Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Just about every professional roper today, myself included, wants to beat on his drum. With the convenience of mass communication anybody anywhere can say anything and somebody somewhere will be sure to hear it. The other day I was thumbing through the various roper newspapers/magazines strewn across the table, and in every one I found “How-To” words from the experts. Different tips and theories on A to Z all aimed at the same goal: expediting (roping) relativity. And while I appreciated their competitive angles and progressive ingenuity my underlying question was what level of roper the experts assume their readers.
Back in the day, my brothers and I went down to South America to put on a school. We arrived a few days early and upon mingling with the natives got caught up in a jackpot. The Southern-Am boys wanted to try us in a 5-header. To that point, their only exposure to roping had been a National Finals tape. You can imagine their strategy. Sixty teams of ‘em, all trying to cut their hands off reaching, ducking and making dust for “day-money” every round. They challenged us on a pen of Zebus (native Brahma) that had been so roped out they were like Billy goats. Characteristically Zebu horns grow straight back making them tough to pipe, and this pen was so savvy anytime a loop came near their horns they’d tip their heads back and shrug it off. Of course our opponents had no clue how to neck one. Their whole thought was to rope as fast as one can, and if their loop landed around the neck it was sheer fluke. My brother and I were familiar with the Zebu and their tricks, so we decided to work things to our advantage. Settling back we let them out and “just caught” our five (around the neck) to win the average, for which of course nobody cared--accept us. Though we took the lion’s share of loot the average wasn’t a big deal. Nobody even considered it. In fact, folks still don’t. Nothing much is ever said about the average until the last steer, making it more of a supposed bonus. In any case, the South Americans’ misconception about winning was that it’s all about speed.
Building on their perception of what the pros were doing left the South Americans in the dark. They were bent on one idea, one way of roping. Once we took them in the school and laid some foundation they saw the light. Developing their fundamentals shed light on our perspective of safety, solidity and therefore, fun; as well as the value of versatility. We showed them how to incorporate and work with conditions, i.e. how to rope “pesquez” (Portuguese term for around the neck). And contrary to their National Finals tape, how to utilize 200 x 500 foot of arena by stretching the score out a ways to give their cattle a chance. A longer score gave the ropers an opportunity to operate the “team” dynamic (a major tool on the open range), and ultimately discover smooth, as opposed to speed, is what makes fast. With a view of the whole picture their previous NFR-style methods proved no longer cool because the consistency was low, the danger was high, and it would be no good to them on the ranch if they end up in a ravine somewhere with their fingers bleeding and hanging off.
Today I work with all levels, novice on up to pro, and at all stages it’s about catching. Look at last year’s National Finals. One team out of 14 caught 10 steers. At that caliber missing is not a skill-issue. It’s a view issue, tunnel-vision to be exact. In a one-head situation all 15 teams know what it takes and have what it takes to win. However, one-headers aren’t a matter of catching they’re a matter of time. Since making a solid run can be equivalent to making a quick miss, competitors are condition to just nod and react. With that, they get bent on one idea, one way of roping.

When rodeo was born there was no professional exposure. Roping and riding was a way of life, and cowboys used what they had for fun, making rodeo their recreation. Individual challenges helped the sport get better and faster, but on the whole competitors were handy because they rode their horse all day long working and were exposed to countless circumstances a horseback. When they rode in at the end of the day and wanted to hone their skills for the weekend competition, they just picked up their rope, but never got off their horse. They could zero in on their rope because riding was automatic. Now days the team roper rides the pick-up, and the young protégés hang around 7-11 playing video games until it’s time to rope. Their only time in the saddle is in the arena when they’re practicing or learning, which amounts to a drilled turn and smoke, turn and smoke steer after steer. All creativity and instruction is directed at speed, hence the view of team roping is the same view our South American students had 30 years ago. As a result horse AND rider vision is narrowed to “now or nothing”.

This year’s National Finals champion-team had something the other 14 teams were missing--and I’m not talking about cattle and I’m NOT talking about skill. Amongst the gunslingers, Nick Sartain (Header) and Kollin VonAhn (Heeler) were able to keep their composure, keep their focus (on the total picture) and systematically manage their own challenges to rope as a team. That was basic discipline--a rare attribute in today’s arena, be it competition, practice, and otherwise.

Bottom Line: the majority of “how-to” articles written by the pros are for the pros. It’s o.k. to take on pro ideas, but a roper has to be disciplined and experienced enough to know when they’re applicable. Acting on top-level/pro ideas when one’s riding and roping ability is not solid will leave him in the dark just like it did the South Americans. It eventually clouds his view of the whole picture and sets him up for all kinds of trouble and hindering habits. Would it be wise for the novice skier to follow the Olympic champion up the highest mountain and then try to emulate him down the double-black diamond run? I’m sure he’d get to the bottom, but he may be sorry about how he gets there. For those I work with, my goal is stable advancement. How far they soar with the skills I give them is determined not by how fast I send them, but how solidly. And when they can see the whole picture, the sky becomes their limit.

That’s all I know…
Rope Smart!

The Lion