Big Loop, Big Pressure: Dummy Ropings

Dummy ropings are serious business across the U.S., teaching kids the basics of competition while honing their rope-handling skills under the spotlight.
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Dummy ropings are serious business across the U.S., teaching kids the basics of competition while honing their rope-handling skills under the spotlight.

The recent generations of great team ropers—with the likes of Clay and Jake Smith, Spencer Mitchell and Russell Cardoza and many, many more—have grown up in an era that saw dummy ropings emerge as a rite of passage for up-and-coming talent. Rope companies have invested in dummy roping competitions across the country, encouraging their endorsees to lend a hand every chance they get when there are kids twirling twine in competition. For kids, dummy ropings are the first place to test their mettle in the fires of competition while developing key rope-handling skills they’ll use the rest of their careers.

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Walt Eddy helped kick off the USTRC’s Junior Looper Championships at the Cinch National Finals of Team Roping 20 years ago, when they simply held the dummy ropings in a parking lot behind the arena. 

“In the 20 years of dummy roping, it’s grown from a little fun, sideline thing in the parking lot to quite the event in some places,” Eddy said. “I do USTRC ropings in the Southwest—Albuquerque, NM, Gallup, NM and Moab, Utah. The common denominator is the Navajo Reservation. If you follow dummy ropings at all, the U.S. Roping in Gallup gets 150 kids easy. The dominance of the Navajos has really emerged in the last 10 years or so.”
Anthony Lucia, who produces the World Championship Dummy Roping in Las Vegas and the Elite Rodeo Athlete's dummy ropings also noted the shift to the dominance of the Navajo Nation. 

“The Navajo Nation kids bring an intensity to dummy roping that you don’t see hardly anywhere else,” Lucia said. “They practice so hard, and they take it so seriously. They have fun, too, but they really have fun when they win. They set a high precedent when they win, and they expect to be top notch. You can see how hard they work at it by the way they handle their ropes. At the Albuquerque ERA Tour stop, every one of the team ropers was there watching a boy and girl face off from two and a half coils back, and I asked Turtle Powell and Kaleb Driggers to see if they could match them, and they seriously wouldn’t. These kids went four rounds from two and a half coils back with neither missing. It shows the kind of people they are. Under the leadership of Erich Rogers, Derrick Begay and Aaron Tsinigine, they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with in the rodeo ranks.”

It’s true—past dummy roping champions have gone on to be leaders in professional team roping. The trio of Smith boys—Clay, Jake and Britt—are perhaps the most acclaimed dummy ropers to date. Britt is only 15, but he’s won the World Championship Dummy Roping a record four times, while brother Jake has won it twice and Clay has won the USTRC’s Junior Looper Championship.

“It gets the pressure out of the way before you start getting on a horse,” Clay, the eldest Smith brother and current top-five PRCA header, said. “If a kid can stand in front of people with all of those eyes staring at you, and you can rope the dummy, when you get on a horse it’s not a big deal. It was a stepping stone. Some people don’t realize how important it is because you get your kid in every situation. If you’re wanting to rope, it’s good to get the nerves out of the way early.”

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Before the Smith boys, Travis Graves was a famed dummy roper in Oklahoma.

“I think it’s good to compete and practice for it at home,” Graves said. “My dad always told me I needed to stay practiced up. Starting that early preparing let me see where I was at with the other kids. You think you’re the best—there’s always someone better than you. They rope bigger horns nowadays. Look at the Tryan boys—all they think about is roping. There’s more range, they can reach farther than I could as a kid.”

To help your kids step up to the plate against the best up-and-coming talent with a rope, try out these eight dummy ropings across the country.

World Championship Dummy Roping
Dates: Dec. 8-10, 2016
Location: Las Vegas, Nev., at Stetson Country Christmas at the Sands Convention Center
Age groups: 6 and under, 7 to 9 and 10 to 12
Prizes: Saddles, buckles, Classic ropes
Details: 2016 will mark the 22nd year for the WCDR, this year presented by Twisted X Boots and Cactus Saddlery. Top cowboys bring their children to compete while they rope at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at night, and past winners include WNFR-qualifier Spencer Mitchell (1995 and 1997 World Champion Dummy Roper). The WCDR kicked off with Judy Gillum and Bob Feist, and has seen some of the top ropers in the country come through its ranks.
More info: countrychristmas.com

