Whether destined for cutting, jumping or trail riding, all horses benefit from loops and dallies.
Story and photos by Kelli Neubert
May 22, 2016
Several years ago, before we decided to make the great migration to Texas, we lived in California and ran a basic colt starting operation. We worked with young horses destined for timed events, reined cow horse events, jumping, trail riding and plenty of other disciplines. The same principles and fundamentals were applied to each one’s foundation, and part of our program was getting them broke and comfortable to be roped off of.
I specifically remember one man who came out to see his horse one afternoon. He watched Luke track a steer around and swing his cotton string, and I got a chuckle out of his question.
The man asked me, “Why is Luke roping on my horse? You know he’s going to grow up to be a cutter, right?”
“I don’t really know,” was my uneducated reply. “We rope on everything. I’ve never asked why. It’s fun, anyway.”
I felt silly not being able to answer his question. Luckily, I’m married to someone who is happy to share his knowledge. So that evening, I learned to ask, “Why?” Why spend the time to rope on a horse that has no life plans of being roped on again?
This was Luke’s answer:
First off, roping requires a horse to learn how to track a cow around. This gives a young colt clarity in his job—basically, stay near the cow’s hip as it travels around the pen. A horse that is a little afraid of cattle or somewhat distracted by other things can build confidence in having the simple task of moving another animal away from him.
Secondly, swinging a rope creates a strange noise and movement from the rider. It helps desensitize a horse to a rope whirling around his head, shoulders and legs. The colt learns to be okay with a rope tickling his feet, flank and other areas. Should a rider need to put on a jacket or accidentally drop something around the horse in the future, it will better equip that colt to be comfortable with unusual movement and sounds. Dallying and pulling a cow for the first time is a strange sensation for a horse of any age to experience. Teaching a colt to take a pull makes the rider safer and builds the horse’s strength and confidence to learn how to handle a cow on the end of a rope.
Roping on a young horse also requires the rider to use his legs a lot more to steer than if he was just trotting circles. The colt learns to yield and move off the rider’s calves and feet. He becomes more able to free up his hips and shoulders with different cues with a purpose behind the request. This adds another dimension to the colt’s handle and ease of maneuverability. He also gets more broke to the pressure and feel of reins on his neck at the same time.
Of course, there are lots of other reasons. Sometimes plans change and roping may be in the horse’s unforeseen, distant future. Once in a while, a horse gets sold and it is a huge bonus to the new owner that her horse already has some fundamentals in roping and cattle handling. Also, to create and execute a “purpose” horseback benefits both horse and rider, whether it’s pasture roping or just tracking the old milk cow around the arena. It’s fun. It’s interesting. It’s a process of learning.
Speaking of learning, I’m happy to say that I’ve learned to ask “Why?” more often, and I feel much more comfortable when interrogated about the hows and whys of our program.
In fact, when I look in the pen and see Luke roping on his horses, I’ve basically eliminated the need to ask anything at all—besides just one, simple, perpetual question, that is.
“Can I join you?”