THE OTHER TEAM IN TEAM ROPING
How important the right horse is to your roping game.
We've all seen it a million times I'm sure, we may have even been that person - the person who has the most phenomenal horse, but struggles to find any success with it. Why is that?
I think it's a variety of reasons, but fundamentally I really think it comes down to one thing. PARTNERSHIP. We can all go out and spend thousands of dollars on a horse that works amazing for someone else, and bring it home to find we can't even catch our own head with said horse, lol. When there is a lack of partnership with your horse, I believe we will all struggle from time to time.
Every time I back into the box to make a run; whether it's at home, at a jackpot, or at a major event I want to make sure I give my partner the best chance to catch or win. I want to share with you a few of my favorite bits of advice for creating a strong partnership between you and your most important team member, your horse.
I've been riding since before I could walk! Growing up on the ranch horses weren't an option, they were a necessary part of our daily life. I was so lucky to be raised with a foundation in STRONG horsemanship and even all these year later, and about a thousand different horses, I always come back to the basics with every horse I have.
Being self employed, I need to know that I am going to be safe and avoid situations that may cause me harm. This doesn't start in the saddle, it starts when I am on the ground. I need to know when I go into a horses pen that I can go in to feed it, catch it, scratch it, etc... The partnership starts here! I look for those moments when my horse is paying attention to me, and working with me and reward them starting there. Will it let me walk up to it in a 30 acre field and catch it willingly, can I go and blanket it without being tied, can I walk up to it's feed bin to check and make sure it's eaten?
If I can't confidently say yes to any of these things, you can bet I am going to spend the time it takes with that horse to make sure it's with me, paying attention, and willing to give me the effort I require to get our jobs done. Obviously, not all horses are created equal so I go in with a blank slate with every horse to assess where all of these little things are at. I look for daily improvements in all areas to ensure that especially my sale horses are progressing not just in the roping pen, but outside of it too!
Even now, 30 years later I still search out people who are going to push me to increase my horsemanship skills. When I first moved down to Arizona, I was lucky enough to meet Ray Siggins of Siggins Horse Company through a mutual friend. I've rode with Ray almost weekly since, he's helped my horsemanship and my roping a ton! He's taught me to be more out of my horses way, and allow them to figure things out themselves instead of being such a micro-manager (who can relate?).
Last winter, I had Gunner consigned to the Art of the Cowgirl Elite Ranch Horse Sale. This sale required that he and I compete in a Ranch Horse Competition & Ranch Rodeo. As soon as I found out the requirements, I called my friend Jade of Jade Keller Performance Horses and set up some lessons so I could get Gunner and I on the same page doing lead changes, fencing a cow, turning around, etc... These were not things that I did daily with my rope horses, but I can tell you now I am asking my horses to do all of these things because it increases our PARTNERSHIP and provides a better foundation in HORSEMANSHIP.
Back to the earlier idea of "not all horses are created equal" - every horse progresses at a different rate, some may take to roping like it's what they were born to do it, some will take a little more time to come into their own, and well others are just not going to make it as a rope horse. The only way I've learned this is by practice and spending the time with my horses to get to know each of their qualities, personalities, and strengths.
Just because someone is 6'6" tall doesn't always equal basketball player, just like every thick built 15.3 hand horse isn't going to make it in the roping pen. It is human nature to be direct line thinkers - we literally focus on how to get from A to B the quickest without always taking into account some of the challenges that might come up. There is NOTHING wrong with a horse that isn't going to make it in the roping arena, it likely will excel elsewhere if given the time to find where it fits. That horse could be an amazing ranch, barrel, trail, extreme cowboy, jumper, or 4H horse if given the chance. If we shift our thought process on how to be the best partner for our horse, we can quickly learn where that horse is going to shine.
But... the ones that do show potential in the roping arena, those are the ones I LOVE! It's so rewarding to me to find a prospect that has a natural ability as a rope horse. I live for those moments when it all comes together, and I can nod my head in the box, ride my colt up to a steer, swing my rope and turn one for my heeler. It takes countless hours to get to that point, but it's the coolest thing in the world to feel one want to do their job for me.
Now, I get it that not everyone has the desire, skill, or want to make a rope horse from scratch - and if were being honest, I would be out of a job if you all did (LOL). But, this doesn't take away from the fact that I think EVERYONE needs to practice. Roping and riding is NOT like riding a bike. We all need to keep our skills sharp, our bad habits in check, and our horse in shape. This all happens in the practice pen - not the jackpot arena. So find time every week to work on all the pieces of your roping game, so when you pay your entry fees at the next roping you have a fighting chance to make it to the short round, and take home a cheque.
I am not talking about a dating service here, I am talking about making sure you and your horse are matched for EACHOTHER! I can't stress this enough. If you're a green roper, wanting to catch your first steers, you're probably best being mounted on a horse that knows their job! The horse that is going to stay honest, not cheat you, be forgiving when you make a bad call and give you the best chance to build up your confidence in the roping pen. This horse might be 22 years old and seen the sights, but he may also be 7 with the kindest soul out there.
If you're just getting started, here is my best advice to you - buy the best horse you can for the job, with the budget you have. Then, find a someone you respect that will show you the ropes, bring you along, and help build your confidence with your new plan to make it to the WS Finale in Vegas next year. Similarly, if you're a 6+ header the horse matched to a 3 probably isn't going to provide you with the horsepower you need to make it to the pay window. Ride one that is suited to your level, or one that will help you level up!
LISTEN TO YOUR GUT
I admit it, I've done it, I've bought horses sight unseen. When they work out for me, I view it like a winning lottery ticket. It doesn't happen very darn often, but when it does, boy am I happy. But I always recommend trying that horse before you buy it! If you're shopping for a rope horse, take it into the practice pen and rope a few steers. Chat with the seller and find out what else that horse has done, where it's weak points are, and feel what it can do. And ALWAYS trust your gut - if the intuition alarm bells are ringing you need to pay attention to that and find out what's going on.
It can be tough to really know if a horse is going to be the right fit for you in one or two quick rides, but if you get off that horse after a trial ride and have a good feeling, you know... excited, happy, confident, butterflies, chances are your intuition is leading you in the right direction. Take recommendations from others on where / who you should purchase that horse from - make the calls, build the relationships, and get a feeling of trust from who your making a deal with. Let them know honestly what you're looking for and help them match you with the right partner.
I pride myself and my reputation on making sure my customers are getting exactly what they are paying for, and exceeding their expectations. If someone calls me looking for a heel horse, and I don't have any for sale right then, I will tell them! I don't try to make a sale work if a horse isn't going to fit their needs. I also have NO ISSUES referring a potential customer to someone I trust that might have a horse better suited to their needs. The horse business can be tricky, so listen to your gut.
So how can I wrap this all up for you... Let's see if I can do that without rambling more about horse business.
* PRACTICE + HORSEMANSHIP = PARTNERSHIP
*Find the best horse for your riding goals.
*Vet who you're making your purchase from - if you can't trust them, don't do it.
Now go out there, and be the best you can be for both your horse and your roping partner.