Tie-down roping requires timing, speed, agility and strength. But a cowboy’s success in tie-down roping depends in large part on the precise teamwork between him and his horse. These highly trained mounts are taught to know when to start walking backward thereby keeping the rope taught and allowing the cowboy to do his work on the other end. It is truly amazing to watch as cowboy and horse compete together.
To start this sprinting event, the tie-down roper and his horse back into the box. The calf receives a head start. If the roper breaks the barrier before the calf reaches its head start, the cowboy receives a 10-second penalty.
As they chase after the calf, the cowboy swings his rope and catches the calf. As soon as he does, his horse is trained to come to a stop as he dismounts, sprints to the calf and throws it by hand, a maneuver called flanking. If the calf is not standing when the cowboy reaches it, he must allow the calf to get back on its feet before flanking it. After the calf is flanked, the roper ties any three legs together with a pigging string – a short, looped rope he clenches in his teeth during the run. The clock stops when the roper throws his hands in the air to signal he’s finished.
While the contestant is accomplishing all of that, his horse must pull back hard enough to eliminate any slack in the rope, but not so hard as to drag the calf. The roper then remounts his horse, rides forward to create slack in the rope and waits six seconds to see if the calf remains tied. If the calf kicks free, the roper receives no time.
As with team roping, the roots of tie-down roping can be traced back to the working ranches of the Old West. When calves were sick or injured, cowboys had to rope and immobilize them quickly for veterinary treatment. The main difference between the two events is the size of the cattle being roped. Team ropers work together because the steers they need to catch are often too big for one man. In both events, ranch hands prided themselves on the speed with which they could rope and tie calves, and they soon turned their work into informal contests.