There is something to be said for a horse that is easy to catch on. Whether it is a heel horse that stops just right, or a head horse that is flat and easy, easy horses make roping fun.
The Heel Horse Stop
The focus on heel horses is always the huge stop. Though I agree heel horses do need to stop, I think a horse staying with your throw can be much more important than the huge stop. When a horse starts stopping excessively hard, it makes it difficult to finish your heel loop, much less get a dally. I have been working to make my heel horses easy to catch on and to where anyone can heel on them. When a heel horse stops their butt should come down and slide and their front feet should continue to pedal forward.
This is crucial because if the front feet start to jam up and stop moving, you get what everyone knows as the peg. A horse jams their front feet in the ground and you lose all flow and timing of the run.
Pulling Through The Corner
I also think it can be very hard if your heel horse is pulling on your hand coming around the corner. If they are pulling, our natural reaction is to pull harder or stop them. You have to be careful here though because if you stop them really hard on your hand, you can create the peg. If they are pulling on you you can do one of two things. One is just let them cruise forward and see if they relax. Some horses are just waiting for a battle and if you just ease them in there they will often respond better than jerking and pulling. If they continue to pull on you and crowd the cow, you have to go back and help them understand.
There is no quick fix for this because anything you try to solve in one move can create two more problems like the horse losing confidence in the corner. Slow down and have your header turn a couple slow steers, or even rope the dummy a couple times, the whole time keeping them backed off the cow. As I said before I do not think you need to jam them in the ground, as this may solve the current problem but could create two more. It is often much more helpful to help them to relax and show them they do not have to climb up on the cow. When a horse is relaxed they will most often do their best work. If a horse understands, they will rarely go to war with you.
Soft During Delivery
Another part of keeping a horse easy and soft is the delivery of your heel loop. The more time we give our horses to stop in our delivery, the softer and smoother they will stop. What often happens when a horse starts pegging and stopping too hard is we speed up our delivery in order to beat the horse to their stop. The problem is then the horse will start stopping even harder, trying to get ahead of your throw and it is a downward spiral. In order to reverse this, start by making sure your horse can get to their spot and follow for a jump or two. If they cannot follow, do what we talked about above.
Once they are following well and you feel you are in good spot will your throw, take your rope to the feet as smoothly and you can and don’t pull your slack. Even if you miss it is still ok. Feel how your horse stopped. Did they stop pretty smooth? If so, pet and let them relax right there. If they stopped really hard and short, squeeze your legs and ask them to walk forward. Here is another place where more is not necessarily better. You want to ask them and help them forward, not create a future confidence problem. Continue this even for a couple practices and your horse will learn they don’t just have to jam them selves in the ground.
The final part on a heel horse being soft, is the dally. This is the last step to help your heel horse. I believe in dallying often on a horse as I think this gets their butt back underneath them and doesn’t let them hollow out their back. With the drill above, you will be amazed at how much easier it is to dally. About every other time I dally I make sure I can squeeze my horse forward even just a couple steps. This insures they are staying soft and free and keeping their feet solid.
When it comes to head horses its all about run and gain. Yes head horses need to run hard, but if they are high and in your way leaving the box or running through your throw, the amount of run they have does not matter. If you are not catching a large quantity of your steers or if it just plain feels hard, it might not be your roping at all. It could be your horse is just not fully helping you in every way they could be.
Let’s start with the box. The box is above and beyond the most critical area of the run for a head horse. It is the line of scrimmage so to speak and it is where everything starts right or goes wrong. We must find a way to help our horses to find a way to relax in the box in some way. Though we don’t want them to be a dead head, we need them to be in control and in our hand.
Walking circles and letting them lope circles outside the box is a great way to help them. If they are getting tight, let them leave the box but make it hard on them once they do leave. We want them to make the decision to stay, not scare them into staying because that will only lead to them elevating.
Staying Flat and Level
We also need them to be leaving the box flat and level. Relaxing them initially will help them to also leave flat, but there are other things we can do as well. A head horse leaving flat it direct correlated with them watching the cow leaving the chute. If they are not watching the cow, they will just want to run. A couple drills you can do to help your head horse is let them walk out on every couple of scores. I do not think people need to score as much as they do but rather need to score in the right way. If your horse is paying attention to the cow they are much less likely to run by and more likely to stay on the ground.
If your horse is calm, and they are watching the cow this will eliminate most of your issues of your horse being hard to catch on, but the final step is to get them reading and rating on the cow. Just like the box if we can let them make the decision to rate off of the steer, we will create a much more long lasting result. Slow steers and dummy work is a great way to give them confidence and show them what you want. On an easy horse they will learn to back off in a couple runs with us helping with the bridle reins.
Tougher and more powerful horses may require more work, but just like the heel horse I don’t think slamming them in the ground is the answer. If you can make it their decision to come off of the cow, they will be so much easier in the long run.
Let Them Cruise Rather Then Fight
It is often helpful to let them cruise if the correct position for several strides, just like the heel horses letting the relax in the correct position rather then throwing the second we get there will help them to get more confidence for the future that they are in the right spot and its ok to chill.
Always remember, the more chill and relaxed your horse is, the easier your life will be and the better you will rope. If they ever get tense and tight, slowing down will almost always help them. Let them move their feet in a controlled manner and give them the chance to make the correct choice. Hope this article was helpful, as always, stay safe and God Bless.
AJ Fuchs is a roping horse trainer, and PRCA roper who lives in Stephenville, Texas with his wife and two kids. AJ has been professionally training horses for over 10 years, he specializes in Team Roping horses and overall horsemanship. Look him up on FB at AJ Performances Horses or website at ajfuchs.com