Being a professional barrel racer is a full-time job for both the horse and the rider. The many hours spent conditioning a barrel horse are essential, but too much time on the pattern results in an overly excited horse without ambition to win. Many top barrel racers are now teaching the same horses they run barrels on to rope as well in order to keep their horses fit, responsive, and calm on the pattern. The extensive benefits of training barrel horses to be used as rope horses are viewed a little differently among the pros, but they see potential in the trend. Spin To Win Rodeo found 5 top pros – Jolee and Dolli Laurtaret, Tana Poppino, Ramona Nash, and Jody Sheffield – to talk to us about the benefits of team roping off of their barrel horses, and they all were glowing about the benefits.
Jolee Laurtaret and her mom, Dolli, train both barrel horses and team roping horses. “It’s just what we wanted to do,” Jolee said. “We love to rope and we love to barrel race. Why not train our horses to do both?” When starting young horses, Jolee takes them to cattle right away. She does this because of the short attention span that most colts tend to have. Cattle are constantly changing up their direction and speed constantly, forcing the young horses to focus. Jolee believes this to be the best way to train the colt to move off leg cues and body positioning. The jerk the colt takes when the roper dallies teaches the colt balance and how to use their bodies, which is essential in young horses, Jolee said. Jolee also enjoys roping off of her barrel horses, because the box work translates to the gate in barrels. The horse learns to be cool and collected, to calm into their rider’s hand, and to relax when they are told to. Jolee and Dolli rope off of all of their horses to really give every horse all of these benefits. Jolee is also a writer for Women’s Pro Rodeo, and in August of 2009 she wrote a story called “A Horse Like No Other.” The story about the multi-talented horse, which she passed along to us, really proves that horses can learn more than just one event.
Jolee wrote about the 1963 World champion barrel racer, Sherry Johnson, who rode her horse Star Plaudit, or “Red,” all the way to the top. On the other end of the arena, Red was the trusted mount for Benny Combs, Sherry’s husband, in the steer wrestling, winning himself yet another World Champion buckle and contributing to the All- Around title that Benny also won that year. Red was a one of a kind horse that remains the only horse to win two world champion titles within the same year in two different events. Sherry and Benny never experienced problems with Red over the two conflicting events, nor did they limit the number of steer wrestlers that were allowed to use Red every week. Red was born to win and did just that. These days this sort of athleticism is rarely seen amongst horses on the circuit, but many barrel racers still believe in teaching their horses how to judge cattle.
Just like Jolee and Dolli and Johnson before them, three-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier Tana Poppino also uses her horse, Perryman Star, or “Amigo” in the roping pen whenever they are home for a while. Poppino finds it important to rope off her barrel horses, teaching them to track cattle and calmly enter and exit the boxes for many different reasons. First and foremost, roping off barrels horses is great way to switch up their normal routine, Poppino said. Keeping a barrel horse’s mind sound is sometimes difficult, but learning cattle is extremely helpful. Poppino also said she has noticed a large difference in the ability to rate with the horses that are used in both roping and barrel racing, as they learn to back off of the bit and really get their hindquarters underneath them.
Ramona Nash, winner of the Lea Park Rodeo in Marwayne, Alberta, on June 10- 12, 2011, also ropes off of her barrel horses. She has not yet started roping off “Boots” or Scoot Bootin Dually, her current barrel horse, but she does plan to in the near future. Their main event is barrels, so she doesn’t plan to haul to any rodeos team roping, but enjoys roping in the practice pen or at home or taking her horses to some small team roping jackpots. She said she notices a difference in the disposition of her barrel horses when she uses them to rope; they tend to be a substantially calmer, in better shape, and overall work much better when used in both events.
Jody Sheffield, currently number two in the WPRA World Standings really depends on her husband to rope off of her horse, Skip the Finances, in order to keep her in check through the week. “He mostly ropes off her at home or jackpots. He always says he is intent on taking her to some rodeos, but I am running her so much it makes it hard.” Through the week or during off time Sheffield does not show her horse the barrels at all. “When we aren’t roping off of her, she tends to get kind of rowdy. She’s always very focused during her runs but it shows in other places.” Sheffield notices the absence of roping the most when she is warming her horse up or in the alleyway. After a few days of not being used in the roping pen she feels like she needs to get her back in check, taking her trusty mare back to her husband for some fixing- up.
For more information about barrel horses that rope, see August’s edition of Spin to Win Rodeo, featuring a full story on Jody Sheffield.