Switching Ends

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Q:
Dear Matt,
I have a young horse that I really like. I'm a heeler, but this horse is big and fast and I think he would make a head horse one day. I like him enough that I'm thinking of training him up as a head horse and maybe heading some, too. I have heard that your horse [PRCA/AQHA Head Horse of the Year Nickolas] was used on both ends. I have some time to make this horse and I want to do it right. I plan on roping the machine and lead steers a lot on him, but I've been wondering about heeling on him. Did that help your horse? Will I do him harm as a head horse if I heel on him? Did your horse learn anything as a heel horse that helped him become a top head horse? Thanks for your help and good luck this year.

Ryan, Durango, Colo.

A: Well, Nickolas is such a good head horse because he scores so good. He's probably not the fastest horse in the world, but that horse runs pretty good. He scores good and breaks flat and low, trying hard, so he's completely out of your way and lets you have easy shots. He never tries to get quick and duck and take your shot away from you. He just lets you rope and lets you reach on him. He just keeps running until you throw, so he doesn't start to anticipate you reaching and stop running.

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There's a lot more pressure on a head horse in the box because the scoring is so much more important. Heeling is a lot easier on them in the box, so it takes a little bit of pressure off them when you heel on them.

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Nickolas is just a horse. They're made to ride and made to use. My dad pulled logs up the mountains with a team of horses growing up. The trailer miles are hard on them and you can abuse them and rope too many on them, but I think we've got to a point where horses are worth so much that we're afraid to hurt them. That horse is worth everything to me, but you still have to treat him like a horse. Before he won head horse of the year, I headed and heeled a bunch on him. Just because someone else said he's a good horse, doesn't mean now I should change the way I ride him.

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I think one of the reasons Nickolas is so good in the box is because I did heel so much on him. That's mostly what I did on him as a young horse, was jackpot heel on him. So it was pretty easy and relaxing for him, so he never got blown up in the box. As he got older I started to head a little bit more on him so he got better and better to head on. One of the best head horses in the world is the black head horse that Clay Tryan rides (Thumper) and Matt Robertson used to bring that horse down there when I was jackpotting around and head and heel on that horse all day long in the same ropings.

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I certainly don't think it hurts them to head and heel. A horse learns to rate steers and use his butt if you heel on him. I think that horses learn to rate steers and stop off your throw and stuff like that heeling. All of that is nothing but good for them when you go to heading off of them.