The World of TEAM ROPING

Spin to Win Rodeo - - Competitive Edge - %y *.R. Schi­avino

Amo il team roping! Ich liebe team roping! I love team roping! Con­grat­u­la­tions. You’ve just com­pleted your first course in talk­ing team roping in three dif­fer­ent lan­guages, and chances are good that out of those first 16 words, you al­ready un­der­stand eight. You’re half­way there, friend.

Next step: Book a flight. Across the world, rop­ings are be­ing held each and ev­ery month of the year and you can find them in coun­tries like Italy, Brazil, Ger­many, the Czech Repub­lic, Mex­ico, Aus­tralia, and Canada. Even for those with an eye on the prize of com­pet­ing in Las Ve­gas at the World Series of Team Roping Fi­nale, there are no less than eight events in three coun­tries—Italy, Ger­many, and Canada—to help achieve those goals.

In Europe, Mike Crouch is the founder of the Euro­pean Team Roping Cham­pi­onships. The or­ga­ni­za­tion was formed in 2007, and by 2009, six of its Ital­ian par­tic­i­pants were Ok­la­homa-bound for the United States Team Roping Cham­pi­onships Cinch Na­tional Fi­nals of Team Roping. The fol­low­ing year, the ETRC, which of­fers monthly rop­ings at its home fa­cil­ity in Ci­co­nio, Italy, part­nered up with the World Series of Team Roping and now of­fers three Fi­nale qual­i­fiers each year.

“For the last four or five years,” Crouch re­called, “we’ve had Euro­peans com­pet­ing in Las Ve­gas.”

Each July, the Cen­tral Euro­pean Qual­i­fier is held at the 80-acre Twin-S Ranch in Mechel­roda, Ger­many; and in April and Septem­ber each year, qual­i­fiers are held in the north­ern Ital­ian town of Voghera, at the Cow­boys’ Guest Ranch. Just as this is­sue went to press, the ranch was of­fer­ing its 14,000 seats to spectators that could also pur­chase

gear in the on-site Western Store and en­joy a cold beer or glass of wine at the Saloon, where live mu­sic adds to the au­then­tic cow­boy am­bi­ence. In the arena, Fi­nale spots are awarded to first- and sec­ond-place win­ners in each di­vi­sion.

Dur­ing the sec­ond half of the last cen­tury, Ger­many alone hosted more than 10 mil­lion U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel. Of those troops, plenty were cow­boys and the Western way planted its roots firmly in Euro­pean soil. Par­tic­u­larly since the 1971 found­ing of the Euro­pean Rodeo Cow­boys As­so­ci­a­tion, rodeos, rein­ings, cut­tings, team rop­ings, and more have be­come an in­te­gral part of Euro­pean fare.

This past April, Ty Yost, pro­ducer of the Na­tional Team Roping events, was va­ca­tion­ing in Italy with his wife, when some quick re­search de­ter­mined they could make it to Voghera for the spring qual­i­fier. Upon ar­riv­ing, Yost rec­og­nized the fa­cil­i­ties that had been the lo­ca­tion of a Wild West Show he once pro­duced, and he started see­ing fa­mil­iar sites—Rio Ran­cho ball caps, NTR buck­les, and even a few fa­mil­iar faces.

“There was a gen­tle­man I knew who came over to Rio

Ran­cho in Wick­en­burg last spring and had won a horse trailer,” Yost said of one of the Euro­pean com­peti­tors.

He ad­mits that the com­pe­ti­tion wasn’t quite as fierce as it is state­side, but cred­its Crouch for put­ting on an event where the an­nounc­ing was done in three dif­fer­ent lan­guages (English, French, and Ital­ian, on this oc­ca­sion) and where ev­ery­one was hav­ing a re­ally good time. Yost also re­mem­bers the par­tic­u­larly Euro­pean twist to the roping, in which ev­ery­one was tak­ing breaks, drink­ing beers and smok­ing cig­a­rettes on their horses, call­ing to mind the na­ture of a long and re­laxed Euro­pean din­ner, where there is no rush to clear the table. The pri­or­ity re­mains to sim­ply re­lax, eat, and en­joy.

