When to Dally When You Practice

Clay O'Brien Cooper on dallying in the practice pen.
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Clay O'Brien Cooper on dallying in the practice pen.

When I was a kid and first started roping and practicing, I thought you were supposed to dally every time. So for a long time that’s what I did. You roped a steer, you dallied and you pulled back. That’s just the way it was done. I guess it was good to learn how to handle the slack between my hands and the timing of the dally in those early days. That sort of practice allows you to progress and get better at dallying, because ultimately you have to be good at it and eliminate mistakes. When I was in my teens and really working at my roping because my dream was to make a living roping, one of the first problems I had was keeping horses under me—keeping them working and not burning them out.

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One of the first things I learned about horse maintenance was paying attention to not dallying as much in the practice pen, to save my horse and also save the steers.

At that time, having roped since I was a little kid, I was pretty good at dallying. So I wasn’t too concerned about learning how to dally at that stage. The priority became paying attention to the wear and tear dallying put on the livestock.

I got into a habit where I would go to the horn and just kind of bring it around and almost dally completely. Just when it would start to bump the steer and get tight, I would undally. I don’t recommend that to everyone, because going to the horn then bringing it off of the horn right when it’s starting to come tight can be a dangerous thing. Every now and then your rope will twist a little differently and you can feel that it’s a place where it could bite you.

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I’ve watched other guys practice a lot, and probably the best way to eliminate mishaps if you’re not going to dally is to pull your slack up high and let the rope run through your hand, away from the horn. If you’ve made the decision not to dally then there’s no reason to be close to the horn.

The best thing to do, once you’ve made your decision to either dally or not dally in the practice pen, is to either dally completely or not dally at all. When you’re letting your rope slide and it’s on or close to the horn, things can happen that you might not want to happen.

Eighty percent of the time when I’m roping cattle in the practice pen, unless I’m roping fresh steers that need to be dallied on, I don’t dally. Again, that’s just to save the steers and to save my horses from the jerk. I do rope the Heel-O-Matic a lot, and I dally on that. Alisa (Clay’s wife) is excellent at running the four-wheeler for me. I get good practice, and she stops just as my horse starts to get a little bit of a bump. That lets me go through the complete run, which I like, without being too hard on my horse.

Photos by Lone Wolf Photography