Roping a Cow in Versatility Ranch Horse, Part 2

Have you put in your practice roping time? Let’s talk about live action!

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Roping a cow is a part of the versatility ranch horse competition. Journal photo.

In Part 1 of this series, you learned how to start roping by practicing on a hay bale before roping from horseback. Now, learn what to do when you start roping the real cows.

If at First You Don’t Succeed . . .

Remember that roping takes lots and lots of practice, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t catch right away, says successful Versatility Ranch Horse exhibitor and trainer Lavert Avent of Watrous, New Mexico. It takes time and patience. Getting frustrated will just make it worse. If you miss, stop, collect yourself and your horse, get everything reset and try again. Repeat the process of tracking the cow until all three are comfortable and relaxed, and then throw.

If things still aren’t working right, back up and practice roping the bale again for a while until you get your confidence back, then try again on the live cow.

Lavert admits that although a live cow is best, many Versatility Ranch Horse competitors don’t have access to cattle to practice every day. If that is the case, there are many commercial roping dummies that are pulled behind another horse or an ATV. You can also rig up something on your own for practice. Use the same steps of tracking, swinging and throwing when you and your horse are comfortable.

Remember to position the horse in the same spot every time. For example, Lavert likes to rope just off the left hip.

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“You don’t need to be like a calf roper over on the right side of the calf, but if you get right behind them or off to the left just a little, it keeps that elbow picked up, and you’ve got to get more dip in your rope,” Lavert says. “Also, remember not to look at the back of the cow’s head. Look about where the calf’s neck and shoulders meet. About a foot behind the head is where you should aim. If you aim at the calf’s head, your hondo will hit it in the head and go right over the top, or you’re going to rope its ears. If you aim back a little so that the hondo hits about a foot behind the head, then the tip goes out and over its nose.”

Put a Knot in It

Once you are good at roping with the breakaway rope, tracking the cow, roping it, dallying and stopping your horse, it’s time to actually stop the cow. Lavert suggests using a knot rope for practice.

A knot rope can be made out of any rope by tying something around the hondo to make it about half its normal size and tying a double knot about 3 feet from the hondo. This keeps the loop from getting tight on the cow’s neck so it comes off easily.

“If you haven’t got anybody out there or any way to get your rope off, when you stop the cow and it looks at you, the rope will come off its head,” Lavert says. “I rope with a knot rope all the time training horses because I don’t have to take the rope off. Plus, if something happens and you are tied to that cow, just stop and the cow will turn to you, and the rope will come off.”

Lavert says knot ropes are good training tools for young horses learning to take the jerk of stopping a cow.

“You rope and stop your horse and start backing up,” he says. “That rope’s going to come off when the horse starts backing, and that’s the reward. Horses figure out if they just keep backing, they’ll get a release.”

If dallying is a challenge, Lavert suggests practicing dallying with a friend.

“Throw your rope out there like you’re roping something, then have somebody grab it and go to pulling on it as you dally,” Lavert says. “This helps you learn to let the rope slide through your hand. It’s not going to burn your hand, but you’ve got to let it slide so you can go to the horn, because if you’re just trying to hold on to it in one spot and dally, it’s hard to get it done. You’ve got to let it slide through your hand a little bit without panicking.

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This also helps riders learn how to dally without looking down at the saddle horn.

Lavert says, “That’s the hardest thing I see with novices is getting used to letting it slide through their hand and not looking down.”

Lavert stresses that position and timing are the two most important things to roping successfully. Both must be learned by practicing until you can recognize the right position and the right time to throw.

One way Lavert avoids making those mistakes himself is by setting up a particular way to rope in the arena.

“You need to realize where you are in the arena. I like to rope going toward the out-gate,” Lavert says. “Every cow that comes in the arena knows where the out-gate is. I like to drive my cow to the other end of the arena and let it run to that out-gate because it is more likely to run straight. If you try to take a cow and chase it away from the out-gate, it’s going to duck and dive, and just as you lean up to throw, it’s going to duck and run the other way. A lot of times, you’ll throw and it’ll duck and you miss.”

Although things don’t always work out perfectly in the show pen, Lavert says it’s important to practice at home like you’re planning to show.

“When you’re training a horse, you want to do it the same way every time. Repetition is how a horse learns,” Lavert says.

When it comes down to it, everything about riding horses takes practice. When people first learn to ride, it takes a while to remember to kick with the left leg to make the horse go right. Well, Lavert says, roping is the same way. If you practice it enough, it becomes second nature.