I admit it. I'm obsessed -- with cowboys.
The National Finals Rodeo takes place the first week of December, and the relentlessly unbeatable Trevor Brazile just won the Wrangler All-Around title for the ninth time. So even while I'm tying the bows on my presents, I can't help thinking about another kind of knot--the "two wraps and a hooey" half-hitch used in tie-down roping.
The other name for the tie-down knot is "wrap 'em and slap 'em." Not because anyone's slapping baby cows around. Every cowboy I know cares for his livestock and treats them well, and the purpose of roping is to restrain cattle for medical care. It's called that because they do it so fast. While you're adjusting the spirals on your curly ribbon this Christmas, keep in mind that a professional rodeo cowboy can catch a calf and tie a perfect knot in just over seven seconds.
Roping isn't just a rodeo sport; it's a necessary skill in the business of ranching. Nobody's ever invented a better way to catch a cow than tossing a rope from horseback, and nothing demonstrates the amazing partnership between humans and horses like roping competition. When I watch rodeo, my cowboy obsession fades in the light of the intelligence and talent of their horses.
Seeing a great roping horse in action is a revelation. These aren't just riding mounts; they're full partners, as essential to success as the rope and the saddle and as savvy as the cowboy himself. A good horse can make even the clumsiest cowboy look like a pro.
In timed events, the horse waits at the gate for a signal before exploding from a standstill into a full-on gallop. The calf is given a mandatory head start, so an excitable mount that shoots out too early earns a ten-second penalty--what rodeo announcer Justin McKee calls a "cowboy speeding ticket." A good roping horse knows its job and is rarin' to do it, so there's a lot of prancing and dancing going on behind that gate. The cowboy might as well be riding a coiled spring.
But it's not just about speed; the horse has to position the rider for a good catch. Sure, the cowboy has reins. He can steer the horse. But a well-trained mount is in position before the cowboy even realizes he's hit the arena.
That lets the cowboy can concentrate on throwing his loop. As the rope settles over the calf's head, the horse skids to a stop in a cloud of dust. Seconds tick away as the cowboy dallies his end of the rope around the saddle horn and leaps to the ground. Meanwhile, the horse stays in position with no rider to guide him, backing slowly to keep just the right amount of tension on the rope.
The cowboy flanks the calf, setting it on the ground so he can tie that fancy bow. If you've ever heard cowboys have fast hands, you're right--the piggin' string is hitched at lighting speed. When he's done, he lifts his hands above his head to stop the clock. It's a dramatic gesture, ending a fluid show of skill with a touch of showmanship.
There's some argument as to whether good roping horses are born or made. Many say the right training can turn a good mount into a great one, but most of the best-known roping horses come from proven bloodlines. One thing is for sure--seasoned rodeo spectators appreciate the work that goes into creating a cowboy's perfect partner. A savvy, cow-smart roping horse is a gift any rancher appreciates, at Christmas or any other time of year.
I'm not a baseball or football fan, but I love the sport of rodeo and the cowboy life makes frequent appearances in my books. Do you have a sports obsession, or a favorite romance that revolves around a sport?