Everyone who has ever seen a rodeo is familiar with calf roping, also known as “tie-down roping.” It is a popular, timed rodeo competition where a mounted rider chases, lassos, and then ties down a calf, trying to do it in the shortest amount of time as possible.
The horses used in roping competitions must be specifically trained to aid the rider in roping and tying the calf. Most calf roping horses are American Quarter Horses. This breed is chosen because of its strength.
During a calf-roping competition, the following takes place. The calf is released from a chute, given a head start, and then the rider on the horse takes off after it. When the lasso touches the calf, the horse stops, and the rider dismounts. After the rider dismounts, the horse begins moving backwards, to put some tautness in the lasso rope that is around the calf. Meanwhile, the rider holds the calf down and quickly ties three of its legs together with a short rope that he most likely has been holding in his teeth the entire time (this rope is known as a “tie-down rope” or “piggin’ string”). After that, the rider gets back on the horse and loosens the lasso rope. If the rope on the calf’s legs holds the calf for at least six seconds, then the rider is still in the competition.
Calf roping cannot be done without the horse. He is the major actor. As stated before, it is necessary that the horse is strong, but the horse also needs to be calm, responsive, and gentle. A calf-roping horse will obey commands to move, stop, and back up quickly. He will be trained to respond to pressure cues on his legs and neck.
Teaching a horse to calf rope may take years. You or a professional at the stables should spend at least 30 minutes a day training the horse.
The first step in training a calf-roping horse is to get him jaded to having ropes flying all around him. A good way to do this is to trail a rope after him while he walks or gallops around a round pen. Then, practice throwing a rope out in front of the horse while riding him around the pen.
The second step is training the horse to stop and back up. You can either use a dummy cow or a log to do this. Lasso the dummy or the log and teach the horse to stop when the lasso hits the target and then to start backing up to make the rope taut as soon as you dismount. Teach him to back up slowly, so as not to pull the calf off its feet when you begin roping real calves.
After he gets good at stopping and backing up, put a few old, slow cows in the pen to get the horse used to following them. Use just your hands and legs to direct the horse as he follows the cows. After the horse is following your hand and leg cues correctly, start lassoing the cows and teach the horse to react the same as he did with the dummy or the log.
Once the horse is doing well with the old, slow cows, do the same exercises using younger, faster cows. Your horse should now be ready to help you rope some calves.
In any kind of training or work involving cattle, such as ranch roping, always remember to refrain from training your horse to be aggressive in any way to the cattle. A horse that can get along well with cattle will serve you better in competitions and in handling livestock.