If you’re going to be a team roper, you need to understand that it is a huge investment. As I am sitting here gazing into my tackroom and around my property, I see what looks like a lot of clutter to the untrained eye, but the fact is that all that clutter is the tools necessary for me to enjoy my “hobby.” Here is a detailed list of the MOST IMPORTANT equipment that you will need as a team roper and how to use it!
Truck and Trailer:
You don’t have to have a 6 horse Elite trailer with 20 foot living quarters, two pop-outs, and a $75,000 pickup to get up and down the road. Now, if you have the money and appreciate the finer things in life, by all means, you do you. But, if you are living paycheck to paycheck and scraping money for entry fees, an older, reliable rig will suffice. I spent my entire college years rolling down the rodeo road in a gas-powered, early 90’s Chevy with a 1972 Miley 2 horse trailer. I may have a nicer pickup today, but what I wouldn’t give to have that old Miley back! Man, that thing was a gem…extra wide, extra tall…you get the picture. The point is, it doesn’t matter what you pull up in as long as you pull up and do work!
You may be able to get by with a clunker for a rig, but I don’t suggest you skimp when it comes to your horse. I’m not saying go out and finance a $25,000 bang-up nag…I don’t even really know if you can do that. But, I do think that you need to either spend a decent amount of money on a good horse or find an older horse that won’t break the bank but really fits you and your skill set. So many people have this stigma against riding an older horse. Everyone wants to be a “cowboy” and make their own or they want to “learn together.” Well team roping is exactly what its name implies, TEAM roping. There is more to the team than just the header and the heeler. You are also a team with your horse, so someone on your team better know what they are doing! The best ropers in the world ride older, proven horses…and if they do it, you probably should too! Now, if you prove yourself a hand and can make a nice one, by all means, pat yourself on the back! But bronc stomping isn’t for everyone and I’ve seen more bad horses made by amateur team ropers than good ones. Do yourself a favor, if you want to actually enjoy team roping, get yourself a horse that makes your job easy!
Arena and Steers:
Having your own arena and steers is not a requirement, but it really helps if you are wanting to step up your game and continuously improve. I understand that not everyone has the option of having their own arena and steers. If you don’t, then you need to make sure that you have someplace that you can practice regularly. If you are unable to practice, then you may as well not rope. It’s not fair to the people that you rope with to show up to jackpots unpracticed. However, if you are able to have your own arena then try to make sure you, at the very least, have good ground. Bad footing, a downhill slope, or rocky ground is a good way to injure a horse. You don’t have to have the finest facility…trust me, I’ve roped in “arenas” (I use that term lightly) with no boxes or catch pens, arenas made out of prune crates and pallets, and open pastures with no back end, but the one thing that they all had in common was level ground and good footing.
Having your own practice cattle is a major bonus. You have two options when it comes to having practice cattle: buying or leasing. I like to lease cattle just because I am able to trade them out whenever I need to and I typically don’t rope year-round. I suggest having a handful of different cattle to practice on; a couple that run, a few slow ones, maybe even one with a head trick or two. I would suggest trading in or selling anything that drags or gets heavy. Steers like that won’t help your horse, they won’t help you, and they won’t help your partners. I also suggest having a steer that doubles as a lead steer, or even a burro to rope. This kind of practice is great for your horse and great for yourself!
Sled or Mechanical Steer:
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times…I love roping the sled! The type of practice that you can get from roping the sled is so beneficial, especially for your horse. There are a million drills that you can do that will help your horse be better in literally every single area of a run. In my opinion, if you can only choose one, I would choose a sled over live cattle. There is no better practice than roping live cattle, but you can only make so many runs per day on live cattle before you wear your horse and your cattle out. The sled is an excellent alternative and will help your roping immensely.
Another great tool to use in the arena is a log. This is great for teaching your horse to pull and face. It also helps with patterning your head horse. I suggest using something that is not very heavy such as a light wood post or panel or even a tire. The ticket to logging is giving your horse confidence, so don’t pull anything too heavy.
Let’s move inside the tackroom now. Obviously, saddles are very important. It’s pretty hard to dally off on one bareback! Find yourself a good fitting saddle for both your horse and yourself. I grew up roping on one of my dad’s old team roping saddles. It was an awesome saddle, really well made, but had a 16” seat! I made due with what I had and I won a lot of money riding that ol’ tank, but I never knew how good a run could feel until I sat my little butt down in a 14” seat that actually fit me! What a difference that made!
Your saddle also needs to be a good fit to your horse. An easy way to tell if you are using a proper-fitting saddle is to set your saddle on your horse’s back with no pads and see where it touches. If the bars of the saddle are too wide, your saddle will sit right on top of your horse’s withers. Not only is this super uncomfortable for your horse, but it could potentially injure him pretty badly. If your bars are too narrow, your saddle will pinch your horse just below the withers. This is also really uncomfortable.
Keep in mind, you may not be able to ride the same saddle on different horses. Some poor fitting saddles can be fixed with padding, but if a saddle is too narrow, you’ll want to get something else.
