Various Definitions of Team Roping Horsemanship with Clay O'Brien Cooper

Putting the focus on horsemanship can change the game.
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Putting the focus on horsemanship can change the game.

When you look at the other disciplines of horsemanship, such as reining or cutting, team roping is pretty unique. Unlike those other events, our sport sort of lacks the focus on the importance of a really well-broke horse. Most of the time the emphasis is put on roping and just using the horse to get there, and not really paying attention to how to make that horse work and do his job better, more efficiently and longer. To do that takes focusing on the horsemanship aspect of the game, and a lot of team ropers just don’t really do that.

Credit: Lone Wolf Photo

Credit: Lone Wolf Photo

A lot of times if a guy can really ride, set up his shot and make it work that’s attributed to good horsemanship. What I would personally call that is being good at just riding a horse and being really good at roping. In my eyes, there’s a whole other definition of actually being a horseman.

You can take a young horse, get him really broke and develop him through the learning stages to the point where he’s solid and confident, and will work every time without coming unplugged and developing anxiety or a problem, where he’s hard to control or maneuver. The vast majority of horses have some spot or hole in them, where they’ve kind of been messed up along the way. Horses that haven’t been started and finished by an actual horseman tend to have those kinds of issues.

All horses are different and have issues based on their breeding, physical abilities and their natural tendencies and dispositions. But even horses with those individual issues can be brought along by a horseman and dealt with in the correct manner that helps that horse get over those issues.

Sometimes it’s a matter of giving that horse extra work or extra rest at the right time. A good horseman brings a horse along and helps him progress until he’s solid. A guy who just rides a horse really good and can get a horse from Point A to Point B has a harder time keeping a horse working. That guy goes through more horses, and has to buy his horses already made. His horses don’t work at their full potential for long, then it becomes a matter of just getting by from run to run. Because ropers like that have the ability to get by, based on their riding and roping skills, they don’t really know the difference between that and real horsemanship.

I study it, and have a lot of respect for the guys who can ride a horse to the right spot and make a shot. But I have more respect for the true horsemen. It’s not only diving into roping and breaking it apart. It’s also about breaking down the horse part and studying the psychology of horses and horsemanship. It’s interesting and fun for a person to enter that arena. How to get along with horses better and get the most out of them makes you more of a complete roper.

A guy who just rides a horse and makes the shots sometimes doesn’t know what a horse really is or how to evaluate him as well as a horseman would. If one feels good enough to get him there, and he’s able to make the shot, that works and is fine for a guy like that. A horseman can ride a horse a couple of days and really evaluate what’s there. He has a better overall idea and judgment about a horse he’s thinking about buying than the guy who just rides a horse good and makes a good shot. The true horseman is also more picky about how his horse operates. He wants his horse to function smoothly, and to be good in the bridle. Watch closely, and you’ll see that his horse takes his cues quickly and immediately at any rate of speed.