Timing has to be one of the most controversial subjects in team roping. Some claim it is the only way to heel steers while other swear that it is a complete illusion. Though it may get me in a fight some day, I am the minority that does not believe in timing. Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe you do have to throw your loop when the feet are back or you are not going to get very far, but as far as actually counting hops going down the pen or yelling out, “Now” every time you should throw your rope, I’m not sold. I believe that most steers, especially fresh steers, will rarely take the same jump twice. And planning on that can do us more harm then good in my opinion. I think it also sets your horse up for failure and either makes them strong or lets them read the throw.
What Is Timing
I think timing actually has two definitions. One is to count the hops and plan on the steer taking the same jump all the way down and across the arena. The other is to simply have your rope on the ground at the correct time in the steers hop, and I don’t think these two things are the same. Timing just means that your loop is hitting the legs at the peak of the steers jump, so that as they come down, your loop is starting to get them caught. Something that is not thought about though, is what is your horse currently doing when all of this is going on. Are they melting to a stop at the perfect time, or are the just still trucking. This is where I think there is a problem with simply timing the steer and planning on the same hop. If your horse isn’t in time with you, it doesn’t really matter how good of time you are in with the steer. Also when was the last time you saw a fresh steer take the same hop two or three times in a row.
Part of my thought on not being that worried about timing too early is the argument that most steers don’t take the same hop all the way through the run. This is just something to consider as you rope in higher number ropings, the steers get stronger and fresher. This means their consistency as far as hop goes down. And unfortunately, as you get into lower numbered ropings, though the steers get more consistent, the headers can be a little tougher to heel for. This is where planning on a shot a couple hops before can really get you into a bind. You never know which of the many variables is going to change when you finally get to the hop you were planning on. I think it also causes a problem with people slowing their swing down to the speed of the steer and when the take a slow jump then a couple fast ones, you are left dead in the water.
I am a huge advocate of being in time with your horse rather then the steer. I think if we are only timing the steer, we are either going to surprise our horse into a throw, or give them way too much time to read it and let them get short. It is right here, that if your horse is in your hand and has a really good feel, that you can have a lot of fun heeling steers. I try to make sure that they are collected and in my hand while still keeping their shoulders up. This allows them to naturally read the steer and help you in the process. This also helps them to help you in your delivery. How many times have we “plucked” at our rope, mostly just because our horse was never really rating and we felt like we had to pick them off in the air. This is where I emphasize feeling your horse more and the actual hops less. Be in time with your horse and they will naturally help pick up the timing of the steer.
I do think this is the reason that we need heel horses with at least a decent amount of cow and rate. They need to be able to help us in every way and if they are just strong and pulling it makes it really hard to find any resemblance of timing, regardless of how often you shout “Now!”
My personal thought is to start by having really good power on your rope. Now this doesn’t always mean swinging fast, it just means swinging hard. This allows you to be able to put your rope where ever you want when you do see the hop that you want. I think many heelers would drastically improve their heeling if they would just have more power on their rope. I believe in focusing more on swinging your rope hard and making sure your horse is in your hand and in good position. I think position feel and power are many miles more important to heeling the steer then just timing. Usually if your horse is in a good spot, they are naturally in time with the steer, and if they are in time, you are at least close enough to be able to find the steer in the next hop. I think the emphasis on your horse being in your hand and reading the cow is really helpful.
I believe that if you can get a good start on your steer and get power on your rope you will be able to adapt to whatever the steer throws at you no matter what. Always tell people, ride your horse and swing your rope. It seems simple but it can really help. Then after you get to a good spot, then start looking at your hops. Without the first two I believe timing the steer doesn’t do much good.
I hope this controversial article was helpful for some people who are on the fence about timing. As always Have Fun and God Bless.