Fast Back Focus with Clay Tryan
When you are preparing to rope at an event, it’s very important to practice for the arena, cattle and set up at the competition. For instance, if I’m headed to the BFI where the score is long and the arena is big, then that’s going to be the set up in my practice pen. It wouldn’t make sense for me to practice in an NFR set up where the arena is small and narrow.
I would also try to practice on cattle that run harder like they do at the BFI so that’s what my horse and I are prepared for.
Many people practice the same way all the time under the same conditions every time. Then when they go to a roping and have a longer score than at home, they’re not used to it and it makes the conditions seem harder than they actually are. Know the arena, format and cattle where you will be competing and try to simulate that as much as possible during practice.
Remember that when you’re practicing you’re showing your horse what you want him to do. If you practice in the wrong set up, then you’re giving your horse the wrong instructions. Practicing in a similar set up will give you and your horse confidence when you compete.
As a roper, determining the lay (softness or stiffness) of rope you need may seem like an ever-changing mystery. In fact, many ropers don’t realize they should keep several lays of their favorite rope available in their bag. Different circumstances and conditions require a different lay or softness.
Headers will use a softer rope when running to the hip to catch, while a slightly stiffer rope will be used when reaching, to assure the loop stays open while in the air. Roping cattle with short, small horns also requires a softer lay so that the loop comes tight quickly.
The number one lay we sell in heel ropes is a Medium. There are many ropers who prefer to rope with a Medium Soft, as Fast Back ropes have a lot of body, which makes the loop stay open better. Heeling with this softer lay helps prevent slipping or losing legs on cattle that are hard to rope.
Some of our pros will use up to three different lays, depending on the time of year and the weather. The weather can make a significant difference in the way your ropes feel. The rope you normally use and like can change with hot, cold, dry or moist weather.
It’s always a good idea to keep an assortment of lays for these various conditions. Ropers usually have their favorite rope in their favorite lay, but invariably will be faced with conditions that will require a slight variation.
What is the best place to position your head horse for catching if you’re not reaching? To make a good consistent “catching” run I suggest you have your horse’s nose even with the steer’s hip for the front to back distance. For the width you should keep enough distance between your horse and the steer that a horse could pass through.
Often I’m asked about my ropes and what lay or stiffness I prefer. Actually the bigger the horns, the stiffer I like my rope to be. If the horns are small I will normally use a softer rope. For these reasons I keep a variety of lays in my rope bag. Normally when you’re at a rodeo or jackpot the steers and their horns will be fairly even.
During competition I use a fairly new rope because they’re snappy and over a period of time as a rope wears they start feeling dead. At this point in the life of a rope, it becomes a practice rope for me.
My rope of choice is the Fast Back four-strand Ultimate 4. I like that Fast Back ropes are so consistent and I can count on them to feel the same every time.
Most of us have heard the following: “What are the three most important parts of team roping?” – POSITION, POSITION and POSITION!
What many people fail to realize is that correct horse position starts with correct body position or posture of the rider. The horse is so sensitive he will react to a fly landing on his back. Can you imagine the effect a 200 lb. man can have? Our body position cues our horses more than we realize.
How many times, as heelers, have we heard “Sit up, don’t lean!” In my opinion it’s impossible to deliver your loop without leaning. However, it is important to pivot at the waist, rather than leaning your whole body forward throwing your feet behind you. When your whole body leans, you have lost control of your horse.
It’s always easier to learn starting at a slow pace and build up speed. I prefer to use my Heel-O-Matic for this type of training. Start at a walk, then trot and eventually to full speed, once you are able to maintain correct position, without leaning.
Your lower body needs to stay stationery and in control so your legs are available to squeeze your horse forward until your loop is on the ground.
I’ve been asked to talk about how to stay focused during an all day event like the Bob Feist Invitational or Reno’s Richest Invitational. Events like these can be grueling because there’s so much time between your runs.
Between runs I loosen the cinches on my saddle, take the splint boots off and give my horse a drink. Don’t forget it’s a long and tiring day for your horse too. Many people don’t realize how hot splint boots are. If you have a little time between runs, it’s always a good idea to take your splint boots off and shake any dirt out. Even a small break allows your horse’s tendons to cool off.
