Team Roping Success: Increase Your Horse's Performance

Getting along with your horse is the key to improving your team roping performance, whether heading or heeling.

In team roping, good equipment that fits and is adjusted to your horse is always essential to your success, because it directly affects how he works. And while everything from the bridle you use to your saddle pad is important, there’s so much more, from how he’s shod to his nutrition. Team roping is a sport with so many variables, you’ve got to have each one under control to maximize your horse’s performance.


To use one example on the nutrition side, a lot of horses from Oklahoma and Texas are fed coastal or prairie hay that’s sometimes supplemented by grain. Then they get hauled out West to rope, where they predominantly feed alfalfa, and you have to be careful, because those horses will get hot. It never looks good for a horse to look poor when team roping, but there are some horses that get high as a kite if you go to pouring the feed to them. They might even think about bucking. As you constantly evaluate your horse and his performance, there are so many things to consider.

Having a horse’s teeth checked on a regular basis is part of routine maintenance. That’s one of the first things I check, even when I’m trying a horse. A lot of times I’ll feel one’s mouth to see if his teeth are razor sharp. That can darn sure affect a horse’s performance. A really good horse will give you his life no matter what. But most horses won’t work as good when they aren’t feeling good. Another sign of teeth that need attention is that a horse will slobber his grain out and spill a lot of his feed. Some horses will take their hay over to their water and soak it to tender it up a little bit before they eat it. That’s another sign that a horse needs to have his teeth worked on.

When a horse goes to shaking his head or gapping his mouth open, something is wrong. He might need his teeth done, or he might just be over-bridled. You need to check his mouth, and reevaluate what’s in his mouth. It might be pinching him, or just be too much for him. If something’s hurting him, he’s going to try to get away from whatever’s bothering him.

Some horses are hard to bridle for some reason. Sometimes they have ticks or mites in their ears. Sometimes they’re just sensitive about you touching their ears. Withsome horses, it’s just a personality thing. What I’ve found over the years is that it’s easier to just figure out a way to get along with them and accommodate them. Forcing things on a horse leads to more resistance, which leads to fights. When I run into a horse like that, I just ease around him, undo the buckle and put the bridle on him like it’s a halter. Avoid conflict every chance you get.


When it comes to care and grooming, some horses don’t like clippers. If you have pride in your horse, you want him looking sharp. I like mine to have a bridle path and keep his whiskers short. Ease around your horse and take it slow. Every once in awhile, in the case of a horse that really freaks out and won’t come around with time and patience, I just go without a bridle path. Most of the time if you get into a conflict with a horse, nobody wins.

There are so many little quirks to every horse, and each one has his own personality. We’ll never know why some horses go crazy about ropes, and you can heel other horses and it doesn’t bother them. Some horses are scared to death of roping machines, and others could care less. I’ve seen a paper sack blow across a parking lot and cause some horses to try to tear the trailer down.

Some horses back out of a trailer like a calf horse. Others set back (pull back) when you tie them up. You’d think that’d hurt them and they’d stop doing it. Some horses kick the trailer for no reason. It’s so hard to read their minds and understand why they’d do that. You have to learn how to get along with every horse and cater to his quirks, if he’s the quality of horse that lets you be productive. We all want the sweet little horse that you can give the carrot and treat to, and that doesn’t have to constantly be ridden down. But there aren’t very many of those out there, so my best suggestion is that you make the most of what you have by figuring out how to best get along.

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