Choosing the Right Team Roping Ropes

Team roping was born out of necessity hundreds of years ago, on the ranches of the Old West. Cowboys learned to work together to bring down a steer. This way they could treat injuries or brand an animal once it was safely restrained.

Nowadays, this dynamic and adrenaline-filled sport brings loads of excitement to arenas all over the country. But before a cowboy or cowgirl can throw their hat into the ring, they have to start with the basics. One of the first steps is choosing the right team roping ropes.

In this post we’ll discuss rope characteristics and how even the steer itself can influence your choice of rope. We have tips for how to break in your team roping rope and also when to retire it. Remember, everyone in the sport had to start somewhere! By the end of this article, you’ll be able to choose your first team rope with much more confidence. 

Characteristics of Team Roping Ropes


Beginners typically start out using a rope with a smaller diameter. You’ll need a comfortable grip on the rope and the reins in the same hand. Team roping ropes are most commonly ⅜” thick. In roping lingo that’s known as “full” or “true”. A smaller diameter is known as “light” or “scant”.


Head ropes measure between 30-32 feet. While heel ropes come in around 35 feet. It’s best to start with a head rope while you’re learning. The shorter length is easier to maneuver and pack up.


The weight of your team roping rope is all about preference. A heavier rope takes less effort to keep ground contact with the bottom of the loop. A lighter rope has easier handling. Swing a few to see what feels best to you. More than likely, you’ll switch things up a few times before settling on your preferred rope weight.


The softness or stiffness of a team roping rope is known as the “feel” or the “lay”. Start with a soft lay as a beginner. They don’t need a lot of waving, which makes them a good choice when working with a practice dummy. You’ll be able to feel the tip of the rope more as it’s swinging and turning around your head.


A harder feel is often the rope of choice for fast-swinging ropers. The loop remains more open against the force of the swing. Overall, you’ll likely see headers using softer feels and heelers opting for medium to medium-hard feels.


Team roping ropes are constructed from 100% nylon or poly-nylon blends. 100% nylon ropes maintain a consistent shape and feel. They also break in easier and keep that new stretch feeling.


Poly-nylon blend team roping ropes offer more body. This means you can feel their weight in your hands. That feeling helps you throw an open loop. Because of this, you’ll often see poly-nylon ropes used to rope cattle with long horns. These ropes have more memory, which we’ll talk about later.

Headers and Heelers Use Different Team Roping Ropes

Head ropes need to catch a steer by its horns. Headers use shorter ropes with a softer lay to get the loop to open and lay around the horns.

Heel ropes are longer with a harder feel. They need an open loop that stands up more so it catches the hind feet of a steer.

Customize Your Rope Choice After You Size-Up Your Steer

In the same way an artist selects their paintbrush based on the size of their project and materials, a roper may choose their rope based on the event’s steer. If possible, you may want to take a glimpse before the event starts. Are the steer young or old? Short-horned or long?

Young or smaller-horned steers respond better to light, softer laying ropes. The fast-closing loop of a 100% nylon rope may fit the bill.

Older or larger-horned steer generally need an extended open loop during the throw. A stiffer lay polyblend will get the job done.

Ropes Remember

Just when you think you’ve heard it all. Rope memory is the rope’s ability to return to its original manufactured shape after a stretch.

Poly-nylon blends have a bigger memory. That’s due to their elastic materials.

Some team ropers will tie their rope to a fencepost before an event. This encourages the gaps to open between the crowns. That stretch “resets” a rope to give it that new feeling.

Team Roping Ropes Are Weather-Sensitive

Cold winter weather calls for straight nylon ropes. Cold temps tend to loosen a rope’s twist which can cause a backswing.

Warmer weather may warrant a poly blend team roping rope. A blended rope will handle the expansion from hotter temps better.

Breaking in Your Team Roping Rope

Never start an event with a fresh rope. Start the break-in process by working on a dummy. Then you can adjust the size of your loop and coil without the stress of working with a live animal. Once you feel ready and confident, practice on live steer. And ideally, many times. This will help your rope stretch and get it ready for competition. Tie it up and pack it away until your event.


Ropes are like jeans. You never know how they’ll fit until you try them on. Try everything until you learn what feels comfortable. Ask questions and test out ropes that have been used by others. You’ll gain useful insight into their reasoning and why they made certain choices. 

When To Retire Your Team Roping Rope

You’ll know it’s probably time for a new rope when you spot extra rubbery or slippery spots where you dally your rope. Any kinks or frays also signal its time for a replacement.

The Roping Round-Up

Choosing the right team roping rope can greatly influence your performance, whether you’re a header or a heeler. Once you have the correct gear in hand, you’ll be ready to move on to the next step. 

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