Breakaway Roping

In a dusty rodeo ring, a scene of three cowboys on horseback working together to rope a steer.

How many of us mimicked breakaway roping when we were kids? All you needed was a piece of rope, a little brother or a pet, and opportunity. Some of us never outgrew the love of the chase, followed by an accurate throw. If you want to do all that while riding on four hooves, welcome to breakaway roping!

In this post we’ll explain what breakaway roping is, competition rules, different types of ropes, which horses make the best roping partners, and more. Plus, we have tips from Jackie Crawford who is a nineteen-time Women’s Professional Rodeo Association World Champion and has a lot of valuable information to offer about breakaway roping.

What is Breakaway Roping?

Here’s the short version: a person ropes a calf around the neck while on horseback. The rope “breaks” away from where it’s tied to the saddle when the calf reaches a certain distance.

Here’s the rest of the story: the calf begins in a roping chute. The roper is in a box on the heeler’s side (right side) of the roping chute. Once the roper positions their horse in the corner facing straight ahead and gives the nod, the calf is released. Most times, the calf has a small rope around its neck. This rope is connected to the barrier that the roper and their horse cannot cross until the calf has a head start. The connecting rope breaks when the calf reaches the right distance, and the roping can begin!

The goal is to throw a bell collar catch around the calf’s neck. Immediately upon snagging the calf, the roper’s horse slams on the brakes, cinching the rope taut. When this happens, the string that ties the rope to the saddlehorn breaks and this signals the end of the run. When the string breaks, the clock stops.

Rules of Breakaway Roping

This event only lasts a few seconds and there aren’t many rules associated with it. First, the horse cannot cross the barrier. If this happens, 10 seconds are added to their time. Another rule is that a catch besides a bell collar (perfectly around the calf’s neck) is a disqualification. This is also known as “flagging out”.

Afternoon practice of a man and his horse, and quote about what the proper elbow positioning looks like next to it.

Types of Ropes and How to Care for Them

Breakaway ropes are anywhere from 24 feet to 29 feet long. They are the shortest ropes used in events, and most ropers will cut them to the best length.

Breakaway ropes are poly or nylon/poly blend in nature. The hallmark twisting ensures maximum control of the rope tip because it’s needed for accurate placement around the calf’s neck. Many ropers joke that they need to own stock in talcum powder. That’s because the more humid and sticky the air is, the more powder they need on the rope. You don’t want your fingers to meet resistance as you launch your lariat.

What Kind of Horse is Good for Breakaway Roping?

A breakaway horse needs to start and stop on a dime, and are generally stocky and muscular to handle the pace. If your goal is to learn the sport, you and your horse can learn it together. However, if your goal is to compete then it’s best to have a horse with experience under their belt.

In addition to practice, your roping horse should have ample exercise, a good diet with supplements, and lots of TLC.

What Does a Breakaway Roping Run Look Like?

Even though the event is over in mere seconds, both horse and rider have to get many things right. Here’s what the event involves:


The roper prepares the throw as soon as the horse leaves the box. Most focus on a spot near the base of the calf’s neck. If the calf gets too much of a head start, the roper will have to throw more rope than is comfortable. This can mess up a perfect throw.


The horses know to give it their all as soon as they get the signal from their rider. Then they have to put just as much effort into stopping as quickly as possible. Some ropers throw a bell collar in as little as 2 seconds! The world record is an incredible 1.67 seconds.


The horse transfers energy to stopping as soon as the rope is thrown. Repetition ensures it happens simultaneously.


Slack is pulled from the rope after the throw lands around the calf’s neck.


When the roper gathers the slack, she immediately sits down in the saddle. Pushing into the stirrups helps to brace against the horse’s sudden and powerful stop.

Roping in action by a man, and a quote about a “flagging out” disqualification next to it.

Breakaway Roping Tips From Jackie Crawford

Jackie Crawford is a World Champion and has mastered the sport of breakaway roping. Click here to watch her discuss tips and tricks for becoming the best roper you can possibly be. But in the meantime, here are a few of the tips she discusses in the videos available by clicking the link:

Building the Perfect Loop

  • Get your rope measurements correct. Don’t be afraid of a big loop. If you step on your loop, it should be as tall as you are.
  • Have at least one arm length for your spoke.
  • The space between your hands should get tight at the back of your swing.
  • Each finger controls a different part of the rope.
  • The forefinger controls the top side of the loop and your pinky controls the bottom side of the loop.
  • The piece of rope that comes through the Hondo needs to move to the right. That way, when you swing, you control the bottom of your loop with your pinky.

Proper Elbow Positioning

  • You need to drop the elbow for an accurate throw. Otherwise, you’ll top knot or miss entirely.
  • The throw sequence is shoulder, elbow, and hand. Your elbow must go straight down and across the neck at an angle.
  • Keep your elbow flat in an “L” position.

Throw on Your Second Swing

  • Your first swing is usually too high.
  • Practice on hay bales to get momentum and balance.

Breakaway Today!

Who knew so much went into the sport of breakaway roping? The proper ropes, horse, and training can lead you to an exciting new hobby or profession. Need more tips and inspiration? Visit X Factor Team Roping. Membership gives you access to the best online roping resources around! Click here for more information.

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