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There are no two ways about it: Being a beginner roper is hard. A novice team roper has to learn to ride, rope, and then do both at the same time while running full-tilt down an arena. The learning curve is steep, but the rewards are great, so here are 10 tips to help get beginner ropers off to a good start.

Buy an older, seasoned horse

Finding an experienced horse to learn on is probably the single most important factor in determining a green roper’s ultimate success. Look for a horse that is well-patterned and has plenty of competition experience. The ideal mount is at least 10 years old and has a calm temperament. As a beginner roper, you will have enough nerves to deal with, so don’t burden yourself with a high-strung horse. Resist the urge to pay less money for a younger horse, and instead spend as much as you can afford to purchase a quality mount.

Rope the dummy

Buy a plastic steer head and stick it in end of a hay bale to practice heading. For heeling, a simple sawhorse works just fine. Roping from the ground gives you a chance to work on the technical aspects of swinging and delivering your loop and is crucial for developing that all-important muscle memory. You can use a wide array of techniques, such as throwing your loop after swinging just once, to improve your skills in a low-pressure, motionless setting. Once you’re horseback and running down the arena, your muscle memory will enable you to throw a fundamentally sound loop.

Video your practice sessions

The ability to see your own swing, delivery, and posture is invaluable in terms of self-improvement. You can have a friend video your roping – both on the ground and on live cattle – or you can use a tripod and remote control to video yourself. Viewing your own videos is helpful, and if you’re an X Factor Roping Pro Member, you can also upload them to the Online Coaching Facebook Group to get advice from NFR Qualifier Ryan Motes and the other expert coaches.

Join your local roping club

Most community arenas have a local roping club. Find yours, pay the fee, and commit to attending weekly practice sessions. As a paid member, you will have access to live cattle on a regular basis and not feel like you’re imposing on someone as a guest at their private arena. You’ll be able to meet local ropers, learn from the more experienced guys, and find partners for local jackpots.

Try roping both ends until you pick a preference

If you’ve never roped before, it’s wise to try both heading and heeling at first. You’ll likely discover that you enjoy one more than the other, and then you can specialize. It’s good to develop a foundation on both ends, though, so you can understand how a team roping run works as a totality. Regardless of which end you prefer to rope, you will be a better partner if you have a working knowledge of what your partner is doing.

Invest in quality used tack

Spend your money on a good horse and save money on tack by buying everything secondhand. There is a ton of quality used gear available for a fraction of what it would cost to buy brand-new. Sit in a saddle on the rack first to make sure it fits your body, and make sure it fits your horse before shelling out the dough. If you’re unsure about saddle fit, do some research or ask a more experience friend for advice prior to purchasing.

Buy one standard heel rope and one standard head rope

There is a mind-boggling array of choices available when it comes to team ropes. A novice can easily become overwhelmed trying to choose between extra soft, medium soft, different lengths, strand counts, and core materials. To keep it simple and cost-effective, buy one extra soft head rope and one medium soft heel rope. Practice with these at home on the dummy until you develop some feel for swinging and delivering a loop. All ropes feel foreign and awkward to a beginner roper, so there’s not much point in fine-tuning your choice right off the bat. Once you get the hang of catching, go to the biggest rope store within driving distance, swing several different types of ropes, and your personal preference will naturally develop.

Learn how to dally safely

There is a ton of information about how to swing and throw a rope, but don’t overlook another crucial factor: Learning to dally safely. Dallying is the act of wrapping the rope around your saddle horn. It sounds simple, but remember that you are riding a running horse and the other end of your rope is firmly attached to a 700-pound steer. If you aren’t careful, you can easily trap one (or more) of your fingers between the rope and your unyielding saddle horn. When the rope comes tight, it will cut off whatever digits are trapped.

Learning to dally starts on the ground. You can sit in your saddle on a rack (or mounted on a standing horse) and have another person run away from you holding the end of your rope. Practice dallying in this slow, controlled environment before you attempt it in a high-speed situation.

Learn about tack use and proper fit for your specific horse

Your human partners come and go, but your horse is your partner every single time you back into the box. When you buy your older, seasoned horse, ask the seller what bit he works best in. Don’t try to transition him into a different bit; just buy what he likes and use it. Find out if he likes a tie-down, and if so, how to adjust it. Ask the seller about what kind of saddles fit the horse best and what kind of pads keep him the most comfortable.

Find a mentor

Having personalized help is invaluable for advancing your team roping skills. This can come in the form of a more experienced local roper, but adding a virtual coach expands your opportunities for improvement. It’s free to create a membership account with X Factor, granting you immediate access to hundreds of videos and other online learning resources. Plus, team roping is a fun, social sport, and making friends – both online and in real life –  helps to round it out as a great way to spend your money and your weekends.

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