As the recreational team roping industry continues to grow steadily, so does the roping school scene. More professional cowboys-looking to either avoid the road altogether or offset the rising fuel prices-are offering clinics.
One of the more recent trends is the roping camp, where students can spend an extended, intensive training session at a facility with some luxurious extras. This concept originated with David Isham and the National Ropers Supply Training Center in Decatur, Texas.
The facility has everything you'd expect, a big, nice covered arena, stalls, trailer hook-ups, cattle and bunkhouses in which to stay.
But when it comes right down to it, the real product they're selling is their expertise. Krece Harris is the NRS Training Center Events Director, a job that requires him to host clinics and share his roping expertise.
One student, Dr. Denee Thomas from San Antonio, had ridden horses most of her life, but came to roping later. As the Dean of Students at Dental Schools of San Antonio, she knows a little something about teaching.
"I can't say enough good things about them," she said. "I have been to two of Krece's clinics and I've also been to the Walt Woodard clinic. I have taken several private lessons with Krece and his staff. I had a great experience there. I am an educator and I'm aware that not everyone who is good at something is good at teaching something, but Krece is."
Harris's teaching philosophy is pretty simple and, he says, applicable to just about everyone who darkens the Training Center's doors.
"It doesn't matter who we're teaching, whether a true beginner comes in here or an advanced roper comes in here, you're always teaching fundamentals and basics," he said. "That's what everybody goes back to. Whenever you run into road blocks, you have to go back to the fundamentals and the basics. Number one, being able to ride position on your horse. We're probably more geared toward that than anything: how a person rides their horse. More and more we're seeing people who can pick up a rope and swing it, the problem is not being able to sit in the middle of the horse's back and still be able to swing their rope. Working hand in hand with Walt Woodard and Tyler Magnus like we have over the years, we're going to teach the fundamentally correct swing and past that we're going to teach the fundamental basics of horsemanship. That's what keeps this deal going in my opinion. We can break it down to the level of being a true beginning and that same method of teaching goes all the way to a pro-level roper."
Harris limits the clinic participants to 14-15 students at most. He can give four private lessons each day, however, most days it's just two. The beginner clinics are the most popular-usually selling out for the entire year by February.
"Private lessons are up and horse sales are up and clinics are up," Harris said. "As far as what's going on here, it's amazing to me with everybody carrying on about the economy, we haven't seen it yet."
Gerry Sheppard, from Norman, Okla., was also a true beginner who cut his teeth at the NRS facility and went on to develop a long-standing relationship with Krece. When Sheppard started, he was so bad he had to pay entry fees for himself and his partner in order to compete at the local ropings.
"They set up a plan based specifically for me," he said. "I felt like I got the most honest responses from them. I felt safer there than anywhere else. They bring people along at the speed they need to go. From David Isham on down, they take the student at the speed they need to go.
"I bought two horses from them. They were smart enough to tell me that I was only as good as my mount. I've been offered more than I gave for them several times. I feel like I got a bargain.
"I'm to the point now where people ask me to rope with them. I get to pick and choose."
If you're not a beginner, Harris's best advice for one of his clinics or anyone's clinics is to approach the situation ready to learn.
"Prepare yourself to be open-minded," he said. "The thing that is hard for all of us is change. The students who run into the biggest problems are the ones who have been swinging a rope for two or three months trying to get prepared for it. The ones who are the easiest to teach are the ones who say, 'No, I'm going to this beginner clinic and I'm not even going to pick up a rope and learn any bad habits.' Those are the easy fixes. It's the guy who grows up on a ranch and has kind of done some ranch work, roped a few calves in the branding pen and stuff like that who wants to get serious about his roping who has already developed muscle memory and habits with his swing that are hard to break. On the other hand, those are the people who can ride the best, too."
Beyond the beginner, the program stresses horsemanship.
"Once a person can swing a rope the correct way and catch the dummy consistently, it's no longer a roping game, it's a horsemanship game," Harris said. "Whoever rides their horse the best or is mounted the best is going to be the winner. That's what we teach when people show up here and want to fine tune and tweak their game."
The other extras that NRS provides include a pro shop, where participants can try different products to see which they like best. Every clinic starts with a saddle-fit seminar that helps ropers understand how to fit a saddle to their horse as well as a how to fit a saddle to themselves. Everyone walks away with a new rope courtesy of Classic and they always have horses for sale.
