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In the Loop

A week from today my husband and I will be heading up to Alberta for the four day Canadian Senior Pro Rodeo Finals, the year end hurrah for our equivalent of the Masters division in most sports, for competitors over the age of forty.  Needless to say, I’ve been spending a lot of time roping. Thinking about roping. Dreaming about roping (and you think you hate that dream where you show up for work naked).

Last week, for the first time in two very soggy years, we were able to rope in our newly rebuilt outdoor arena. Yay! Space! A view! And yes, unlike our indoor arena, enough light to videotape our practice sessions.

Before you break out the popcorn and bucket-sized sodas, we need to chat a little bit about calf roping. Like many of today’s rodeo events, it is rooted in ranch work. Several times a year we find it necessary to rope a calf out on the prairie either because it has escaped and refuses to be chased back where it came from (baby calves are pretty much like herding toddlers) or because it’s sick and needs treatment.

Cowboys are a competitive lot. Start with a chore, it will inevitably become a competition to see who can do it best, fastest, longest (go ahead, snicker a little you people with the dirty minds, I’m right there with ya). Modern tie down roping is simply one more way that cowboys dreamed up to show who was the best roper, had the best horse and the fastest hands (yep, more snickers).

Over time, other purely competitive events have evolved from those standard events. One is called breakaway roping, popular with kids, women and old farts because it doesn’t require you to bail off your horse and go wrestle a two hundred and fifty pound calf (yes, they’re heavier and stronger than they look). A breakaway rope is just like any other, except instead of being tied hard and fast to the saddle horn like in tie down roping, it’s held there with a piece of string, like so:

When you catch the calf you stop your horse and the calf keeps going, breaking the string away from the saddle horn. Thus, breakaway roping. The chunk of bandana is there to make it easier for the rodeo judge to see the rope pop off, so he can drop his flag and signal that time should stop. Easy peasy, right?

For training and practice purposes, though, we don’t want to rope calves hard and fast very often, and chasing that rope down to the back end of the arena and persuading the calf to stand still while you get it off can be a bit of a hassle, so we use a breakaway hondo instead. This is a gizmo that you run your rope through instead of the regular hondo on the end of your rope, designed to pop loose when the rope comes tight around the calf.

There are hundreds of different breakaways to choose from–plastic, metal, velcro, rubber bands, you name it, someone has tried to sell it to me–but I am cheap. I also have never found anything that works better than this:

That’s a piece of plastic-coated copper electrical wire of a particular weight and stiffness that makes it ideal for this purpose. It is twisted tight on the right side of the hondo and only wrapped part way around on the left, so that it will slide loose when the calf hits the end of the rope. Pop! Calf goes free, rope stays tied securely to the saddle.

And all of that was just to explain why, in the following video, it looks like the calves ran right on through my loop. In essence, they did, because it’s meant to work that way. The second way you can tell that yes, I did actually catch both calves? Because it will be a forty below flat ass blizzard in hell the day I post video of myself roping badly.

First there’s a shot of my husband so those who aren’t familiar can see how the tie down roping works. (Um, don’t mention it to him, though, cuz he wasn’t very happy with this run or how his horse worked but it’s the only one I got on tape). We are riding two different horses, which is hard to tell because they’re father and daughter and look alike, except mine is much prettier, of course. Greg’s horse is a 12 year old gelding (former stud, obviously, hence the daughter) named Nico. He is a grandson of Secretariat. (Yes, that Secretariat. If you want to know how in the heck that happened, read A Real Prince).

My horse is a nine year old mare named Julie. This is her first year of serious competition, and my first of making the commitment to make her my next number one rodeo horse, since my previous mount got hurt last summer and hasn’t recovered. After six months, Julie and I are finally starting to really get it together.

Okay, now you can break out the popcorn. And take note: in the background you’ll see my young ‘uns, boy and dog, helping out. And beyond them, the faint blue shadow of the Rockies. Like I said, a view!

Now let’s just hope the rodeo goes as well as this practice session did.

Kari Lynn Dell

Visit me at: Montana For Real


16 Responses

  1. Wow, Kari, very cool! At first I didn’t realize you had more than one calf lined up and I was wondering how you got him to go back around to the chute.

    Thanks for sharing your world with us–and patiently explaining the details–and good luck in Alberta!

    • Getting the calves back can be a little tricky, if you don’t have things set up right. There’s a narrow lane all the way down the right side of the arena called a return alley. We have eight calves in all, once we’ve roped the whole bunch we chase them up the alley, around the rear of the roping boxes and back into the chute.

  2. *sigh* No more do I post this and it commences pouring rain. Back to the indoor arena we go.

  3. Kari,

    thanks for sharing this. I loved reading about roping. I have always loved the rodeo and watching the events. I know there is a lot of hard work that goes into to. My cousin tried her hand at barrell racing for awhile but she didn’t stick with it. they alo showed Tennessee Walker’s for awhile too.

    You always have such interesting posts. thanks for sharing this part of yoru life and good luck at championships.

  4. You didn’t yell me that about Nico… COOL! Good luck next week, I hope you both kick ass!

  5. My daughter was so jealous of your son when she watched this video because he got to climb the fence. LOL I didn’t know Nico was a prince either. Need to read more of your blogs!

  6. Love the details you share here! I know intellectually how fast these things happen, but it’s kind of shocking to see it in real time*. Love the video! (And the gorgeous horses.)

    *Yes, I’m a total Yankee**. Sue me. 🙂

    **Except I’m from New England and even typing that word hurts. I’d say “go, Red Sox!” if it wasn’t already too late.

  7. You rock! Love this!

  8. Awesome! At first I, too, wondered about chasing the calf down to put him back in the pen. Thanks for sharing. My oldest son even watched and he felt sorry for the calf and wanted to know if you were going to kill it. Jeez, what kind of kid thinks that?

    Kick butt in Canada!

    • There are actually eight calves, it was just easiest to edit the video down to the last two runs. And no, we’re not planning on having these calves for supper any time soon. They have their very own barn and get special calf chow, the only cattle on the place who get to come in out of this nasty rain.

  9. Very very cool, Kari Lynn. Haven’t been a show in YEARS, but that roping business goes sooooo fast. thanks for sharing!

  10. I loved it! Your border collie looks so much like mine.

    And I can’t believe how much your son has grown!

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