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How Does Team Roping Work?

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How Does Team Roping Work?

A heeler practices his roping skills.

Photo © Mary R. Vogt
Team roping is the only event in the rodeo world in which cowboys work together instead of against each other. This fast-paced sport pairs two horse and rider pairs together in an effort to stop a speeding steer in the shortest time possible. Like most other rodeo events, team roping has its origins on open plains.

Team Roping History

At the height of the cattle driving era, cowboys spent every second of sunlight chasing down rogue steers and rounding them up in order to prepare them for market. Ranches often sprawled out over thousands of acres, and gathering rowdy steers could take a week. In order to make the process more manageable, cowboys would pair together to rope the stragglers and bring them to the sorting pens. One cowboy would rope the steer around the horns and drag him toward the pen, while another cowboy would rope the steer's hind feet in order to immobilize him for branding and vaccinations. The fastest and most accurate cowboys were praised for their ability to get the highest number of steers into the pen, and they practiced in their downtime to become the best team roping pair on the ranch.

Team Roping Terms and Equipment

Like most other timed events, team roping is a sport filled with specific terms and equipment. Each cowboy on the team has a role and designation. The man in charge of roping the steer's horns is called the header, and the man catching the feet is known as the heeler. Each cowboy carries a rope made of synthetic fiber that he wraps around his horn after he throws his loop to keep the steer from escaping. Team ropers wrap their horns with protective rubber or leather horn wraps that add extra grip to the rope and protect the saddle from rope damage if the steer pulls against the rope. Most cowboys also wear leather roping gloves to prevent rope burns as they charge around the arena. Team roping horses may be of any breed, although Quarter Horses are by far the most popular breed. Quarter Horses have the speed to run after a charging steer, and the size to stop a hard-running animal without putting their rider in danger.

Out of the Chute

Steers are loaded into the chute, and the header and heeler each enter the box on either side of the chute. A rope, called the barrier, is strung across the front of each box and is attached to a quick-release rope around the steer's neck. As the steer leaves the chute, the rope triggers the barrier and gives the steer a slight head start. If either cowboy leaves the chute before the steer, they are assessed a 10-second penalty. The header swings his rope and tosses it toward the steer's horns. There are three legal catches in team roping: both horns, half-head the rope settles around the horn on one side and around the neck on the other), and around the neck. Once the header catches the steer, he dallies, or wraps the end of the rope quickly around the saddle horn. He turns his horse quickly and the steer follows, presenting his hindquarters to the heeler. The heeler then throws his rope at the bottom of the steer's hooves and dallies his rope to stop the steer. Both horse and rider pairs back up until their ropes are completely taught and the judge drops his flag to stop the clock. A perfect heel catch includes both hind feet; if one leg slips out before the judge stops the timer, the team is assessed a 5-second penalty.

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