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Shopping For Rope Horses

Shopping For Rope Horses

By Doreen Shumpert

As you might have noticed, the popularity of team roping exploded during the 1990's.  Even lawyers and doctors traded their clubs for ropes, trailers and horses.  The new fascination with the sport doesn't seem to be subsiding as we enter the 21st century, and as interest in team roping increases, so does the need for good roping horses.

If anybody knows good horses, it's J.D.Yates.  He has trained and shown multiple AQHA world champions roping horses, and has qualified for and roped in the prestigious National Finals Rodeo since he was a teenager.  In's continuing series with Yates, he shared some advice on shopping for roping horses.

Heading Horses:

Yates says he used to go for the big horses to head on, but now believes that the breeding has improved so much, you don't have to ride a giant to get the job done.

"Size is personal preference, I think," he says, and adds that conformation has more to do with performance than size.

"I start at the back of the horse and look at him.  I want deep gaskin muscle, and hocks that sit pretty low to the ground.  That'll cause him to work off his hind end more. A horse that really works off his hind end will get to where he doesn't want to duck off as much."  Yates says.

Another popular belief is that a head horse better be fast.  Yates doesn't necessarily agree with that, either.

"I like a head horse that can run, but lots of times, that's the only reason a person buys him.  But he might run too fast for your level of competition.  Many people want to buy more horse than they are ready to ride," he explains.  "Also, I'll take a slower horse and beat ya every time just running across the ground at a lope.  I don't think a guy needs a race horse for a head horse to be a winner.  if you get one that scores good and runs flat, you're gonna win a lot of money.  And most of the time, those horses are a lot easier to rope on."

If you buy a horse that is above your ability, you might have immediate problems.  Yates warns.  He stresses that you buy a horse at your level that helps you improve.

"Don't think you are going to buy Speed or Rich's horses and get on them and win," Yates says.

They've proved they've got the best horses, but that doesn't mean anybody else can ride them.  Buy the horse that fits you--he doesn't have to fit your neighbor.  It doesn't matter if he's palamino or appaloosa--if he fits you, then that's the horse I suggest your ride.

Heeling Horses:

Yates feels that heeling horses have been overlooked for years.  He even admits to once believing that you needed a great head horse, but could heel on virtually anything.  Not anymore.

"The way roping has changed, it takes as good or better of a heel horse as it does a head horse," he says.  "The steers are quicker-footed with quicker moves.  You better have one that can run, really want to get in there and uses his hind end.  He's got to stop the clock--that's the important thing."

Furthermore, you'll rarely see one that uses his hind end be crippled, Yates adds

"He'll last for years, and rarely get sore, as long as he works off the hind end," he says.  But if a horse wants to throw his nose and shoulder to the right, and stop on the front end, Yates says that horse is looking for a way to beat you.

"A heeling horse has to make a round corner," he says.  "If he makes any kind of round corner, he's gonna use his hind end to stop."

Along with preferring a better quality horse that he used to.  Yates also looks for a smaller one these days.  he says a shorter horse is typically quicker-stridded, which helps you keep speed on your heel rope.  And that's important for those quicker steers, he says.

But no matter what the size your horse is, Yates has a couple of warnings.

"Lots of people let their heeling horses stretch out too much during a run where they're really on their front ends. No matter what, I like them to worl of their hind ends.  Also, people will tie their horses heads down too much.  Remember horses have to be able to get their heads up a little to get their butts down" Yates explains.

Heading or Heeling Horses:

Yates has several suggestions for shopping the team horse market.

First, watch the horse in the box.

"If you get one that stands there flatfooted, he won't have to run as hard as a lot of other horses if he scores good, "Yates says.  "Ninety percent of the time you're gonna catch up to the steer the same time as a horse that can fly, but really comes up off the ground.  If a horse's front end and head are coming up, he probably looks like he's covering a lot of ground, but he's running in the air a lot.

Second, consider the older horse.

"The older the better.  Personally, I really don't think a horse reaches his prime until he is 13 or 14 years old.  Some folks think a horse is done around the age of 15, but many of the top pro horses are way older.  My good heel horse is 18 and I'm still roping on him."  Along those lines Yates says that the pressure put on some of the younger horses today can blow them up.  But many of the older horses are going to last years if they're treated right.  However, when a horse gets to be about 16, Yates says be sure to evaluate that horse as to what you want to do with him.

Third, get a vet check.

Although Yates recommends vet checking a horse, He says don't expect him to pass with flying colors.

I don't think there is a horse alive today that would vet-check 100% sound, " Yates says.  "In general, they all have some problems to deal with.  I don't think the general public as a whole is going to try to sell you a crippled horse.  Just look for the things like contracted heels behind, which is a problem, but there's ways to deal with it."

Yates also says that while he likes nice conformation, remember there's not a horse in the world you can't pick apart.

"As long as you can put up with his faults and win on him, the I would recommend that animal to you," he says.

Fourth, if you buy the horse, ride the horse.

Yates says the class of horses today is pretty amazing, and suggest you have your pocketbook ready in many cases.

"Personally, I'd rather give a little more for one horse I can win on that to try to buy two for the same price, but I can't win on either one," he says.

Once you find a horse you like and bring him home, Yates warns that you'd best ride him--and not just at the ropin'.

"At the level of ropin' everybody wants to, they would have a lot more success if they just rode their horses more," he explains.  "It's easy to come home, saddle up, head to the ropin', rope 30 and score any," he says.  "Lope your horse for the first 45 minutes before you rope.  It improves your roping by making your horse better to rope on and be around.  Then, rope 10 and score four or five," he advises.  "When I give a school, I enforce that you spend a lot of time riding.  Just lope around, get the edge off, get yourself and your horse relaxed before you go rope.  then go forward.  "When I rope , I score as many as I rope.  People get in too big of a hurry and want to rope a lot of steers.  Make yourself score.  It's an important part."


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Last Updated: 6/27/2002
Published: 6/26/2002

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