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Calf Roping - Riding Styles & Disciplines

Cowgirl, horse and calf about to be roped. Calf Roping Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below

Calf Roping is considered by many to be the truest test of a Quarter Horse’s cow work know-how. This is because roping, out of all the activities a ranch horse does, requires the greatest degree of partnership with the rider.

The desire of cowboys to test and improve the skills they use on the range, from the time cattle were first handled, led to this skill of horse and rider becoming a competitive event in show classes and in rodeo, but the actual skills remain a necessity for the working of cattle on large ranches


In rodeo roping, the fastest time determines the winner, but in a working cow horse’s life the show judge rates the horse’s effectiveness and responsiveness.

Judging begins as soon as the horse enters the roping chute (starting box). Credit is given when the horse walks in, turns and stands quietly, but with alertness, and is ready to gallop out at the signal. The calf roping horse must be prepared and eager, but not nervous or on the other hand, reluctant.

When the calf is released, the horse needs to respond to the rider’s signal and catapults him out of the chute. The horse must never be distracted by the swinging of the loop of the rope over his head, but must position himself directly behind the calf, a few yards behind the calf.

Because the rider needs to focus on the calf rather than the horse, rating (speeding up or slowing down to maintain his position behind the calf) is a primary skill of a calf roping horse.

After the loop is thrown over the calf’s head and the rider takes out the slack, the horse should stop. The stop should be quick but smooth so the rider isn’t jerked off balance. The horse drops his hind quarters first, then braces his forelegs and slides to a smooth stop. The judge also wants to see a straight stop with no ducking to either side. Even before the horse comes to a complete halt, the roper will dismount and run to the calf to throw it and tie it. While the rider is on the ground and running, the calf roping horse needs to back up just enough to keep the tension on the rope until the roper has thrown and tied the calf. The horse must stand his ground immediately until the rider remounts. he horse must remain facing straight toward the calf at all times!


The difficulty of the calf is taken into account by the judge, but the roping horse’s work during all parts of the run determines the score. Scores can range between 60-80 and although fast times are impressive to everyone, it is to be remembered that it is the sum of the calf roping horse’s skill that is being judged, the same way it would be important on a working ranch. Only in rodeo is the time factor important. The ranch hand would prefer to just get the job done correctly and safely, as that is the main time saver.

Calves, being smaller than steers, are in their way harder to catch than steers. Just like in other ropings, a prize-winning calf roper cannot be successful if he has to worry about his horse, as he must stand up in the stirrups and aim slightly downward to catch the calf around its neck.

In calf roping, a good horse is everything, as in ranch work, and this is heightened by the instinctive partnership that develops between rider and horse, both moving constantly as one unit with one purpose, and good roping horses are as savvy and as eager as their riders.

Horse is holding the calf, rider on ground throwing the calf.
The horse is holding the rope taut while the roper, who ran to the calf as soon as he made the catch, is flanking and throwing it to the ground, so he can tie three of its legs. In the foreground, the judge is holding a flag to give the sign as soon as the calf is tied, so the time is taken.

Article © HorseShowCentral.com Submitted by Hardy Oelke and Photos © Oelke or Oelke Archive. Reproduction of any portion of this copyrighted website without written permission of the publisher is prohibited and subject to legal action.

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