The Mechanics of the Head Horse Face
The Mechanics of the Head Horse Face
From The American Quarter Horse Journal
The final step of a team roping run is when the heeler catches and stops, and the head horse turns to face the steer and heeler. Whether you are turning steers at an AQHA show, jackpot or rodeo, your horse's “face” can often be the difference between claiming the top prize or being out of the money. But at the highest level, horses that finish strong can be the difference between placing and not winning anything.
“Team roping has become such a tough sport, what used to be a minor step, like facing, is now a huge differentiator,” says four-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier JoJo LeMond of Andrews, Texas. “Horses that can face well and shut the clock off faster can save you as much as a second worth of time.”
Facing in Team Roping
Most of the time, facing comes down to the timing of the run, which correlates with the rhythm you’re pulling the steer in. This is where your horse will pivot off of his front end and kick his hind end around to finish the face. Essentially, he uses that momentum from his hind end to take the slack out of the rope.
A lot of low-numbered headers go to the end of their rope before they start to face. This will basically pull the head horse around. When it is slower, it is harder on both the head and the heel horse, to have to pull the other horse around.
Professional Roper Tips: JoJo LeMond
On the professional rodeo circuit, ropers like JoJo ask their head horses to face much sooner than a show or jackpot header would. Usually, the horse is farther away from the steer, because the professional rodeo cowboy throws a lot more rope at the steer to save precious time. Therefore, the facing style looks quite a bit different than what spectators see at an AQHA show.
“When my horse faces, I am going to apply pressure with my right foot and right rein to lift and bend the horse’s ribcage around my right leg,” JoJo says, explaining how to use your feet.
To do this, he keeps his right rein about 1 inch shorter than his left rein.
“I want my horse to push off of his front end and keep drawing around with his hind end. So essentially, he’s pivoting on the right front foot,” JoJo says.
His heeler often throws his rope on the steer’s first or second stride after the steer makes the corner. So, JoJo prepares his horse for the face while he is pulling the steer across the pen, rather than making it a separate maneuver.
“As soon as I take hold of a steer in the corner, I start setting my horse up to face,” JoJo explains. “I want to keep the steer at a 45-degree angle so he is about even with my right shoulder. I don’t want my rope running down my horse’s right hip. I want my horse counter-arced enough so his hip is never under that rope.”
JoJo turns to face the steer when he sees his heeler finish pulling his rope tight around the steer’s feet, but before the heeler starts to dally.
“If you start facing before that point and your heeler fumbles his slack, it makes your horse not only have to face up, but he also has to run backwards to keep the rope tight to maintain control of the steer,” JoJo says.
He also cautions headers to not let their horses drift up the arena when they face. The header needs to keep drawing the steer back toward the boxes so the horse never loses control of the steer.
What Happens If the Heeler Misses?
When the heeler misses, what do you do? A lot of headers will switch and head straight to the catch pen with the steer. But, you should reconsider doing this because you’re teaching your horse that he doesn’t always need to come back up the fence strong. You'll always want to make sure to teach your horse correctness and good habits. When a run is done, your horse should either face fast or you can drive him out of there to keep him strong back up the fence.