There are two crucial aspects of the run for a head horse. The first is the head box. Once a head horse has made it out of the box, hopefully leaving flat and letting the run progress, the next point of contention is the corner. It controls the rest of the run and can make or break whether your heeler can finish the run and let you win. This is one of the hardest points of the run for a head horse both mentally and physically. It’s so hard because they are asked to slow down, use their hind end to pull the steer and completely change directions. When done right, it can be such a cool feeling and really help the flow of the run
As with anything in roping, it all depends on how things start. You have to have your horse leaving the box flat and down as a header if you have any hope of continuing the run in a positive direction. As your horse is leaving the box, it is crucial that they are paying attention to the cow. If a head horse is watching the cow, it is really hard for them to get in a bad spot on their approach. When they are watching the cow and are connected to him, they will be following the cow and naturally give you a better spot to throw from. You won’t have to be constantly pulling your horse back over towards the cow or riding them away from the cow and this gives you more energy to set up your head shot.
When your head horse doesn’t have a very good approach to the cow, it sets up a compromised head shot, forcing you to pull off a shot that may not go on very well. When the head shot doesn’t go on super smooth it can put you and your horse off balance and throw you off the flow of the run.
The Head Shot
When you have a good approach, it sets up a quality head shot. Horses derive a ton of their timing moving forward from how smooth the head shot is. When your head loop snaps on clean and smooth, it shows the head horse its time to engage their hind end and begin the corner. If the head loop doesn’t go on smooth, either ticks on or goes on with too much slack, it throws off the timing of the head horse. . You will need to ride much more and help your horse find their timing again. This usually takes substantial time and can make the rest of the run be out out of control. Taking one more swing to make sure your head loop goes on smooth and crisp can be worth the time spent.
Making Sure Your in Control
After the smooth head shot, we still want our horse to be fully in our left hand and between our legs. This is where many people start to lose control of their horse and therefore their run. If your horse starts heading out before your comfortable, you need to do some adjusting. Not only is it hard to control the run, but can also be very dangerous when trying to find a dally. Try roping and following your steer for several strides and help your horse relax. If your horse is still pulling on you or wanting to get left, you might need to slow down and rope the dummy and some slow steers. Give your horse a chance to relax and really work to keep their body straightened going down the arena. Sometimes it just takes a couple steers, and sometimes it can take quite a while but it is well worth the time to make sure you have control. When you are in control of your horse, you are in control of the steer and therefore the run.
Using Their Hind End
All great head horses use their hind end in the corner. After your horse is relaxed and staying in their frame going down the arena, it is time to make sure they are using their hind end correctly. A useful drill is to see if you can stop your horse going vertically down the arena after you have caught and dallied. I recommend using lighter steers if you want to stay dallied, just to make sure you give your horse confidence in their hind end rather then jerking them out of their stop. If you can stop your horse while running vertically down the arena, they are ready to continue the run. If you cannot at least gain control going down the arena, you will never fully have control during the run. Try slowing down again, maybe roping the dummy, and get complete control of your horse. When you can stop any speed of steer, you know you are in control.
Starting the Corner
Once you have control of your horse, you have done most of the hard work. Most horses that have any kind of head horse training, will be set up to simply complete their job at this point. When a quality head horse is set up correctly, the move in the corner can be one of the coolest feelings in the world. After you catch the steer and make sure your horse is calm and relaxed running vertically down the arena, simply sit down deep in your saddle, engage your bridle reins and let your horse do their job. So many people want to try to do so much in this area when really they are just getting in their horses way. Many people want to hold on with their legs, or excessively pull on the reins to get their balance. All this does is put your horse off balance or make them likely to pull on you. The more you can relax and the deeper you can sit down, the better your horse will do. If they are pulling on you, look at your steps above. It is most often you’re set up in the corner rather than the actual pulling of the cow. Horses like to pull things generally and they like be in control of the situation. If they are panicking in the start of the corner, it can be good to go back and do some troubleshooting before you create a bigger issue.
Finishing the Run
Once your horse is through the corner you have most of the run made. If your horse is collected, controlled and in time with the flow of the run, the steer will be naturally easy to heel. Though we won’t go directly into handling cattle in this article, as handling could be several articles all on its own, know that you are most of the way there if you can get these steps down and have control of your horse in the corner.
As you complete your corner just make sure you are coming back up the arena rather then down streaming. This will maintain the pull on the steers head and give your heeler a great chance. A good rule of thumb is to come back up at least two panel lengths from where you initially started. Once you have the steer in full tow coming back up the arena, your job is pretty much done, just time to sit back and watch your heeler take advantage of the great corner you set up for them. Hope this article was helpful, as always Have Fun 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