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What Is Tie-down Roping?

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What Is Tie-down Roping?

A tie-down roper attempts to secure his calf.

Photo © R. Forester
Tie-down roping, formerly known as calf roping, is one of the oldest of all rodeo events. Originally developed as a daily chore on the ranch, tie-down roping has changed little over the past century. Cowboys and cowgirls around the world participate in this fast-paced sport, and race against the clock in a harmonious balance of speed and precision.

History of Tie-Down Roping

In the early days of westward expansion, cattle wandered across the western plains by the thousands. Cows gave birth to calves miles from the ranch, and ranch hands were in charge of rounding up and bringing the herds in for periodic health checks and branding. Catching squirmy calves was a challenge for even the most experienced cowboy, and most employed the use of a sturdy rope to help restrain the wily little beasts. The cowboy would walk into the herd on horseback and toss his rope around the neck of the nearest calf, guiding him gently to the branding fire. He would then hop off and restrain the calf's legs with a soft piece of rope to prevent him from kicking during vaccination and branding. Cowboys looking to hone their roping skills would practice on calves during their downtime, transforming it from a simple ranch chore into a fast-paced competition.

Roping Gear

Tie-down competitors need specialized gear to catch their calves in the shortest time. Every cowboy needs a strong horse, and many ropers choose Quarter Horses because they have the speed and power to catch even the fastest calves. Ropers use special roping saddles with wide saddle horns that provide plenty of space for their ropes. Each saddle horn is wrapped with special tape to give the horn a bit of grip as the cowboy wraps his rope around the horn. The rope is arguably the single-most important piece of gear for a tie-down roper. The rope must be stiff enough to maintain a loop, but flexible enough to bend around the head of a charging calf. Most cowboys choose a poly rope made of synthetic fibers because they are more durable and resistant to water and grime than natural ropes. The pigging string is the piece of equipment that makes tie-down roping unique. This short piece of rope wraps around three of the animal's legs to signal the end of the cowboy's run.

In The Arena

Before each run, a calf is loaded into the chute and a small piece of breakaway rope is fastened around its neck. The cowboy enters the box and backs his horse into the corner as the chute workers stretch a rope barrier across the chute entrance. The cowboy grabs his rope, readies his horse, and signals the chute worker to open the chute. As the calf runs forward, the barrier pops and the cowboy follows the calf. If the horse leaves the box before the barrier goes down, a 10-second penalty is added to his final time. The cowboy tosses his rope around the calf's neck and jumps off his horse as the animal comes to a stop. He runs down the rope, flanks the calf and lays her over on her side. He then pulls three of her legs together and wraps the pigging string around her legs, tying a knot to hold the string firm. He raises his hands to signal the end of his run, and the judge waits for a count of six seconds to see if the calf gets up before declaring an official time. If the calf slips her legs out of the rope or stands up, the cowboy earns a no score.

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