For those con­sid­er­ing giving a Euro­pean roping a go, it would be wise to take such a cue from their in­ter­na­tional coun­ter­parts. Don’t go just for the roping. Take your time. En­joy.

In Voghera, for in­stance, trav­el­ers are just a few hours from the en­chanted canals of Venice or Michelan­gelo’s iconic David in Florence, and a mere 45 min­utes from the fashion mecca of Mi­lan (gen­uine Ital­ian leather goods, any­one?). Even more charm­ing are the slightly lesser known towns dot­ting the land­scape and of­fer­ing gen­uine Ital­ian trea­sures like Pump­kin Tortelli, or Tortelli di Zucca, the tra­di­tional culi­nary lux­ury served in Man­tua’s ris­toranti.

Or, should your trav­els take you to the Twin-S Ranch (equipped with an out­door arena, board­ing fa­cil­i­ties, and a Cantina) in July, St­ef­fen Schorcht—owner of the ranch and founder of the Roping As­so­ci­a­tion Cen­tral Europe, which pro­duces eight rop­ings across Ger­many each year— rec­om­mends tour­ing around the area in cen­tral Ger­many.

“We call it the Green Heart of Ger­many,” Schorcht re­vealed in an email, re­fer­ring to the lush­ness of the area. “Amer­i­cans can also see a lot of his­tory. Weimar—the big city near my home­town—is more than 1,000 years old. We also have a lot of cas­tles.”

Schorcht was in­tro­duced to team roping when he trav­eled to the now-closed Iron Horse Ranch in Tomb­stone, Ariz., for va­ca­tion in 1998.

“I met a man named Conny Chance,” Schorcht wrote. “He showed me team roping and from that first time, I thought, ‘I want to do that.’”

Schorcht, who grew up work­ing with horses and cat­tle, took just a few short years to re­al­ize his dream of com­pet­ing in Las Ve­gas. He fi­nally qual­i­fied in 2013, but al­ready had plans in place to travel to the USTRC’s Cinch NFTR in Ok­la­homa that year. He man­aged to qual­ify the fol­low­ing two years, as well, and made the long trip to Ve­gas both years “to rope for the big ti­tle and money.”

This year, Schorcht is once again Ve­gas bound and has his mind on re­main­ing fo­cused for the win.

“My ex­pe­ri­ence,” Schorcht re­called, “was that the clear­est mind wins over there. Ev­ery­body is there to win and this gives you a fan­tas­tic feel­ing.”

Of course, it should be said that roping abroad is not with­out its chal­lenges, even for a com­pe­tent and long­time roper like Yost.

“You have to be some­what handy to get on some­body else’s horse and per­form,” Yost noted of his im­promptu Ital­ian roping per­for­mance—a sen­ti­ment that likely rings just as true for rop­ers trav­el­ing to Amer­ica and com­pet­ing on horses bor­rowed from friends they’ve made over the years. “I was as ner­vous roping there as I had been in a while. I rode Crouch’s horse and I got the first steer and after that, no more jit­ters, but I’m an Amer­i­can cow­boy and the ex­pec­ta­tions were prob­a­bly high that I should catch.”

Other dif­fer­ences in­clude the cat­tle— Marem­mani are used in Italy, a na­tive horned Ital­ian breed likened to Longhorns—and that the de­mand for Quar­ter Horses in Europe has largely been a charge led by rein­ers and cut­ters. It’s a chal­lenge that Crouch is well aware of and is mak­ing moves to ad­dress as he boards

and trains horses at his own fa­cil­ity, the Euro­pean Team Roping Cen­ter, lo­cated in Ci­co­nio, just north of Turin and cen­trally nes­tled be­tween the bor­ders of Switzer­land and France and the Lig­urian Sea-city of Genoa.

“I’ve been over here for about 20 years and in the last three or four, it’s re­ally taken off,” Crouch ex­plained. “Peo­ple from Ger­many, France, and Bel­gium have horses in train­ing here. They fly in, stay with us for a few days, and fly out. We also have many Amer­i­cans that rope with us here who ei­ther have jobs in Europe, or are mem­bers of the mil­i­tary, or are just on va­ca­tion.”

