“The main thing is to get the cattle roped.”
“That requires the cowboy’s ability, but the most important part of that is the horse.”
There’s no debate on either of those statements, but soon the competition roper gets in on the discussion.
Then comes the dilemma of having the horse to accomplish these tasks. What are the requirements for that perfect rope horse?
Specifics vary somewhat from roper to roper, but standards set by horse show organizations for selecting winners based on judging criteria really do get down to the nitty gritty of the essentials.
“Oh, those horse show judges don’t know anything. What matters is how fast the cattle are roped; that’s who wins the prize.”
No argument, but all of the top ropers in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association are also contestants every year in the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) World Show.
Sometimes, they’re “just the roper” trying to make a champion out of the horse owned by another person. But, often world champion ropers are riding their own mounts, proving their horse really is doing what is needed to win.
Joe Carter, former champion calf roper, lifelong farrier and world renowned horse show judge, discussed team roping judging criteria as a feature of the 2014 International Equine Judges Seminar last week in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“This is what judges look for in rope horses at horse shows, but everything we evaluate is essential to a championship run at a rodeo or even a weekend jackpot roping,” said Carter, who operates Carter’s Training Center in St. George, Ontario, Canada.
“Certain working cowboys might make fun of horse shows, but their ranch horses must have the same basic abilities when they’re roping and doctoring a sick steer in the pasture,” qualified Carter, who’s judged horses throughout the United States and in 20 countries around the world.
Providing copies of score sheets used by AQHA judges, Carter explained, “The heading horse must go in the box readily, stand calmly behind a stretched barrier and will be judged on those criteria before the roper ever nods for his steer.”
“Then, the heading horse will be evaluated on running and rating, setting and handling, and facing the roped steer,” continued Carter.
Each of the five maneuvers will be given a score, with penalties also accessed for specific infractions of rules.
Two point penalties each are accessed for jumping a barrier, setting up in the box, ducking off, freezing up while facing or failure to face completely.
Five points each are accessed against the heading horse for refusing to enter the box, rearing in the box, a broken barrier, running into the steer, refusing to pull, and blatant disobedience including kicking, biting, bucking, rearing and striking.
“There is a three-point penalty for three-loop runs, but there must be a legal head catch around the head, neck or “half head” of the steer. In judged team roping, there is no penalty for only roping one heel,” Carter clarified.
Disqualifications for a heading horse include whipping or hitting the horse with rope; loss of rope by header or heeler; failure to maintain dally throughout completion of run; excessive schooling in the arena; and failure of header and heeler to complete both catches within one minute.
“Top roping scores are usually in the 75 point range. Time is not considered in horse show team roping placings, but time is recorded. Ropers sometimes have separate competition among themselves based on time,” according to Carter.
Although both headers and heelers are required for the event, heeling horses are judged in completely separate horse show divisions than the headers.
Judging criteria for each division is similar with the heeling horses getting a two point penalty if the header breaks the barrier and again a three-point penalty for a three-loop run.
Likewise, heeling horses get five-point penalties each for refusing to enter the box, rearing up in the box, running into a steer and blatant disobedience.
Additionally, heeling horses can be penalized five points each for assuming position on the wrong side of the steer, and failure to stop on his hind quarters and hold position.
“Heeling horses can be disqualified for the same criteria as head horses, and there is disqualification of contestants in both divisions for intentional and continuous stretching of the steer after the horses have faced,” emphasized Carter.
“A top horse is essential to be a champion roper. It’s tough enough for a cowboy to have a well-trained horse, but add in the factor of a third animal sometimes a renegade steer with a mind of his own, that’s real competition,” Carter concluded.