In the Loop

A week from today my husband and I will be heading up to Alberta for the four day Canadian Senior Pro Rodeo Finals, the year end hurrah for our equivalent of the Masters division in most sports, for competitors over the age of forty.  Needless to say, I’ve been spending a lot of time roping. Thinking about roping. Dreaming about roping (and you think you hate that dream where you show up for work naked).

Last week, for the first time in two very soggy years, we were able to rope in our newly rebuilt outdoor arena. Yay! Space! A view! And yes, unlike our indoor arena, enough light to videotape our practice sessions.

Before you break out the popcorn and bucket-sized sodas, we need to chat a little bit about calf roping. Like many of today’s rodeo events, it is rooted in ranch work. Several times a year we find it necessary to rope a calf out on the prairie either because it has escaped and refuses to be chased back where it came from (baby calves are pretty much like herding toddlers) or because it’s sick and needs treatment.

Cowboys are a competitive lot. Start with a chore, it will inevitably become a competition to see who can do it best, fastest, longest (go ahead, snicker a little you people with the dirty minds, I’m right there with ya). Modern tie down roping is simply one more way that cowboys dreamed up to show who was the best roper, had the best horse and the fastest hands (yep, more snickers).

Over time, other purely competitive events have evolved from those standard events. One is called breakaway roping, popular with kids, women and old farts because it doesn’t require you to bail off your horse and go wrestle a two hundred and fifty pound calf (yes, they’re heavier and stronger than they look). A breakaway rope is just like any other, except instead of being tied hard and fast to the saddle horn like in tie down roping, it’s held there with a piece of string, like so:

When you catch the calf you stop your horse and the calf keeps going, breaking the string away from the saddle horn. Thus, breakaway roping. The chunk of bandana is there to make it easier for the rodeo judge to see the rope pop off, so he can drop his flag and signal that time should stop. Easy peasy, right?

For training and practice purposes, though, we don’t want to rope calves hard and fast very often, and chasing that rope down to the back end of the arena and persuading the calf to stand still while you get it off can be a bit of a hassle, so we use a breakaway hondo instead. This is a gizmo that you run your rope through instead of the regular hondo on the end of your rope, designed to pop loose when the rope comes tight around the calf.

There are hundreds of different breakaways to choose from–plastic, metal, velcro, rubber bands, you name it, someone has tried to sell it to me–but I am cheap. I also have never found anything that works better than this:

That’s a piece of plastic-coated copper electrical wire of a particular weight and stiffness that makes it ideal for this purpose. It is twisted tight on the right side of the hondo and only wrapped part way around on the left, so that it will slide loose when the calf hits the end of the rope. Pop! Calf goes free, rope stays tied securely to the saddle.

And all of that was just to explain why, in the following video, it looks like the calves ran right on through my loop. In essence, they did, because it’s meant to work that way. The second way you can tell that yes, I did actually catch both calves? Because it will be a forty below flat ass blizzard in hell the day I post video of myself roping badly.

First there’s a shot of my husband so those who aren’t familiar can see how the tie down roping works. (Um, don’t mention it to him, though, cuz he wasn’t very happy with this run or how his horse worked but it’s the only one I got on tape). We are riding two different horses, which is hard to tell because they’re father and daughter and look alike, except mine is much prettier, of course. Greg’s horse is a 12 year old gelding (former stud, obviously, hence the daughter) named Nico. He is a grandson of Secretariat. (Yes, that Secretariat. If you want to know how in the heck that happened, read A Real Prince).

My horse is a nine year old mare named Julie. This is her first year of serious competition, and my first of making the commitment to make her my next number one rodeo horse, since my previous mount got hurt last summer and hasn’t recovered. After six months, Julie and I are finally starting to really get it together.

Okay, now you can break out the popcorn. And take note: in the background you’ll see my young ‘uns, boy and dog, helping out. And beyond them, the faint blue shadow of the Rockies. Like I said, a view!

Now let’s just hope the rodeo goes as well as this practice session did.

Kari Lynn Dell

Visit me at: Montana For Real