"I could see very easily that through the course of that three- or four-day clinic I gained in confidence and skills. I think it's because they teach the fundamentals and horsemanship," Dr. Thomas said. "That's a place where I can do it safely and in a controlled environment. I've seen all kinds of people progress there and develop a lot of confidence. It is a heaven on earth for a lot of people and a great social gathering."
While Harris and the staff at NRS are professional instructors, some ropers crave instruction from someone who has made his name rodeoing. Of course, there are a couple of guys who rodeoed at an elite level and have turned to teaching as a second career. Three of the most prominent instructors in that category are Rickey Green, Tyler Magnus and Walt Woodard. Each has his own strong points, so as a roper you need to determine who's strengths match up with what you want to learn.
Green is perhaps currently the most focused on teaching of the three with clinics scheduled for three weekends out of every month across the country. Headquartered out of Morgan Mill, Texas, Green teaches a style of roping he calls Power Team Roping.
"The most important part of Power Team Roping is body position," he said. "Proper body position lets you get the rope to an angle that has the most power. It also opens up your roping area to encompass a greater range of shots you can make. Your options are open to how fast, slow or what distance you want to rope."
Check his website, www.rickeygreen.com, to learn more about his philosophies and to see his schedule.
A recent trend in the industry is the more intensive semi-private clinics. Green hosts a handful of these, as do many other professionals. Tyler Magnus's program at the Little Bear Ranch and Rich Skelton's Get Rich Roping program both incorporate the idea of a total team roping immersion process.
Think of the schools as a fantasy camp where you learn something.
"These schools give me the time, and the number of ropers I prefer, so I can help each student meet their maximum potential," Green said.
Magnus, who has modeled his program at Little Bear Ranch in this mold as well, is known for his emphasis on horsemanship. While he still hits the rodeo trail some, this fall he has a full schedule of clinics on tap.
"Good horsemanship is the key to successful roping," Magnus said. "Many ropers focus too much on their rope and not enough on their horse. You might catch, but you'll never achieve consistency without sound horsemanship."
Visit www.tylermagnus.com to see what he's got going on.
Walt Woodard, meanwhile, is carrying a full-time rodeo schedule and fitting in clinics where he can. In addition to some at NRS, he's got his own schedule and starting in September, he's quite busy.
Woodard is known for his outstanding teaching ability, and for over 20 years made a nice living doing only that. Thomas, who attended one of his clinics at NRS this year after auditing one last year, sees him as someone who can take people with a little more experience to a whole new level.
"Walt Woodard can teach anybody to rope," she said. "But people who have a grounding can really get a lot more from him."
Most of the rest of the top 15 cowboys in the professional rodeo also give lessons and host clinics. Rich Skelton has developed an intensive-yet all-inclusive-luxury clinic series called Get Rich Roping (www.getrichroping.com).
Most pros are willing to give private lessons that work around their schedule as well. If you admire someone's particular style or feel they would be a good match for your style, find a way to get in touch with them-the rodeo world is truly small. Further, consider laying the groundwork for something like this prior to when rodeo season is in your part of the country. You may be able to schedule a lesson while your favorite pro is in your region rodeoing. Bobby Harris (www.bobbyharrisropingschools.com), Mike Beers (www.mikebeers.com), Speed Williams (www.speedzoneroping.com), Tee Woolman (www.teewoolman.com), Jerold and Leo Camarillo (www.camarrilloteamroping.com), Charly Crawford (www.charlycrawford.com), Chad Masters (www.chadmasters.com), and Allen Bach (www.proroping.com) all have websites you can visit to see a schedule of upcoming clinics and contact information to schedule a private lesson.
Youth ministry roping camps are also on the rise. Because of many of the top professional's personal faiths, top pros such as Allen Bach, David Key and Kory Koontz are giving their time to local ministry partners to teach roping and share their beliefs.
Allen Bach's month long camp last October was a huge success and recently a ministry called Equine Champions For Christ held a Christian Team Roping Camp for thirty young ropers in Salado, Texas.
Kenny Hague, Jo Goertz and Michael Goertz started the ministry to honor God while allowing kids the opportunity to learn from world class team ropers.
"Everyone from participants to the workers came away knowing that God is great and through him all things are possible," Jane Campos-Cisneros, a volunteer for the organization, said.