CLAY O’BRIEN COOPER
ropers face hurdles we have to handle in order to be successful. When I started roping professionally, I was amazed by the variety of conditions and scenarios in all the different venues. From hard ground to deep, roping in wind and rain, mastering the grass at Pendleton (Ore.), long scorelines at Salinas (Calif.) and Cheyenne (Wyo.), or St. Paul, Ore., where there are Christmas trees in the arena, right down to roping in tiny arenas like the Thomas & Mack in Las Vegas, there is always something unique to factor in when strategizing for your best chance at success.
Ropers at every level of the game face differences in arena size, cattle and ground conditions, so we might as well enjoy the diversity of it. We’re not on a grid, like a football game where the dimensions are exactly the same every time, or a baseball field, where it’s always 90 feet between bases. This part of our sport is unique and challenging. I’ve always tried to evaluate all the factors I face, and build a game plan that might gain an edge and a better chance at winning.
A lot of ropers young and old and from every end of the spectrum go to Pendleton to watch the best in the business rope on the grass, so I get asked a lot about my strategy there. We all know when we back in the box, run down that hill and hit that grass that there’s a chance our horse could slip and fall down. I quickly figured out that you don’t want to be late there, and that as a heeler you want to try and haze your steer to keep him in the center of the arena or even a little left, where the grass is chewed up. The grass from the middle to the right of that arena doesn’t get used as much, so it’s a lot slicker.
I sometimes hear recreational ropers say you always need to haze your steer, because they’ve heard the pros say that. But there are times when a straighter shot is easier on your partner, particularly someone with a little less experience, so you’re better off to give up your position a little to help your partner out. If a header tends to wave it off of a lot of steers that go over to the right or is riding a horse that doesn’t like to go right, you might keep the steer in the center or move him a little left to help him out.
Deep vs. hard ground can specifically have an impact on a heeler’s decision regarding the game plan for the delivery of your loop. If you’re in really sticky or cloddy ground, and you try to deliver your loop along the ground where the tip grazes the ground on the way through, that might not work. In that case, you want to come down more steep with your angle, and set your loop in front of the legs more as opposed to a loop that’s delivered right to left through the impact zone.
Good ground can kind of take any style of loop, but with extreme ground of any kind you need to adjust your angle and the approach of your delivery. Ground conditions also affect my rope selection. For hard ground, including Pendleton where it’s hard and slick, I always use a fuzzy, well-worn rope, because I want it to grab the ground where I place it and not hit and bounce. In deep, muddy or sticky ground, I’ll typically use a newer rope that’s had less than 10 steers roped with it. Sometimes it’s the little adjustments that make the biggest difference.