Calf roping, now commonly termed 'tie-down roping' was developed on the western rangelands as cowboys roped and tied calves for doctoring. A man working alone needed a way to hold the calf immobile without an extra set of hands. To accomplish this, he needed two tools-a lariat rope, and a good working horse. Calf roping is a complicated sport to learn. There are many things to consider and keep in mind when beginning the sport.
CHOOSING YOUR HORSE
A key component to any calf roper is the horse; a good horse will mean the difference between a trip to the pay window or being out of the money. A good calf horse will break hard, track the calf to put the roper in the right spot for his throw, stop quickly and smoothly, and then 'work the rope' keeping it tight at all times for the roper to flank and tie the calf. A top-quality horse is worth his weight in gold, but a good solid performer to get the beginner off on the right foot is all that is needed. The beginner's horse doesn't have to be fancy, but he should be broke, quiet, and know his job well. He may not win a lot of money, but the last thing a beginning roper wants to worry about is what his horse is doing. As you learn the basics on the ground, an instructor may be able to help you find a suitable horse once you are ready. As with any sport, take the time to learn about proper tack and horse care before considering any specific sport. You should be comfortable riding and working with horses before beginning calf roping. Prior knowledge about cattle is helpful, but not absolutely necessary.
Before the roper ever mounts the horse, other basic knowledge will be needed. It's wise to work with an experienced roper or roping instructor to get off on the right foot. Depending on your hand size, preference, strength, and throwing style, different ropes may be needed. Have a knowledgeable person help you out in selecting the right rope for you. Don't just go to the tack store and pick one-calf ropers use different ropes than team ropers or ranch workers, so choosing the right one is very important. Most ropers choose either a 3-strand or 4-strand rope, and will choose from poly ropes, grass ropes, or nylon ropes, depending on needs and preference. Poly ropes are becoming more and more popular as they are durable, and are less affected by weather conditions than grass or nylon ropes. The twist and lay of the rope is also important, as is the size. Once you know the basics, you will need to experiment and find just the right rope. For now, follow the recommendations of your mentor. Some ropes are meant for professionals-if you choose such a rope as a beginner, you may find it magnifies every error you make; stick with something basic for now. Talk with your instructor about how to properly break in and care for your new ropes.
TECHNIQUE AND PRACTICE
Once you have your rope, your instructor will work with you on proper throwing technique. Learning the correct rope delivery is extremely difficult without some instruction. If it is impossible to find someone to work with you or to attend a beginner's roping clinic, visit a tack store or look online for some basic instructional videos. Be aware that foregoing the expense of some lessons or a clinic now will mean you spend months (or even years) trying to overcome bad habits. Consider a few lessons an investment in your future success and personal safety as well.
You'll hold the loop of the rope including the honda (or 'eye') and spoke in your right hand; and the remaining coils in your left hand. When actually roping, the end of the rope will be attached to your saddle horn, but for now, hold it. Practice roping on the ground for weeks or even months before ever attempting to rope off a horse or roping a live calf. Learning to throw correctly is not something that happens overnight. Everyone who is successful at roping spent long hours on many summer evenings out by the barn roping a dummy calf. Buy a plastic calf's head that mounts to a hay bale or sawhorse to start with. Many people recommend purchasing a head mount that has small horns, even though calves don't. Learning to rope a horned animal will prevent bad habits from developing and will find it easy to switch to calves when you are ready. Stand to the left of the dummy and a few feet behind the rear legs. Swing your rope in your right hand in a counter-clockwise direction being sure to keep your elbow up and turning your wrist over to keep the loop flat. As you progress, you will begin to follow the weight of the tip of the loop, and begin feeling when to release the loop to make a catch. Aim for an area just in front of the dummy's head, or even slightly to the left of the ears, depending on your throwing style.
After a few months of ground work, you are probably ready to progress to roping from horseback. Even though your goal is calf roping, start slowly. For now, stick to 'breakaway roping' where a special honda or plastic tab on the rope releases the calf rather than jerking it down after a catch is made. This is easier on stock, easier on horses, and allows the beginner to concentrate on roping instead of what happens after.
As you begin catching more regularly, you can practice 'jerking your slack' and roping from farther away or farther to one side. When your instructor feels it is safe to do so, you will begin practicing roping a dummy being pulled behind another horse or vehicle. This will help you learn how to properly position your horse, throw from the horse, and improve your feel and timing. Then, you will progress to tracking. Learning to control your horse and properly break from the box and follow the calf in the correct position is crucial. When you're consistently in position and relaxed, a rope can be attached to the calf before it is released from the chute. You track, pull the slack, stop the horse, and the calf is released. Then progress to roping-enter the box, set up the horse, track the calf, rope, pull the slack, and stop.
Once you are comfortable with all aspects of roping the calf, begin learning to work the calf on the ground. You will need to dismount as the horse is stopping, run down the rope to the calf, flank the calf to the ground, and tie three legs all while your horse is working to keep the rope taught. Then remount the horse and ride forward a few stops to put slack in the rope. To make a qualified run, your calf will need to remain tied for a certain time period. The dismount, flank, and tie are other areas where instruction is important, particularly if you have little background in cattle or livestock handling. Calf roping can be extremely dangerous; for you, the calf, and your horse, so make sure to learn things the right way. Be safe, take your time, work with a knowledgeable mentor, and practice every time the opportunity presents itself.
- If at all possible, work with a knowledgeable mentor or instructor. Inquire at tack shops, ropings, or through area horsemen to find someone to help you. There are clinics for beginning ropers nationwide as well.
- Choose basic, safe equipment. Leave expert equipment to the pros. Make sure your ropes, tack, and other items are in good repair and safe to use.
- Don't buy a fancy horse to start with. Find something safe and knowledgeable so you can learn to rope instead of having to teach your horse at the same time.
- Always carry a sharp knife when working with ropes and animals. Having a knife on-hand can save your life or the life of your horse.
- Remember that roping is dangerous. Always learn proper techniques and be aware of safety precautions.