Calf roping is a rodeo sport in which a rider attempts to rope a calf with a lasso while atop a horse. The rider must then dismount the horse and tie the calf down, wrapping the rope around three legs. The calf must remain tied for six seconds in order for the roping to count. The rider with the fasted roping time is the winner. The term calf-roping is often used interchangeably with tie-down roping.

History of Calf Roping

Calf roping originated, like other rodeo sports, as a necessary part of ranch life in the wild west of the United States. Cattle ranchers often needed to rope cattle to bring in if the cow was sick or injured. During the 18th and 19th century, American settlers found their way to the west and began to learn from the Spanish vaqueros. The vaqueros had already developed many ranching techniques, including roping which they passed on to the American settlers.

As the westward expansion and cattle industry boomed, ranchers would drive cattle across great expanses of land to be further transported to the eastern United States. At the end of the drive, the cowboys would hold small competitions to test their ranching skills against one another. They would compete in riding, roping and driving to determine which group was the best. The cowboy contests were the origins of what would become the rodeo.

Calf Roping Competition

In modern calf roping, the cowboy and horse wait inside of a box for the competition to begin. The chute opens into the arena. The calf is released first to give it a head start. If the rider leaves the box before the calf crosses the start line, a penalty of 10 seconds is added.

Once the rider is released from the box and the calf is past the advantage point, the rider attempts to lasso the calf’s neck with a rope. Once the rider is successful, he/she dismounts from the horse and runs to the calf. If the calf is not standing, the cowboy waits for it to regain its footing. Once the calf is standing, the rider flanks the calf. Flanking is a term used for the movement in which the rider flips the calf onto its side.

Once the calf is on its side, the rider ropes three of the calf’s legs together. It does not matter which three legs are roped. The roped used to tie the calf’s legs together is called pigging string, and it is a smaller rope than that used to lasso the calf. Once the calf is roped, the cowboy raises his arms in the air to imply he is finished. The pigging string must remain around the calf’s legs for a minimum of six seconds in order to count towards a score.

In calf roping, the horse plays a very important role in the competiton. At the beginning of the event, the horse must be ready and willing, waiting eagerly but not impatiently. Once the calf is released and the horse is ready to go, the horse must burst from the box with incredible speed. The horse goes from a standing position to a full gallop in a moment. As the horse tracks the calf, it will speed up or slow down in order to maintain position behind the calf. The well-trained horse will be able to perform this, called rating, without direction from the rider. The rider can then focus all of his/her attention on roping the calf.

After the rider lassos the calf, the horse comes to a stop almost immediately. A perfect stop will be more of a sliding stop than a jerking stop. In order to slide to a stop, the horse drops the hindquarters, straightens the front legs and slides on the back legs to a smooth stop. The rider can then jump off while the horse is still sliding.

The rope remains attached to the horse and the horse is responsible for holding the rope taut while the cowboy reaches the calf. Sometimes, the horse will need to change position in order to keep the line taut. The horse must always face the calf. The horse will back up to keep the rope taut without pulling the calf to the ground.

Quarter Horses

Quarter horses are generally the breed that most often competes in roping. Quarter horses have been used by wranglers and cowboys for years, especially because of their ability to stop and turn more quickly than any other breed. Quarter horses generally dominate most rodeo events.

Quarter horses are named for their ability to gallop very quickly over short distances- namely a quarter of a mile. Some quarter horses have been timed to travel as quickly as 88. km/hr. Because of this intense ability to accelerate and travel quickly, Quarter horses excel out of the box in calf roping.

Quarter horses have very muscular hindquarters and shoulders. Their bodies are compact, but still incredibly strong. The hind legs are strong. They have small heads with wide foreheads. Quarter horses have a wide chest, short cannon, low, broad hocks and muscular gaskins. The strength of the hindquarters make them especially suited for the quick turns and ability to start, stop and turn on a dime.

Tack and Equipment

Most competitors in calf roping use a western saddle. The western saddle, like the early ranch techniques, has its origins in the vaqueros of the west. Unlike the English saddle, the western saddle has a horn on the front. The horn can provide security but is not intended to be a handle. Western saddles are also generally made of decorated leather, with intricate carving and silver accents. The stirrups are heavier and generally rest lower in a western saddle.

In addition to the western saddle, ropers will need other western-style tack. Generally, rodeo attire is required including a long-sleeve western shirt, western riding boots, a cowboy hat and clean jeans. Chaps are sometimes worn in rodeo competition. Some ropers also wear gloves to prevent rope burn during the lasso. Each roper will also need the pigging string. Riders will actually hold the pigging string in their teeth until they need it for the calf.

Calf Roping in Australia

Rodeo is a popular past-time in Australia. The cross-country cattle herding of the wild west was not dissimilar to that which took past in the outback of Australia and many of the same techniques were necessary during the 19th century. Australia ranchers would compete in Australia’s rodeos. The National Rodeo Council of Australia monitors the rodeos to ensure animal safety of both horses and other livestock. There is controversy from animal rights groups in Australia particularly against calf roping but it remains an important event in rodeo competitions.

Calf roping is an exciting part of the rodeo event. The sport requires incredible speed, precision and control on the part of both horse and rider. The most athletic and most obedient horses of rodeo are the calf-ropers. If the horse and rider do not have a good relationship, the rider will not be able to subdue the calf quickly enough. A the professional level, ropers are able to tie the calf within 7 seconds. Without a flawless performance from both rider and horse, even a fraction of a second will lose the event. Great discipline and great skill make calf roping a thrilling rodeo competition.