty is assessed if the header breaks out of the box before the steer reaches an established distance from the chute. Beginners do well to remember that keeping their horse relaxed is of prime importance. If there is tension in the roper's body, the horse will pick up on it and become anxious, increasing the likelihood of a premature chase. Additionally, the header needs to get the horse positioned so that the equine's shoulders line up with the steer's hind legs. From there, the header is in the best position for roping.
Managing the Horse for Heelers
The horse's task is to get the roper into position to snag the hind legs of the steer. Therefore, the heeler must be careful not to give the horse false cues. Leaning to one side or shifting weight from side to side will signal the horse to turn prematurely. Likewise, the pressure exerted from the legs can have a similar effect if not applied uniformly. Ropers keep just enough tension on the bit to ride the horse forward. If the equine anticipates the heeler's lasso action, it will turn prematurely.
Tyler Magnus, a veteran roper and host of a team roping show on RFD-TV, advises ropers to find their tip and then to find their target. Ropers develop a good sense of where the loop of the lasso will make contact. For headers, that target can range from the center of the steer's head to the point of its left horn. Heelers focus on the right rear leg, about midway from the hoof to the shank. Also, experienced ropers keep the beat of their lasso spin even with the strides of the steer. Changes in tempo can confuse the horse.
Steers come in different sizes, ages and temperaments. Beginners should not get discouraged if, after succeeding with one, they have to start from scratch with another. Some steers are faster than others, some are more agile and evasive, and some are "draggers"--cows that will hit the ground upon being roped. These bovines must be dragged into position, thereby adding precious seconds to the overall time. Experience will teach novice ropers how to handle the varying strengths, speeds and styles of steers.
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