The Lowdown on AQHA Roping Classes

The Lowdown on AQHA Roping Classes

Is AQHA roping judged or timed? And what are judges looking for?

Two men roping on sorrel horses

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Showing rope horses is a booming industry, both inside and outside the American Quarter Horse Association arena. Yes, the horse-show team roping business is booming. If you’re interested in AQHA competition, you should know AQHA roping competition is split into three divisions:

  • Youth is for exhibitors 18 years and younger.
  • Amateur is for non-professionals 19 years and older.
  • Open, which is truly open for everyone, but it’s in the open division where you’ll find professionals competing.

Competition is further broken down into Levels 1-3 in each of the divisions, so ropers ranging from beginning experience and skill level on up to NFR qualifiers have a place in AQHA roping.

But enough about divisions and levels. Let’s get into the fun stuff: the classes themselves and how AQHA roping classes are judged.

Dally Team Roping

AQHA dally team roping classes are judged. Heading and heeling horses are entered and judged individually. There is a 1-minute time limit, with each roper being allowed two loops from one rope.


The heading horse is judged on the rate of speed to the steer, ability to match the steer’s speed and favorably position the roper to catch. The horse also is judged on his ability to check, turn and set the steer in position for the heeler.


The heeling horse is judged on the ease with which he turns, rates to the steer, and positions the heeler to catch one or both heels. A run is complete when the heeler has dallied and the header and heeler have faced with the steer between the two.

Breakaway Roping

AQHA breakaway roping is AQHA’s only timed roping competition. Breakaway roping is only offered for amateur and youth contestants. In breakaway roping, the rope is attached to the saddle horn with a heavy string allowing it to break when a legal catch is made. There is a 1-minute time limit and all other tie-down-roping rules apply.

Tie-Down Roping

AQHA tie-down roping is a judged class that tests a horse’s ability to follow a calf at great speed, giving the rider the best opportunity to catch the calf. The horse is judged on how quietly he waits for the calf to be released; how well he runs to the calf; how he rates his speed and position so that the rider can rope the calf; and how well the horse stops and works the end of the rope, keeping the slack out but not dragging the calf.

Guide to Showing Rope Horses

In this e-book from AQHA, three AQHA Professional Horsemen explain: 

  • How to demonstrate your horses’ best skills in front of the judges.
  • How to perfect technique when it comes to performing in the box.
  • The best methods for showing a heel horse.
  • How to increase your tie-down score.
  • Much more on all aspects of showing the rope horse.

Download AQHA's "Guide to Showing Rope Horses."