Team ropes closely resembled each other and weren't exactly easy to come by (unless you knew families like the Kings or Willards). The hard nylon thing in everybody's hand-whether on the ranch or at the NFR-was 7/16" around, was produced 600 feet at a time, and wasn't a barrel of fun to break in.
It's a different ball game now. Instead of feeling like you're swinging a chain, today's ropes are light and snappy-more like an extension of your hand. Manufacturers are taking everything into account from your eyesight to the size of your hand to the size of your steer, and the resulting variety of available ropes can boggle your mind.
We feature almost 150 separate ropes in this guide, each of which comes in different lengths, lays and sizes-and some of which were made with spanking-new dyes, blends and finishing technology. Even if you think you're using a rope you like, it's probably been improved on recently.
So swing some potential new ropes as you browse these pages. And while you're packing your rope bag with the tools that will bring in the big paychecks, keep in mind some of the following tips from pro ropers and rope-makers.
Is it time?
Five-time NFR roper Jay Ellerman used a 3/8" soft nylon four-strand (Rattler's GT4) to cash a $10,000 bonus check for winning the latest USTRC Open Tour championship. He has a few words to the wise about when to trash your old rope.
"For headers, when a rope gets so fuzzy it doesn't feed very well, it's time to replace it," he said. "Heelers will have ropes run and coils burn, and when those build up rubber and start kinking, it's a good time to get rid of the rope."
When a rope doesn't feel quite right to compete with, Ellerman will take it to his barn and use it as a practice rope while riding colts. He's impressed with the way his ropes last doing this. That said, don't defeat your purpose.
"You have to always use something that feels good to you," he said. "I see people try to use one so long that they're thinking about the rope all the time instead of roping. Don't keep using one with a kink or backswing-just lay it down and get a new one."
It's tough to watch the prices of ropes rise along with everything else, but keep in mind that nylon and wax are petroleum-based products and oil prices haven't exactly been cheap. Also remember that many companies and online stores will offer free shipping or a discount when you buy more than one rope. Plus, most are good about taking back unused ropes that don't feel right to you. It's one thing Ellerman appreciates about his ropes-he doesn't have to worry about what comes out of the box.
"You don't have to break these ropes in," Ellerman said. "You can just pick them up and use them brand new."
In the meantime, Ellerman has his own trick for keeping his ropes feeling good. When he's not at a roping, he'll take his ropes out of the bag and lay them on a concrete floor to let them uncoil a little.
"They have a better feel to me when they've been out of the bag," he said.
Finding your niche
That factor-feel-is the number one thing to look for in a new rope, according to Robert Callaway.
"You have to really feel the tip in that rope and it all goes back to balance," Callaway said. "If a rope is unbalanced, it will feel awkward and you won't have control of your loop."
You may know to check for straight hondos and no backswing, but what if you're just learning and your swing leaves a little to be desired anyway? Callaway suggests standing in front of a mirror, glass door, or even a pickup window so you can see where your loop is and how you're rotating your hand and elbow. When you have a good, smooth swing, muscle memory should take over and that's what you want with a new rope.
The elusive "feel" is the sum of all parts-hardness, weight and size. This is where it can be confusing, because what you might really be looking for is body-a loop that will stay open. In the old days, a rope had to be hard to have body, but new materials today mean you can get that body in a softer lay. And softer ropes with more body mean speed-the action will be quicker on your rope. Just watch the thermometer.
"A lot of times a rope will feel good in the store, and you get outside and the heat or cold hits it and it changes a little," Ellerman said.
The general rule is to go with a softer lay in summer because ropes stiffen in heat, and use a little harder variety in cold temperatures when ropes soften up. Ellerman keeps softs and extra-softs in his bag for this reason.
"Pure nylon is more consistent in cold weather," Callaway said. "But weather affects all ropes."
As far as weight, Ellerman's rope of choice is a littler heavier than some, because that's his preference as a veteran.
"But a little weight isn't bad to learn with, either," he said, "because most ropes now are small enough they have a good feel and don't fill up your hand like the ropes we used to use."
Accordingly, a small rope can feel better with some weight, and vice versa. The polyester in ropes is what gives them weight, so take that into account. For instance, some heelers enjoy extra poly in a rope because it provides a better-weighted tip. Manufacturers are blending just about any amount of poly into nylon ropes now, for a multitude of different feels.
Believe it or not, different colors make for different-feeling ropes, too. And size goes hand-in-hand with weight and body. A true 3/8" three-strand rope will be about the same size as a 3/8" scant in a four-strand.
Longevity and the great strand debate
Arguably, nothing in the rope industry has been as revolutionary as four-strand ropes, or as wildly popular. So what's all the hoopla about?
A lot of people like the extra body and/or weight that a center core or extra material will give a rope. Ellerman favors his because of its consistency and lack of "bounce." People also tend to agree that a four-strand rope will last longer.
Basic math says a small-diameter rope won't last as long as a bigger one because less material will obviously wear faster (although a four-strand rope isn't necessarily bigger around). Lay also plays a role here, though, because ropes soften as they're used, so a hard rope may last longer, especially heeling.
"It depends on where you're going and how much you're roping," Ellerman said. "I think the three-strands break down and lose their body, but these four-strand ropes that have a core in them don't seem to break down as fast."
Flatland Ropes owner Joe Sayatovich said one reason ropes break down is because the finishing process-stretching nylon eight to 10 feet past its natural length-damages the fibers even more than roping does (a big head horse can only stretch a rope six to eight inches). This initial damage leads to idiosyncrasies like the hondo rolling over, so he's excited about his new process to only stretch a rope about 6 feet.
New technology will continue to offer new ways to make ropes last longer-and perform better-without adding strands. Sayatovich has the means to make four-strand ropes, but doesn't see any reason to do it.
"I consider the four-strand rope to be a marketing gimmick," he said. "There's nothing you can do with a four-strand that can't be done with a three-strand. You're buying very little extra nylon, yet the price jumps $14 or $15."
Not only that, but Sayatovich thinks the four-strand ropes are slower. When a rope begins to curl around horns or heels, he said, four strands give it more resistance and therefore a slower curl. Sayatovich feels that there are more loops waved off steers' horns than ever before, and a lot of it has to do with four-strand ropes.
"I don't know that a rope has a lot to do with waving it off," said Ellerman. "I think it's more in the mechanics of the rope and the position of the horse. Obviously, you wouldn't want to throw a hard rope at a steer with three-inch horns, but I think it's mechanics."
To Ellerman, a four-strand just flat feels better in his hand. But he's also a fan of lighter three-strand ropes-it's all about what you get used to, he said.
Regardless of your preferences, you want a rope that will be consistent each time you order or buy it. The bottom line? Find a brand you trust that will consistently send you ropes without you having to worry about how they'll feel-you'll already know. For a better "feel" for several companies and their ropes, check out the following pages.