Headers and heelers who are head-over-heels about roping steers were doing their thing last Saturday in Raymondville.
And there was plenty on the line for these modern-day cowboys, as they competed in the second-to-last event in a team roping saddle series at the Silver Nickel Arena on Highway 137.
In team roping, two-man teams on horseback try to rope a steer let loose in an arena as fast as possible. The “header” ropes the steer’s head, while the “heeler” finishes the team’s run by roping its heels.
In the format used at the Silver Nickel, teams that successfully catch a steer advance to the next round, and cumulative times after three rounds determine the standings on a given night.
Competitors may take runs as either headers or heelers, and may also run with several different partners. Points are awarded to top finishers, and a running total is kept throughout the series.
The duo of Jordan Slayton and Jake Slayton, both of Mountain Grove, took top honors last weekend with a three-round cumulative time of 23.18. Second went to Jordan Slayton and Summersville’s Scott Kirkman, who came in at 24.07, while Preston Wade of Houston and Jake Slayton were third at 28.43, and Randall Day of Summersville and Montana Blackburn of Licking were fourth at 33.81.
The individual with the most overall points at the series’ conclusion will win a custom trophy saddle, while the top header and top heeler will each earn a trophy belt buckle.
Going into the final, which is set for Saturday, Oct. 29 (weather permitting), Kirkman leads with 210 points, while Jordan Slayton trails closely with 194. Wade is third with 154 and Day is fourth with 135.
Silver Nickel Arena owner Cody Nickels said some roping series events have drawn enough ropers that the number of teams reached into the hundreds, and that a typical night features about 70-80 teams. Participants come from all around the region, including West Plains and even Springfield.
Kirkman, 29, began roping steers in the pastures at his family’s farm when he was 13, and first tried team roping at 15. He said that most good ropers get that way through dedication and repetition.
“I’ve seen some guys with a lot of talent who it just comes to naturally, but most guys really have to work at it,” Kirkman said. “To be a good header, you have to score good and know when to start your horse and how to handle cattle, and you’ve got to set your heeler up for the shot. As a heeler, you’ve got to have good timing and catch the cow in the air when you throw.
“But mainly, it’s just hard work and practice.”
Wade, 21, has been roping for about four years. He said multiple factors make a roper a good roper, including the mental approach.
“The horse, mindset – there’s several different things that make one good,” he said.
Most ropers ride the classic cowboy horse – the quarter horse.
“They’re bred to work cattle,” Kirkman said. “But you’ve got to have a good-blooded horse that has a lot of athletic ability, and he has to be level-headed enough to put up with all the strain that’s put on them. He has to run really hard and stop really hard – you’re asking them for a lot and it takes a special horse to put up with that for very many days in a row.”
Wade said a couple of things are key to making a horse a good roping horse.
“A lot of time and a lot of money,” he said. “But they have to be an athlete, for sure.”
As is the case in most forms of sport, ropers have a wide range of equipment choices.
“There’s all kinds of ropes, so it just kind of whatever you prefer,” Kirkman said. “They make them in different lays, which is how stiff they are. Heelers use a little harder rope, which helps the loop stay open to catch the feet.”
“I just don’t buy junk,” Wade said. “And there’s a lot of gear out there that is junk. It takes quality gear to be good.”
There is no charge to attend the Silver Nickel’s Saddle Series Team Roping final as a spectator.