Gaining the Initiative

As a heeler, everything is dictated off of where your steer goes and what they do. The steer is completely free at the start of the run, and it is a game of control from the start. You can either be behind the pace of the run or be ahead. When you put your self in a good spot at the start of the run, your job gets much easier. Many heelers just kind of coast along until their steer is turned and this can often make it needlessly harder on them. If you can gain the initiative from the start, your job as a heeler can be much easier.

team roping heeler - gaining the initiative

What Are You Watching

Even before the start of the run, there are a couple things you can do to put you ahead from the start. First is what are you watching in the box. If it is a longer start or most jackpots, I try to watch the steer. This way I can begin to gage how hard the steer leaves the box and try to get in the best position moving forward. If the score is really short, or it’s a rodeo, I try to watch my header nod. This way I can get a good downtown start and get in both a good spot and get a good haze for my header. If you really focus on this area of the run, you can put your self very ahead moving forward.

Horse Standing Square

Another thing to think about is to make sure your heel horse is going to be able to leave nice and true. There is not near the effort put into heel horses as there is head horses but a person still needs to make sure they are able to leave when you want. There is not near the pressure on a heel horse as there is a head horse so there is no good reason for them not to be in a good position to leave. If they do want to start getting bound up and hot in there, just remember that we want to make that a good place. So don’t pick a fight with them but rather let them go out into the arena and do some work, doesn’t matter if it is roll backs or just loping circles. This just helps a horse see that the best spot to be is the heel box.

A person can also make sure to let your heel horse leave every time your header scores. The beauty of a heel horse is they don’t have to be crammed in there like a head horse, so you use this to your advantage and help your horse relax. This puts you in a great spot to get a truly good go and start to control your steer.

When The Gates Bang

As soon as the gates bangs, the game of position begins. I recommend you if you have been watching your header nodding, that you turn your focus down towards the steer. Then you can really begin to gage your horse and establish the position that you really want for the rest of the run. Right here is where horsemanship really comes into play. If you are too high, higher than your horses nose equal with their tail, then you are going to need ease off. If you are late, steer really beat you out of there, then you need to really hustle to get back to position. This is also how you can begin to help your header by keeping that steer straight and easier to rope.

Help Them Help You

Heading is hard. The horse has to come from a longer score and has to be standing dead still when the gates bang. They then have to run their heart out to catch up before being asked to completely change course, all while tied to a 500 lbs steer. That being said, there are a lot of things you can do to help your header to both turn you more steers and better steers as well. After you have achieved a good position leaving the box, you can start to gage where the steer is and help your header to get a good approach and shot. You want to be in a spot that you can hold the steer straight but not so high that you compromise your own position.

If you can get a good haze for your header it brings all of the percentages up. One, it is easier to head the cow when they are straight or even one step left. Two, it puts your header at a better angle to put a really good handle on the steer for you. The more control your header has, the easier your job is.

And three, if your header is a good angle, he can create that hop in the steer rather than the steer running around on the end of the rope. If your header is able to pull that cow, it will dramatically effect how the steer hops and how easy it is to read.


The tough part here is that the wrong header can leave you high and dry if they just button hook the steer while you are out there hazing the cow. Or if your header doesn’t know its coming, you can cut the steer in front of them. So sometimes just a simple 15 second conversation can really help the team chemistry. I see it all the time, a heeler complaining about how their headers are starving them, or how bad of a handle they are getting. It might not be all your headers fault right here, its a longer way to run to get a steer on the right wall and is also a harder head shot. It takes a bigger, better, faster horse to be able to go get them and still puts the run at a disadvantage. How many steers do you see running to the right in the open? I’m not saying that those open horses can’t go get them, but that is a factor on why those open headers can turn them all to be 6.5 and under. And also why those number 10 heelers get such a good look. The steer is in the left lead and the initiative has already been seized. Try working on this at home, you will be amazed at how your total catch percentage as a team goes up. Want to learn more about team roping? Check out the The Art Of Team Roping, and 10 Tips For Beginner Ropers!


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Brad, Texas

Being able to watch the slow mo videos have really been a blessing for me. It’s helped me learn my delivery for heeling. Along with how and where my horse needs to be. Some nights my girlfriend and I will break down videos to help us out. She has really progressed in breakaway roping because of watching your videos.

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X Factor has completely changed my mindset in my practice, how I compete and shaped a lot of my horsemanship while roping. I have ridden horses, trained, and barrel raced all my life, but within the past 3 years I have started to rope. I had a young horse I knew I couldn't finish in the barrels because she isn't very fast, but would make a great heel horse. So I set off on an adventure of training a rope horse, all while also learning to rope myself! Lucky me, my horse is a natural at reading cattle and watching a corner, but it was still a learning curve. My X Factor membership purchase was a turning point for my positioning, warm up for my heel horse and my body control translating to my horse when delivering. X Factor was also when my "self teaching" of how to heel really took off! Watching videos over and over, taking notes and exploring all of the different pros to learn from was what really helped me start to figure out my swing, timing and delivery.

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