There are a lot of different saddle pads out there on the market, so I suggest you do your research to find what fits you and your horse best. Again, just like with saddles, you need pads that will fit your horse properly while also helping your saddle to fit properly. I prefer to use a thick 100% wool felt pad on one of my horses and a regular Navajo pad with a thinner wool felt pad on top for another horse.
To tell if your pads and saddles are fitting correctly, observe the sweat mark on your horse’s back when you get done riding. If it is even across his back with no dry spots, then your pad and saddle has a correct fit. If there are dry spots present, you may need to make some adjustments.
Bridles and Tie-Downs:
Throughout your team roping career, you are probably going to ride a few horses, which means you are going to need to have a few bridles. For those who may not understand the term “bridle”, this is the entire setup for your horse’s head including the bit, the headstall, and the curb strap. I have no idea how many bridles are in my tackroom currently, but I venture to guess I have at least 40 and my collection continues to grow. Just like people, all horses are different. One bridle may work on one, but not another. Some horses can work like a dream in just a snaffle, while others may work better a correction bit. I encourage you to study bits and bitting, as it is something that I think not enough people take the time to learn and it is so incredibly important in our journey as horseman.
Along with the bit, your bridle consists of the headstall. I come from a slew of old school cowboys, so like my upline, I prefer a very plain, split ear headstall. Some people would rather have a headstall with a browband, throatlatch and bling. Whatever you prefer is completely your prerogative. Keep in mind, some horses have had a bad experience and won’t allow you to slip the headstall over his ears…having something with a buckle that is easy to unlatch is great for horses like that.
The curb strap is the final part of the bridle and attaches to the bit, hanging under the chin. It helps by applying pressure under the chin when the rider pulls the reins. It is typically made of chain, nylon, rawhide or leather and should be adjusted to sit comfortably without applying pressure. Standard way to measure is a finger can easily fit between the curb strap and the chin.
The tie-down is also an important tool for ropers. Despite it’s name, it is NOT used to tie your horse’s head down, but rather to aid their balance when leaving the box and stopping. It should not be too short or too long. The tie-down can be easily adjusted to the proper length by raising your horse’s head and making sure that it is not restricting your horse from raising his head naturally or hanging loosely when your horse’s head is elevated.
I am a collector of reins. You can never have too many, in my honest opinion. Reins are all about preference as there are leather, rope, nylon, rawhide, muletape, and so on. I really like reins that are braided out of old nylon/poly team roping ropes. They feel good in my hand and they look pretty cool at the same time. If you like your reins as much as I do, I suggest not being a dude and tying your horse up hard and fast by the reins. That’s a good way to lose your favorite set. Just saying.
Splint Boots and Bell Boots:
If you like your horse at all, then you should definitely have leg protection for them. Growing up on a ranch, we didn’t use bell boots or splint boots often. Now that I pretty much live in the arena, I go through them like a baby goes through diapers. Bell boots, also called over-reach boots, keep your horse from over-reaching during his stride and clipping his front feet with his hinds. A horse can really hurt himself by over-reaching…it’s also a good way to pull a shoe.
Splint boots also help protect a horse in the event of over-reaching while preventing injury from the impact of running. You can also use polo wraps in the place of splint boots, but I do not recommend this unless you really know what you are doing. Improper wrapping can do more harm than good.
Boot tips: Keep them clean by washing them regularly and make sure to remove them when you are not riding as they can become really hot and potentially burn your horse’s legs!
Ahhhh…a team roper’s number one expense next to entry fees! Ropes aren’t made to last forever boys and girls, and some wear out faster than other’s depending on how you take care of them! The good news is that some of us are good enough to get rope sponsors…the bad news is that most of us aren’t. Take care of your ropes. Don’t leave them lying out in the sun and weather. Store them in a cool, dry place lying flat. Don’t let your kids swing them. I’m just kidding about that last part…or am I???
You are not a real team roper unless you have 4,000 rope gloves with holes in them stashed all over the place! I have found them in my underwear drawer, stuffed under the skirting of my saddles, in my glove box (coincidence? I think not!), in the junk drawer in the kitchen, stuck in the lint catcher of my dryer, and countless other places. Unless you are a text book team roper who never makes a mistake, you are going to burn through rope gloves. But that’s what they’re there for, right? Better your glove than your hand, I always say!
What I wouldn’t give to have a never-ending supply of rubber that’s pre-cut growing in my backyard. You can buy rubber that’s pre-cut. You can order yourself a dally wrap. You can get yourself an old inner tube from a tire and start cutting it into strips. Or you can just be like me and make sure that you ask your friends for some at the jackpot. The line should go like this. “Hey man, do you got any rubber?” Most team ropers are stingy with their rubber. Ask until someone says “yes.”
The final thing on my list of team roper must-haves is a roping dummy. It doesn’t matter if you have a Jakesteer or a plastic head stuck in a bale of hay, just so long as you have something that you can throw your rope at. Kids and dogs also make awesome roping dummy alternatives! Truth is, roping your dummy is the best thing that you can do for your roping. Ask any pro and they will tell you that you need to be roping your dummy every single day if you want to improve!
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