Rope Horse Warm-Up Strategy

Rope Horse Warm-Up Strategy

Hone your rope horse warm-up strategy with 8 tips from AQHA Professional Horseman Clay Logan.

Clay Logan rope horse warm up (Credit: Abigail Boatwright)

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By Abigail Boatwright

When it comes to preparing your horse to compete, each event requires a slightly different warm-up routine, and roping has its own set of requirements. It’s a balance between over- and under-riding your horse. Too much warm up is not always the best scenario.

In this article, AQHA Professional Horseman Clay Logan unpacks his routine for preparing rope horses to compete.

Rope Horse Warm-Up: The Goal

A properly warmed-up rope horse will work at his best. If you don’t warm up enough, Clay says your horse may act up during your run, which can cost you.

“If your horse is too fresh, he may not want to stand in the box, he may not be focused on what you’re asking them to do,” Clay says. “There’s a fine line between getting them warmed up and ready, and over-loping to where they’re in such good shape that you can’t get his attention.”

Avoid the “Loped-Down” Trap

Clay is conservative when he warms up rope horses both at home and at shows for a couple of reasons. First, if a horse gets accustomed to a lot of loping, he’s going to require more and more of that loping to get him in the zone to compete.

“If I get them in too good of shape, when I get to say, the World Show, I won’t be able to get the horse loped down,” Clay says. “If he’s used to loping for four hours, we won’t be able to do that. So we try for minimal loping to get the horse tired, and get it to working just a little bit fresh.”

Sometimes conditions aren’t ideal for lengthy warm-up routines. Some venues, like certain stock shows, have very little warm-up space. Or maybe Clay has a long line-up of horses that he hauled to the show.

“If I’ve got 15 horses and one arena, and I have to get there a couple of hours early to try to get 15 horses loped down, and then have everything ready to go in that limited space and not enough people to help – it’s very difficult,” Clay says. “You won’t be able to lope each horse for two hours. So we try to keep them riding at home, working so they don’t need as much loping to be good.”

Keeping a horse fresh has other benefits, too – like added longevity. Since many rope horses hit their prime at 8 years old or older, versus the futurity age, Clay says avoiding long periods of riding before each run is essential.

“We try to take a bit less loping to where they’re not completely tired when you go to work them, because that’s when they can get hurt,” Clay says. “They could hurt a suspensory or something else when they’re fatigued.”

For more on Clay’s advice for maintaining older horses, read “The Best Is Yet to Come” in the March issue.

Adapt Your Warm Up

Clay doesn’t do the same warm up at every show. Rather, he adjusts the routine based on several factors. The size of the show is one factor.

“I probably would not put as much time in on a horse to lope him down at a smaller show,” Clay says. “I may see how he acts, see how fresh he is.”

As the year goes on and the horse competes at more and more shows, Clay may change up his warm up, adding more loping if the horse isn’t focusing and needs it, or less, as the horse is seasoned. At the AQHA World Championship Show, he tends to warm up more, simply to keep the horse at the top of his game. But always erring on the side of fresh, versus worn out.

Some horses end up a little fresher, and may show just fine, while others can handle a little more warm up.

“Earlier in the year, we will see which horses take more riding, and which ones take less,” Clay says.

Build Your Routine

When warming up before a competition or at home, Clay uses a “loping” bridle, one with a short port and no tie-down. After he’s done getting the horse ready to go, he’ll replace the loping bridle with the bridle he is going to show in.

He’ll get on, walk and trot a bit, then lope some easy circles to loosen the horse up, feeling for when the horse is past any humping up inclinations.

“You might have to ride them around and make sure they’re going to be OK, especially in the winter time,” Clay says. “In the summer, it’s a lot easier to get them ready, because they’re not so prone to get fresh.”

Next, he’ll ask for the most important maneuvers during the warm up: the stop and turn.

“You’ll go lope down the fence, ask for a stop and turn him around,” Clay says. “You want to pick up on your horse, and then whatever you ask him to do, he needs to respond.”

If your horse has trouble with the stop and turn, then continue to work him on the fence, stopping, turning toward the fence and sending him back out a few times.

“You should make sure he’s paying attention to your rein hand as much as your feet,” Clay says. “Make sure he’s coming off the bridle, coming off your feet, but not scared of you. More or less, you’re wanting to get his attention.”

Before you rope, check your horse’s responsiveness with a quick stop and turnaround.

Box Time

If the venue allows it, put your horse in the box in the arena before you actually show. Clay says this will especially help prepare a greener horse.

“Make sure the horse will go through a rope barrier, if it hasn’t done it before,” Clay says. “Try to help the horse relax there, if it hasn’t been away from home much. The older they get, usually it gets a little easier. With a younger horse, you probably need to spend more time practicing going in and out of the box with all of the banners out in the arena.”

When possible, stand your horse in the box at the show before you rope, making sure he knows how to break with a barrier.

Final Preparation

Right before you go into the box to rope, Clay recommends asking your horse to do a couple more moves.

“He needs to be paying attention to you,” Clay says, “So you’ll ask just a little sharper, you’re not piddling around. Ask him to lope, stop, get off the bridle and turnaround. You want him ready to move and respond to what you’re asking. You want him in a little bit of a higher gear.”

Things to Avoid

Clay says steer clear of hard-core training before you show.

“Picking at the horses is too much for me,” Clay says. “A lot of people want to stay after it to make everything perfect, stopping and turning too much, but I think the horse needs to be able to back into the box and not be worried about what you’re going to do. You can overdo it. I think the horse just needs to know what his job is.”

Know Your Horse

The more you work with your horse, the better you can gauge its mood and adjust your warm-up accordingly.

“You have to get a feel of your horse, so you know how he’s feeling that day,” Clay says. “Each one is different. They’re not always going to have the best day. So if there’s something not quite right, it might take a little more loping to feel good. Or it might take a little bit less. You need to learn when you need to press on the gas with your horse, and when you need to back off the gas.”

Ready to your rope-horse showing to the next level? Download the Guide to Showing Rope Horses, free to AQHA members.

About the Source: Clay Logan

AQHA Professional Horseman Clay Logan is a trainer and rodeo competitor located in Granbury, Texas. He is a five-time AQHA world champion, four-time reserve world champion, and has trained several AQHA world and reserve world champion roping horses. He was the 2012 AQHA Leading Exhibitor, and he is a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association champion team roper.