The Art Of Team Roping

Team roping in the US traces back to 1521, with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, who brought Andalusian cattle to Florida. Long after they left, the cattle stayed with the settlers, who built ranches and transported their cattle across the country. In the 1800s, day workers on the ranches had to safely catch cattle and restrain them, to treat illness, brand, or tag them.

Art imitates life, as the saying goes. Necessary skills evolved into an exciting, adrenaline-filled team sport. Let’s find out what today’s team roping looks like, how it’s judged, and what makes a winning team.

Man wearing a cowboy hat, holding a rope and riding a horse, with text highlighting part of the post.

What Is Team Roping?

Team roping is a rodeo event that involves timing and teamwork between two skilled ropers and their horses. The two ropers are called headers and heelers.

Each cowboy begins the event in their own box. The steer is given a head start across the arena. Once the steer reaches the barrier limit the header is permitted to charge after it. The header ropes the steer’s horns and then wraps the end of the rope around the saddle horn several times. This is known as a dally. The dally restricts the steer’s movement and turns it towards the left. This turn enables the heeler to access the steer’s hind legs.

The heeler rides behind the steer and ropes the hind legs together with a “heel” loop. The heel loop is designed to easily come apart after the steer has been roped and released. This type of knot helps prevent injury in case anything takes a bad turn during the roping segment.

Once the steer is roped by the header and heeler both horses step backward to remove slack in the line. Both horses and respective cowboys face each other at the finish.

How Is Team Roping Scored?

A team roping event wins with the fastest run. Scoring is complex, but here’s the basics. Time starts with a nod from the header. It ends with both cowboys facing each other and the steer tied with taut lines.

Time is deducted if infractions occur. If ropers break the barrier, 10 seconds are added to the time. If a header ropes a steer without a clean catch, the team is disqualified. There are three legal catches:

  • Clean Horn Catch – Around both horns
  • Half-head Catch – Around the neck and one horn
  • Neck Catch – Around the neck

The heeler’s job is to rope both heels. If only one is roped the team has 5 seconds added to their time. It doesn’t sound like much, but winning times are decided between only tenths of a second. This makes every moment matter.

What Does A Successful Team Roping Team Look Like?

A roping team consists of two cowboys and two horses. But not just any old two will do. Roping teams are like any professional sporting team. You can’t throw a combination together and expect it to work. It requires dedication, practice, and willpower.

Headers & Heelers

The cowboys that make up a roping team need to mesh. Their relationship will be part skill and part chemistry. Each needs to be able to trust that the other will perform their role for the team and vice versa. It takes countless hours of practice and reviewing past performances. And good ol’ cowboy sense!

The Horses

Most team roping horses are American quarter horses. These powerful, coordinated, and nimble steeds make perfect head horses. The head horse is taller and stronger. It has to run down the steer and stop it. Then it needs to be powerful enough to drag it into position for the heeler. All this in the span of a few seconds!

The heel horse needs the same traits but is generally smaller. It needs more agility to get to the steer as fast as possible. Then it needs strength to turn and maintain proper positioning.

Image of two ropers in cowboy hats, riding horses and roping a steer, with text below highlighting part of the post.

How To Get Started In Team Roping

If you want to get involved in team roping, start with the basics. A team roper needs excellent horsemanship, a good horse, and above-average roping skills.

Start Off On The Right Foot

Horsemanship is the foundation of any effective roping team. A roper knows how to cue his or her horse, and how the horse will respond. Remember your horse needs to learn the sport as well. This happens over time, don’t rush it.

Choose The Right Partner

You’ll probably need to try out more than one horse to find your roping match. Give them a trial at a jackpot roping or in a practice pen. Have a vet perform an exam for overall health and potential.

Learn The Ropes

Start off with a roping dummy. This slows down the process to ensure your technique is correct. A straight nylon rope is a good first choice before moving to the stiffer ropes that the pros use.

Saddle Up

Saddle size is important for both horse and rider. Proper positioning is vital so don’t skimp on your saddle!

Set Your Sights On Team Roping

If you want to compete with others, while working together through excitement and danger, team roping may be for you.

X Factor Team Roping has the training, videos, experts, and resources to begin your journey. Or if you’re further along in the process, you can further hone your skills! Learn how X Factor Team Roping can help you reach your team roping goals.

Image of a man in a hat riding a horse with a rope in his hands, with text below promoting X Factor membership.


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Hear What Others Are Saying About X Factor Roping

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.

Lauren, California

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.

Clay, Missouri

It has helped my horsemanship out a lot. My favorite part about the site is by far the Facebook coaching group. Ryan Motes series on advancing through the different levels of heeling has helped me the most. My mental game has improved significantly.. And it has changed the way I practice I used to just run steers now I practice to accomplish something.

Daniel, Mississippi

I love X Factor, it has helped me work on everything from dummy work to horsemanship. I’ve roped and been doing something wrong, go home and find my problem on the website. I’ve started roping in the practice pin a lot different where I use to just go make runs I now have a goal on every steer I run. Thank you, keep doing what y’all are doing!!

Blaine, Mississippi

It has help me tremendously with my horsemanship, the way I practice, and also how approach certain situation. My favorite part of the site is all the different categories you can choose from to work on. Love it

Jordynn, Canada

X Factor has helped me probably the most in my horsemanship which is precisely why I was interested in becoming a member to begin with. So mission accomplished. My favourite parts about the site is the horsemanship videos. And the videos of the ropings. I would say the Joseph Harrison and the Ryan Motes videos have helped me the most. Both a great horsemen and I like how they Really break down what they’re doing with their colts I practice completely different than I used to. And with me being a colt starter and rope horse trainer I take a lot from the horse training videos. And really appreciate them being available.

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