CLAY O’BRIEN COOPER

Spin to Win Rodeo - - Departments - By Clay O’Brien Cooper with Ken­dra San­tos

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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.

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