Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tie down roping, part one

I know a little bit about a lot of equestrian disciplines, but rodeo events are not my strong suit.  Fortunately, my friend Christie Partee was willing to step in and add some expert commentary to the photos I took last week at the Elizabeth Stampede Rodeo.   


by Christie Partee
photos by Jennifer Buxton


If you’ve been in the model horse hobby for a long time, you might remember a series of articles I wrote for The Hobby Horse News about western performance in the late 1990s. As one of the few model horse showers in that era who grew up riding western, not English, I am a lot more familiar with western tack than most showers at that time. People were often asking me to explain the “how” and “why” of western riding and equipment, so I wrote the articles, and my friend Leah Patton illustrated them for me. Believe it or not, I still have people tell me that they have copies of these articles and they use them for reference! Now, Jennifer Buxton asked me to write a guest blog about rodeo roping, and I happily agreed!

First, a disclaimer: one of the biggest things to remember is just as with any discipline, there is a HUGE difference between what you see at the highest levels of competition, and what you see in everyday use, and in lower levels of competition. For this article, I am focusing on professional rodeo in an arena setting, not ranch rodeo, or working ranch horses. Furthermore, since roping is a TIMED, not JUDGED, event (except at AQHA and APHA breed shows), the equipment will vary even more. The breed shows have rules about which bit or curb strap you can use, and whether a jerk line is permitted, but the PRCA/IPRA do not. My goal here is to give a good overview of the most common equipment, but it should not be taken as the supreme authority. I can tell you that I have been around ropers and rope horses for over 20 years, and I actually used to be able to rope decently (on someone else’s horse since my Arabian was afraid of cows). Now that I’m no longer a horse owner, I’ve been a spectator at the NFR, and I watch rodeos every chance I get!


Roping horses are almost exclusively Quarter Horses. Every now and then, you will see a Paint, but 99% of the horses are AQHA. The horses shown in Jennifers’s photos all appear to be AQHA horses. 
A good roping horse knows how to do his job, and he has to be able to work independently without cues from the roper, especially when the roper is dismounted and is tying the calf. The horse needs to keep the slack taut and keep the calf on the ground. A bad roping horse that continues to drag the calf backwards while the roper is attempting to tie the legs can literally cost the roper his run! 
The horse also needs to be calm in the box before the run, and be able to go from a standing start, to full speed, 
and then to a full stop within 4 seconds!  
As a result of this, Roping horses are the most expensive horses in all of professional rodeo, even with the current horse market conditions. A decent roping horse will usually sell in the $10k range, and a NFR-quality horse is usually in the $50k range. This is because tie down roping is the richest money event in all of rodeo! Joe Beaver was the PRCA’s first million dollar cowboy (UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center, home of the NFR, is called “the house that Joe built”), and Trevor Brazile, who competes in three of the four PRCA roping events, has won almost $4 million in competition. My favorite tie-down roping horse is Trevor Brazile’s beautiful sorrel gelding Texaco, who is a son of Dual Pep and was bred to be a cutting horse.


PRCA attire rules require all competitors in the arena to wear long pants, a tucked in long-sleeved shirt, belt, boots, and a cowboy hat, so that is what you will see the tie-down competitors wearing in this event. They may have a back number, or they may not, depending on the individual arena’s requirements. 
Two things you will NOT see in tie-down roping: a rider wearing chaps of any sort, and a rider without a hat. Why? First, show ring “shotgun” style suede chaps make it very difficult for the wearer to quickly dismount and run to and kneel down to tie the calf. Rodeo style leather chaps (such as worn by the rough stock riders and pick up men) are VERY heavy, and would also make it difficult to run and kneel.   Plus, the added weight could slow down the horse. So, you will not see a roper wearing chaps. 
Secondly, if a roper knocks his hat off, something has gone very wrong with his run. Cowboys are superstitious about their hats (never put them on a bed, etc.) and the only way a roper’s hat will end up in the arena dirt is if he throws it there, such as Tuf Cooper sometimes does after a good run! Many cowboys will tip their hat to the audience while they are coiling their rope after a good run. Fred Whitfield often does his trademark “raise the roof” after an excellent run!


PRCA says the calves used in its competitions must weigh between 220 and 280 lbs., so they are NOT newborns! 
Each competitor has to run down the rope and pick the calf up by “flanking” it, then lay it on its side and tie three legs together. 
The calves used are usually meat breed cattle, so they are usually black, black with a white face, or reddish brown. (Brahman cattle are NOT used for tie-down roping due to their long, weaker necks.) The model horse world, thankfully, has a great supply of the Herndon tied calves and the “Dually” calf that is running/being caught.

Next post:  Equipment and Accessories


  1. Thank you for the information so far it is very interesting to someone who has only sat on a western saddle once! I noticed that the man in the white shirt with shades on sitting on the liver chestnut has put his bosal(noseband) over the top of the bit, would this not interfere with the bit action? (Hope I got the name right!!!)

  2. You have sharp eyes! Several riders throughout the day had their bridles set up with the noseband over the cheekpieces. It looked odd to me,too, but those nosebands are adjusted much looser than their English equivalents and didn't appear to have any effect on the action of the bit.