Horse culture in Europe is healthy and well-es­tab­lished. Chil­dren grow up learn­ing dres­sage and eq­ui­tation and when their fam­i­lies take multi-week va­ca­tions to the nu­mer­ous guest ranches pop­u­lat­ing the Amer­i­can West, they are of­ten paired with horses that re­quire an ad­vanced rider with a good seat, a steady leg, and soft hands. The dif­fer­ence, how­ever, lies very much in the land­scape. A sim­ple Google search re­veals maps show­ing nearly all of Europe fit­ting neatly in­side the eastern half of the con­ti­nen­tal United States. For this rea­son, horses are boarded at fa­cil­i­ties with are­nas, turnout pas­tures, and stalls, and the im­age of the Amer­i­can cow­boy rid­ing across an open and un­end­ing land­scape main­tains a firm grip on the hearts of many Euro­pean horse­men. And for these Euro­peans, it’s what makes Mike Crouch worth his weight in gold.

Crouch was born in In­di­ana and at age 5, his fa­ther went bank­rupt on the farm. Crouch moved with him to Vega, Texas, just 45 miles west of Amar­illo, and his dad ran the mill at the feed­lot in nearby Will­do­rado, where a young Crouch got his roping start. When roping at the USTRC Fi­nals at the Lazy E Arena in the early ’90s, Crouch au­di­tioned for a po­si­tion with the Euro Dis­ney Buf­falo Bill Wild West Show in Paris.

“When I got the call to go to Dis­ney,” Crouch rem­i­nisced, “I was calv­ing heifers on a ranch and I didn’t have a tele­phone out there, but at lunch, I would trot my horse over to an­other camp and they had a tele­phone. That’s how I got the call.”

Crouch stayed with the show for four years, and learned that the then-newly opened Cow­boys’ Guest Ranch in Voghera was in need of some­one who could rope and ride broncs—an­other skill Crouch keeps in his pocket. His time at that show gar­nered him an in­vi­ta­tion to run a few roping schools, which in turn led to Crouch be­ing hired as a pri­vate coach for a wealthy Ital­ian man and his son.

“I worked for them for four years, but I did too good of a job be­cause they ended up moving to Ari­zona and stay­ing there,” Crouch joked.

Crouch mar­ried an Ital­ian wo­man and set up camp in Ci­co­nio, where—in ad­di­tion to run­ning their fa­cil­ity and put­ting on monthly rop­ings—they also grow hazel­nuts to sell to the well-known Ital­ian choco­latier, Fer­rero Rocher, and raise their 13-year-old daugh­ter, An­gel­ica.

An­gel­ica is grow­ing up in the roping tra­di­tion and com­petes reg­u­larly. She heads at ETRC rop­ings, the Euro­pean all-girl RopinK chal­lenges, and most re­cently, came state­side to com­pete in the USTRC Cen­ter States Show­down in St. Louis, Mo., where she came in fourth in the #10 Mixed.

She’s a part of what Crouch calls the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of Euro­pean team rop­ers.

“They’re the kids that kind of got into it after there was a be­gin­ning,” Crouch said. “They’re get­ting pretty tough.”

Yost agrees.

“Those kids rope,” he re­called of a few par­tic­i­pants he saw at the WSTR Qual­i­fier in Voghera. “And at the ma­jor­ity of the rop­ings I pro­duce, those guys fit right in. When they come to the United States, they’re clas­si­fied cor­rectly. They’re right where they need to be.”

In other words, team roping re­ally is a world sport.

So, whether it’s the nearly 2,000 in­ter­na­tional rop­ers who com­pete at Euro­pean and Cana­dian WSTR Qual­i­fiers each year, the nu­mer­ous Amer­i­cans who de­cide to op­ti­mize their world trav­els with a few runs down are­nas abroad, the more than 100 in­ter­na­tional rop­ers who en­ter the arena at the South Point for the WSTR Fi­nale in Las Ve­gas, or the plethora of in­ter­na­tional rop­ers who can be found sad­dling up at any num­ber of rop­ings across the states through­out the year, the words may sound a bit dif­fer­ent, but the love of team roping is never lost in trans­la­tion.

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