The Rules of Roping: A Summary
There are four roping events associated with rodeo: calf roping, breakaway roping, steer roping and team roping. Roping events utilize a barrier line to give the animal a head start. This line is attached to the animal and automatically releases at a determined point. Once it falls, the clock starts and the riders, may leave their box in pursuit. If a rider leaves the box prior to the barrier falling, they are ‘breaking the barrier’ and the rider or team receives a ten second penalty.
In calf roping, a mounted rider waits in the box next to the chute. The calf is released on the barrier line and the rider quickly ropes the calf around its neck. The cowboy dismounts, tosses the calf on its side and restrains three legs of the calf with an additional rope called, a tie-down rope. The cowboy signals time and the clock stops. The time is not recorded until the rider remounts and releases tension on the rope. If the calf stays tied for six seconds, then the time is officially entered.
Breakaway roping is common in collegiate competition, at amateur rodeos and in Europe. It is similar to calf roping, except once the calf is roped the rider remains on the horse and does not secure its legs. Instead, the roper stops their horse and the string attaching the rope to the saddle breaks, marking the time.
Steer roping follows the same rules as calf roping with one exception. In calf roping, the calf must be on its feet after it’s roped and prior to its feet being tied. In steer roping, the steer’s head is turned to knock it off balance and the animal does not regain its feet before its legs are tied.
Team roping is the only true ‘team’ event in rodeo. Also, men and women may compete in mixed-gender teams. The header, ropes the head of the steer, and the heeler, ropes the hind legs. The two mounted riders wait on either side of the chute until the barrier line falls. The header must rope the steer in one of three ways: around both horns (a clean catch), around the steer’s neck, or around the neck and one horn (a half-head catch). The header turns sharply, pulling the steer along. The heeler follows the turn and attempts to loop the hind legs. If only one leg is roped, the team receives a five second penalty. Both riders must secure the rope and face each other, removing all slack from the line, then time is called.
In some non-professional competitions, a miss by the header means disqualification. In Professional Rodeo Events, the roping team has three attempts and is only disqualified if the catch is not made in three tosses.
Roping originated when cowboys secured animals for branding or doctoring. They prided themselves in completing this task with speed. From this necessary duty emerged four varieties of roping competition that are enjoyed in rodeos around the world.