Team ropers work as partners: one header and one heeler who move in precise coordination. The key to success? Hard work and endless practice. Team roping partners must perfect their timing, both as a team and with their respective horses.
The mounted cowboys start in the “box.” When the header nods, the chute gate opens and the steer gets a head start. Ropers are assessed a 10-second penalty if the header breaks the barrier before the steer completes his head start. The header ropes first and must make one of three legal catches on the steer:
1. Around both horns
2. Around one horn and the head
3. Around the neck
Any other catch is illegal and disqualifies the team. As soon as the header dallies – wraps his rope around his saddle horn – and pulls the rope taut, the direction of the steer is changed. That gives the heeler the opportunity to catch both of the steer’s hind legs with his own rope; catching only one means a 5-second penalty for the team.
After the catch, the heeler also dallies, to stop the steer. When the ropes are taut and both horses face the steer, the time is recorded. Times vary widely depending on the size of the arena.
Like many other rodeo events, team roping grew out of the ranch chores of the past. Larger cattle would have to be immobilized for branding and doctoring by two ropers due to their strength and size.