One of the most frequent questions asked on roping horses is how many steers should we run on each horse in the practice pen. It can be a complex question because every horse and rider is very different. Some horses are young and can only handle a couple steers everyday while other young horses need a lot of runs or they will try to run off. I know some older horses who know their job and just need to stay in good shape and run just a couple every once in awhile. And I personally have an older horse that will go full blown wild when I don’t run enough on him. It can also depend on what you might be trying to get ready for as far as roping or show wise for you and your horses. But the short answer to the question is whatever you do, do it with consistency.
Let’s start with the easier ones, older/finished horses. These horses are usually our good ones. They have been through the ringer and have turned into really nice horses. These horses know their job and have usually done it quite a bit. With these horses my first reaction is that if there is a problem, we usually created it in some way. They know how to do their job, we just need to help remind them sometimes.
Older horses generally just need maintenance. They just need to be shown whats expected and helped to work their best. If you are getting into huge arguments with your good horse, there is a problem. I know very few good horses that need more than 4-6 steers ran on them any given day. Where I start to gauge it is how often I run these 4-6 steers. On my good horse who can get kind of wild, I never run a ton on him on any day but I will run steers often on him. I will often use him 3-5 days per week, especially when I’m getting ready for some ropings or rodeos. I recommend about half of your runs on your good horses be more realistic runs for you and to feel them out and the other half just being for them to keep them working good.
You don’t want to get too far away from either of those because, one way your horse might not feel very good at the roping and the second you might not have a very realistic feel for your horse when you do go full contact.
These horses also aren’t too hard because you know the default is always going to be go slow. When in doubt, slow down. Young horses will figure it out in due time but it takes a awhile before they mature into nice horses. I try to get them to a point where they are pushing their boundaries but not getting pressed over the line. This can be one steer or 10, and they get to decide how many. I have young horses that do great on the first couple steers and I jump off and go on to the next one. I also have young horses that walk out of the stall in a bad mood and get to run a bunch of steers until they make the choice to be good. With young horses it is much more about letting them figure it out in due time. If they are making good choices, they can get rewarded with an easy day, and if they are making bad choices they might be in for a long one but it is up to them. Get a decent idea of how you want them to feel for the day and when they get to that point, crawl off and get on your next horse. If you can do a good job planning before hand then have good fortitude to see it through, you will be amazed at how well your green horses progress.
Up and Coming Horses
The final category that I wanted to cover is the most difficult. It is the question of the nice young horse that is coming along well. This horse is farther along then a green colt but is not quite ready to be called a good horse. On this horse more then anything it comes down to consistency. On a nice young horse they need to be consistently progressed as often as possible. These horses aren’t green so they do need to start growing up and heading towards becoming a good horse but they cannot handle the super fast steers or several full contact runs in succession.
On an up and coming horse we want to make sure they are progressing steadily. You don’t have to train them in one day but you do want them to continue to get better. It’s an over used cliche but 1% better every day for 100 days in a row = 100% improvement. As with the good horses I recommend 4-6 steers per day. This limits the steers so they can’t get too wound up but can still see enough cattle every day to progress. The main difference on younger horses versus the good ones is that I wouldn’t recommend roping for you quite as often. They are still going to need more help then your good one would and if you are running strong steers and worrying about your roping too much, a young horses training and mental state can begin to slip through the cracks. I try to run mostly medium and slow steers on my young horses with the occasional strong one in there, but all the while still helping them when they need it in the run. They do need to be exposed, but just remember you can be playing with fire if you push it too hard. Help them to progress slowly but surely and you will love the outcome here in a couple months.
Always remember that horses feed off of consistency. They are very patterned animals and respond well when we can give them a positive routine. When we work to give them a pattern daily and monthly, we can create great results. I hope this article was helpful in everyone for their practice regime and keeping their horses working.
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