The hour or so between runs is a good time to watch the barrier and cattle. Then about 20 or 30 teams before I run my next steer, I get my horse ready and warm up just like I’m at a one-head rodeo. It’s like getting ready for a one-header – six different times.
It’s especially important not to get caught up in what other teams are doing. Stick to your game plan and go make the best run you can on the steers you draw.
In my intermediate to beginner heeling schools one the most important things I teach is proper position and how to read a steer.
As I’m leaving the box I’m watching the steer’s head while I get my horse into position. As my horse’s head becomes even with the steer’s tailbone, ten or twelve feet to my left, my eyes immediately drop to the area from the right hip down to the hock.
Maintaining this position through the corner and keeping my eyes on the target allows me to read the steer and be able to tell what he’s going to do. What a steer does during the corner gives me a good indication of what he’s likely to do once he’s turned:
1. Hips drop slightly; he should lead off perfectly
2. Squats or drops; he’s going to get heavy and possibly drag
3. Elevates or dances; there’s a chance he will run up the rope
In correct position, as described above, we can be prepared for any of these scenarios. If your horse runs too high, with his head past the tailbone, you will end up directly behind the steer and unable to see your target. If your horse runs too far back you will end up cutting the corner and be too far inside to see your target.
Maintaining correct position keeps everything in front of you where you can tell what’s happening. This allows you to rope faster and make any adjustments you need to once you read your steer.
During my schools I’m often asked how many steers should you rope when practicing on your horse. Depending on the arena conditions, cattle, score, etc. I would normally rope six to eight steers and score as many, or even twice as many.
Always keep in mind what the conditions are. If your horse is getting hot after two steers, you might need to score three or four more and then put him up and let him have a break. When I do this, my horse invariably works better the second time and is calmer. The reason is because they are a little tired and their mind is right, making them more responsive.
Most people don’t need to rope too many. Ride your horse and make sure they’re exercised and fit. Most people end up roping too many causing their horse to do little things wrong, which in turn causes them to rope even more trying to fix it. If they had just roped a few to start with they would have been better off. If you feel like you need more practice then rope the dummy – without your horse.
Successful practice will give you and your horse the confidence you need to win.
One of the most crucial parts of any team roping run is scoring and the barrier. How far a header should let the steer out before leaving the box is determined by the length of the barrier and will vary from place to place. So for the purpose of this article we’ll talk about your horse staying in the box until you want him to go.
All horses get excited when chasing steers and the anticipation can make head horses very nervous in the box. Ideally your horse should stand still in the box and wait for your cue to leave without squatting, jumping or turning around. This is accomplished by many hours in the practice pen where you and your horse sit in the box relaxed and score steers.
While at a roping your horse should react only from your hands and feet – not when he hears the gates rattle or bang. When you’re scoring at home rattle the gates from time to time so your horse becomes accustomed to it. Make sure you’ve ridden your horse enough before competing so that he’s not fresh and having trouble standing still.
In the pro rodeos there are a number of guys who win consistently. These guys all ride nice horses that score well. Scoring and the barrier is important because that’s where 75% of the run is made.
Since the finals I’ve had several people ask how Trevor and I were able to be so consistent. It’s important to have a plan and before the NFR Trevor and I agreed to have fun and to make the best run possible on every steer.
So much of competition is a mental game and when the pressure mounts, it’s easy to worry about what can go wrong and/or about making mistakes. I try to stay positive, focus on the things I can do right and never let doubt enter my mind. Always think about what you want to happen and try not to worry about what might go wrong. Keeping a positive mental outlook is the best confidence builder I know of.
Focus on one steer at a time and do the very best job possible on that one steer. If you will do this on each steer, the average will take care of itself.
Trevor and I wanted to double dip at the NFR and put ourselves in a position to win a world title and win the average. We were able to make some nice and consistent runs using the mentality described above. The more we thought like this, the better things went and we were able to win the average even with a barrier and leg penalty.
I’m proud of our accomplishments and give the glory to God. The plan for 2009 hasn’t changed. We’re going to continue to do the best job possible on each steer every day.