Speed Williams: A Roper Since Birth
Speed Williams was born into a family of ropers and has been interested in the sport practically from the time he could walk.
"As a kid I'd rope the goats at home," he said. "As soon as I came home from school, those goats would go run and hide. They were smart."
Williams has gone on to win a record eight consecutive world titles in team roping at the National Finals Rodeo with heeling partner Rich Skelton. He is one of the few people to have qualified for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in both heading and heeling, and has earned well over $1.5 million in PRCA events. Earlier this year, he was inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame. Beginning with the 2006 rodeo season, Williams will be partnering with Clay O'Brien Cooper.
He will also continue to hold roping clinics throughout the country, specializing in teaching kids to rope. Williams' website (www.speedywilliams.com) will soon have free instructional video clips and training tips.
Roping a Moving Target
To progress to the next step, you're probably going to need a mechanical dummy that can move. The back legs on these dummies also move so that a heeler can practice on them as well.
Williams particularly likes the mechanical steers now on the market. "The mechanicals can go at a very slow speed and can be consistent," he says. "That limits the risk of injury to you and your horse. You can also re-create the same run so that you can fix your mistakes. Steers are unpredictable, so you don't get the repetition that you need."
In his own practice arena, Williams has someone tow the mechanical dummy with a four-wheeler. The driver can control the speed and the direction. However, mechanical dummies are available that can move on their own.
At first, have the driver tow the dummy slowly in a straight line, so that you can practice at the walk. As you improve, he can increase the speed so that you can rope at a trot and then a lope.
While you and your horse are learning these skills, the time you spent on the ground learning to rope close to the dummy will come in handy. The less time you take to rope the steer, the closer you will be to it without a lot of rope between your horse and the steer. Especially while you're learning, if you let out a lot of rope, you and your horse can get tangled up in it.
This is another advantage of a mechanical steer that can be towed. The driver can watch your progress and stop at any point, keeping you, your fingers and thumbs, and your horse safe. A live steer won't be that considerate.
Eventually, ask the driver to zigzag the mechanical steer. You and your horse will have to follow the erratic pattern, which will simulate what a real steer will do.
Be sure to include having the dummy cut over to the left in front of your horse so that your horse learns to maneuver in that direction and isn't intimidated by a steer crossing in front of him.
Depending on how far you want to take it, you can next put your horse at the end of the arena and start him out of an imaginary box. Or, if you have access to a roping arena, you can teach your horse to move out of an actual roping box while the driver pulls the mechanical steer around as if it were coming out of a chute.
"You have to teach your horse to leave the box when you ask," Williams says, "not when the gate bangs."
To simulate that, called "scoring," have the driver pull the mechanical steer around, but don't let your horse follow it. Make sure your horse listens for your signal to chase the steer, and vary when you ask him.
If you decide that you want to step it up to a live steer, you can find facilities that hold roping practices, often weekly. They usually charge a fee to help cover the cost of the cattle. Of course, getting your horse used to a real steer is going to be a whole series of practice sessions. Some horses adapt quickly to the sights, sounds, smells and behavior of cattle; others need more time and exposure to get used to working around livestock with confidence.