How-To: Getting a Steer's Head in the Corner

There are many different takes on getting a steer's head in the corner. Follow these tips from David Key to give your heeler a better corner.

There are a lot of different variations at every roping and rodeo on the angle at which different headers get the steer’s head in the corner. Some team roping headers are straighter behind the steer, some are a little further to the left, and some are real wide in the corner. The general theory is, wherever you’re comfortable roping the steer from is where you’re going to get the steer’s head. But in actuality, before you change the direction of the steer you need to move up and to the left of the steer before starting the corner.

If a header ropes straighter behind a steer, then as he’s widening and moving further to the left and up into the corner it’s going to take him two or three strides to get from straight behind the steer to over where he needs to be. If you start into the corner too early when you’re straight behind the steer, you kill the steer’s momentum in the corner and have to go two or three strides before you pick up that momentum and start moving that steer again. The heeler usually ends up running the steer over, because tere’s no momentum.

Photos by Lone Wolf

If a header has a hard time with heelers coming in all over the place, then big separations between the steer and the heeler, that’s probably what’s happening. The header’s losing that momentum in the corner, and the steer’s not making a fluid change of direction.

A lot of times people think that in order to start the steer around the corner from the right position you have to rope from that position, which is wider than they’re comfortable with. That’s not necessarily true. You can rope the steer from a tighter position, then move to that wider position before you actually change the momentum of the steer. That allows you to make a smoother transition in the corner, and allows your heeler to have a better, more consistent throw.

Speed (Williams) does this as well as anybody. No matter how close or far away he ropes the steer from, as he’s dallying and making the transition into the corner, he’s starting to get the steer’s head while at the same time riding wider and forward, to where at the point where he gets the steer’s head, he’s almost beside the steer. That makes the corner round and smooth, where the steer almost never quits hopping and the momentum never changes. The momentum goes from running down the arena to across the arena in one smooth motion, and makes the heeler’s job as easy as possible.


Clay and I have discussed this a lot going down the road. That’s what sets up their run, and why Speed and Rich (Skelton) look like they make the exact same run every single time. It doesn’t matter whether they’re at Salinas, a jackpot or the NFR. Rich gets the same look every time, which is what builds consistency. I’ve been trying to copy that for a year now, and finally feel like I’m starting to give Clay the same look every time. My goal is to give Clay a smooth corner every run, and it’s shown in our consistency at the rodeos.

Some horses are harder to do this with than others, but if you make a conscious effort every time you rope, while you’re pulling your slack, of making that horse move up and wider to the left, it makes it easier for you to dally and stay in control of the run. And if something happens and you bobble your slack and things don’t go just right for you, that forward momentum makes it easier for you to maintain control, and fix and overcome your mistakes. If you’re keeping your horse moving forward and widening to the left while you’re pulling your slack, your horse is moving in the same direction as the steer. You can easily close the gap back up and fix things. If your horse is ducking, things separate way too fast.


Once you’re beside the steer and are getting his head, you have to be starting to slow the steer down in the corner. Don’t let your horse and the steer drift down the arena. Make sure your steer and horse are going across the arena. If you let them drift down the arena, the steer will be going so fast that the heeler can’t catch him. You don’t have control of that steer. When I say beside the steer, I don’t mean next to him. I’m talking about a step back, where your horse’s head is about at the steer’s hip, not head-to-head.

To find out more about David Key, visit his Web site,

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