BFI Dummy Roping Championship
Date: June 19, 2016 (2017 dates TBA)
Location: Reno, Nev.
Age groups: 5 and under, 6 to 8 and 9 to 12
Prizes: Saddles, belt buckles, Heel-O-Matic bones, ropes, gift cards and cowboy hats
Details: Each entrant gets a grab-bag with a t-shirt and other items, and top ropers in town for the BFI stop by to lend a hand. You’ll see Trevor Brazile there with Treston and Style (and soon Swayzi), and Clay Tryan will be watching Tyler and Braylon (and soon Dash), while other top ropers’ kids will surely be entered up.
More info: bobfeistinvitational.com

National Team Roping Tour Rising Star Dummy Ropings
Dates: July 2-4, 2016 and July 9-10, 2016
Locations: NTR Cowboy Christmas at Mormon Lake Arena, Mormon Lake, Ariz. (July 2-4); NTR Fuddruckers All Amateur at Yost Arena, Billings, Mont. (July 9-10)
Age groups: 5 and under, 6 to 8 and 9 to 12
Prizes: Trophy buckles to each division winners
Details: The no-entry-fee format of the Rising Star Dummy Ropings will give the kids at the family-friendly NTR events even more to do, and the NTR plans to announce more in the coming months.
More info: nationalteamroping.com

Whippersnapper Dummy Roping
Date: Aug. 6-7, 2016
Location: Mary Kenneally Memorial Roping, Klamath, Ore.
Age groups: 5 and under, 6 to 8 and 9 to 12
Prizes: Buckles, dummies, candy, squirt guns, ropes, hats, stickers and more.
Details: This year’s roping runs Aug. 5 to Aug. 7 with the dummy roping as a feature on Sunday. Every kid who enters gets a prize.
More info: Horn-N-Hocks Productions on Facebook

Utah Navajo Dummy Roping Championships
Date: Sept. 17, 2016
Location: Bluff, Utah
Age groups: 5 and under, 6 to 8 and 9 to 12
Prizes: Saddles, buckles, rope bags, cowboy hats, sport boots, ropes, saddle pads, roping dummies, trophy belts and bronc halters, as well as a Pendleton blanket to the family who travels the farthest, and prizes to the top girl in each division.
Details: Last year, Jake Barnes gave the opening prayer and Allen Bach called in to give advice and wisdom to the kids. Top dummy roping talent is showcased at the UNDRC before they head to Oklahoma City for the Junior Looper Championships and Las Vegas for the INFR Junior Roping Championship and the World Championship Dummy Roping.
More info: facebook.com/UtahDummyRopingChampionships

Indian National Finals Rodeo Junior Roping Championships

Date: Nov. 12, 2016
Location: South Point Equestrian Center, Las Vegas, Nev.
Age groups: 6 and under, 7 to 9 and 10 to 12
Prizes: Saddles, buckles, Heel-O-Matic Bones
Details: Classic Ropes sponsors the INFR Junior Roping Championships in partnership with the INFR and its athletes, Derrick Begay, Casey Cummins, Aaron Tsinigine, Dustin Bird and Erich Rogers. Kids compete year-round at INFR tour rodeos to qualify to compete, and the dummy ropings are open to everyone 12 and under (not just Natives). The INFR Junior Roping Championships began in 2008 when the INFR moved to Las Vegas.
More info: infr.org

Elite Rodeo Athletes' World Finals Dummy Roping
Dates: Nov. 9-13, 2016
Location: American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas
Age groups: 8 and under, and 9 to 12
Prizes: Saddles, buckles and other various prizes
Details: The ERA plans to host dummy ropings at each of its events across the country leading up to the world finals, with winners invited to participate in the ERA World Finals Dummy Roping. Winners of the ERA Finals Dummy Roping will get an automatic spot in the World Championship Dummy Roping Finals in Las Vegas during Stetson’s Country Christmas.
More info: eraprorodeo.com

USTRC Junior Looper Championships
Dates: Oct. 26, 2016, and Oct. 29, 2016
Location: Barn 3 Warm Up Arena and Main Coliseum, Oklahoma City, Okla.
Age groups: 6 and under, 7 to 9 and 10 to 12
Prizes: Saddles, buckles, ropes, halters, dummies, caps and more.
Details: The USTRC Junior Looper Championships is one of the premiere events of the dummy roping season, with anywhere from 90 to 120 kids taking part during the USTRC’s Cinch National Finals of Team Roping. Clay and Jake Smith went head-to-head there as kids, with Clay coming out on top once. Clay Tryan’s son, Tyler, has taken home the title in the past, and lately the girls have been stealing the show with Kayden Tsosie winning the 6 and under division in 2015.
More info: ustrc.com