As a low numbered roper, I’ll be the first to admit I do a lot of things wrong. There are times I will try my hand at a low percentage shot to look cool; I’ll tear down the barrier knowing full well what the score is; and, sadly, I give my heelers a big whip on the corner more than I’d like to admit. My husband could probably add to this list, but despite everything that I do incorrectly, there is one thing I’ve been trained to do since my junior rodeo days, the one thing that I know is absolutely right.
I visualize my run every time.
There is so much professional literature out there regarding visualization and how it is a key to success for most olympic athletes. Watch Gabby Douglas before a gymnastics routine lift her arms, eyes closed, and repeat each and every move as it’s happening in her mind. Even equestrian athletes will visualize each and every jump in a show jumping course to prepare their reactions during the actual competition. My mama, the smartest woman I know, had me do this at a very young age. Before every barrel race, she told me while I warmed up I needed to be envisioning the perfect run. I needed to picture in my head exactly where I was going to ask my horse to rate, bend, and accelerate; I had to see myself kicking, lifting, and looking exactly as I wanted it to happen, exactly how I knew a run should go to make it to the pay window. I’m so thankful I learned this skill at a young age because more often than not our minds want to envision ourselves standing on the podium, receiving the gold buckle, or earning a check – the end result. By thinking of the outcome rather than the road that leads you to success, you are taking away the very preparedness that visualization lends itself to. By mentally picturing yourself going through the motions of a perfect roping run, you are basically emphasizing your muscle memory and muscle control. You are more likely to make the run you want to make by picturing yourself doing it. Let me walk you through my “perfect” run:
I see myself walking my horse into the box, rope under my arm. I always want to ride into the box prepared: the feel of my rope already comfortable in my hand, my loop already shook out, swung, and deemed right for the pen of cattle before me. As I turn my horse around to back in the corner, I look closer at the steer in the chute that I’ve already had my eye on for the last five runs… I make a mental note of the size of his horns, the number on his ear tag, any recognizable attributes that will help me remember him later, his color (since my husband always tells me that solid black steers run harder), and the look in his eye. Remember I said that this is a part of my perfect MENTAL run; I’d be ecstatic if I actually did all of this in real life! Once my horse is gathered and attentive, I raise up in my stirrups once to make sure I’m loose coming out of the box. When the arena is clear and the steer’s head is level and facing forward, I nod my head, rope ready to swing. I drop my hand to my horses neck, kick, and immediately begin swinging. That first swing helps me get the feel of my tip, then I feed to adjust my loop. I feel my pinky on the bottom strand and continue swinging like I want my rope to hit my partner – this enables me to open my body up to my target. I think about keeping my tip down as I drive to my spot. I don’t throw until I’m ready, and I focus heavily on my pinky to make the collision between my rope and the steer. Once I pull my slack tight around the horns, I check-up my horse, lift the reins, and utilize my right spur to get my horse to bend in the corner and give my heeler a decent look. I continue bumping my horse with my right spur the entire time across and back down the arena while watching my heeler set a trap. As I ask my horse to face, I slide some rope so I don’t give my heeler a big hit all while keeping my hand near my saddle horn rather than down by my hip – that’s the ranchy part of me that sneaks out now and again. At the end of this picture perfect run, I smile, undally and ride to the catch pen proud of myself for setting up a run that anyone would be happy to heel behind.
I like to get ready way before it’s actually my turn to ride in the box, so I have plenty of time to practice visualizing my perfect run. On top of all that, I’ve also been known to talk to myself. Not out loud, but there is actually a lot of evidence out there confirming the practice of “self-talk”. It can go as far as telling yourself you’re the best – a lot like Muhammad Ali did throughout his career, or it can be as small as repeating and reminding yourself of things you’d like to accomplish during your actual competition. I fall more in line with the latter. There are three things I want to do during every run, every single time; therefore, there are three things that I constantly have on repeat in my head at every roping. Call it a mantra if you will. My mantra is always as follows: feel your pinky, put your tip down, and give your heeler a good handle. I literally repeat these three things to myself every single time – while I’m getting ready, while I’m watching the ropers ahead of me in the draw, while I’m riding into the box, and while I’m actually making my run. It calms my nerves, helps me remain focused, and it strengthens my reactions to each individual run.
- “Feel your pinky” – Your pinky controls your bottom stand, which is the part of your rope that actually goes around the horns. I have the most control over my rope when I can feel every part of it as an extension of my hand. I find that I split the horns when I don’t focus on the bottom strand.
- “Put your tip down” – I pay a lot of attention to my tip: the weight of it, where it’s rolling over, and the angle. I waved my rope off a ton of steers before a clinician finally told me I needed to be more cognizant of my tip placement.
- “Give your heeler a good handle” – My husband and dad both heel, and even though every run I make is important, giving those two a nice handle is always my top priority. For my dad, I need to make sure I don’t whip the steer. I need to control my horse in order to give my dad the best transition into the corner. When my husband is behind me, I need to keep the steer moving while still breaking down the steer’s head. I really have to ride my horse correctly when he is my partner.
These are the top three things I do no-matter-what. Each run changes based on the cattle, the setup, and the roping, but repeating these things to myself maintains my focus and consistency. What is your mantra? How do you get ready to rope? Is what you’re doing truly helping your performance? Try visualization and self-talk to see what it can do for you, and thank your mama if she already taught this to you! Even though I’m a low-numbered roper, it’s one of the things I know I’m doing right.