Monday, December 12, 2011

Put a Bow On It--Cowboy Style

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?

23 comments:

  1. Joanne, great post. I have a co-worker who competes locally in roping contests. She does a number of other contests, too, and has placed many times.

    Like your post, I love listening to her talk about these events. There is a lot of skill involved in every contest.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hazers have the luxury of holding their reins, but ropers need both hands on their ropes. (One to hold the coils and the other to throw the loop.) Tie down ropers have their peggin' string in their teeth.

    I've been a fan of rodeo & bull riding for years.Traditionally, cowboys only got paid if they were among the top competitors in their event.Even so, it's still common to see them share gear, including a great horse with one another. I've also seen them jump into an arena, risking their lives to protect a fallen friend.I love that attitude.

    (Lately, I'm starting to follow Rugby. There's just something to be said for all that scenery...)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Lol, I sure wish we had cowboys in Holland! Never seen a rodeo, not even on t.v..
    The only sports I do like to watch, every now and then, is darts. And I have never come across a romance novel with a dartsplayer as its hero or heroine ...

    ReplyDelete
  4. I love the Highland games! Men in kilts participating in the caber toss or Scottish hammer throw, or stone put (as in shot put but a stone the same size is thrown)...but I've been to a few rodeos, Texas, you know, and thought they were pretty cool! :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm a dressage rider, so dressage has shown up in several of my early manuscripts and will make an appearance in Wildcat, book 9 of the CSC series. And yes, I realize that about 98% of readers have no idea what I'm talking about. But I don't mind. Dressage may not be as spectacular as rodeo, but it has a history that dates back to the Renaissance and beyond and is absolutely awesome to watch!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm married to a man I call Ultimate Sportsfan, but I don't enjoy sports at all. I exercise to stay healthy, but that's the extent of it. I just don't think I have the competitive spirit. I want everyone to win.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yo, Cheryl! I rode dressage for years, and consider it the oldest martial art (if you take the Greeks into account). I do love my ponies, and I was surprised to learn that the Thoroughbred is not the fastest breed. They top out around 45 miles per hour, while the Quarter Horse has been clocked at... 57 miles per hour, though over short distances. I was researching the English coaching system in the 1800s and got just a bit off topic.... again.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Num, you could just about put that first picture of the delicious Mr. Brazile on a book cover as is! That smile is killer.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Tracey, roping is getting really popular with horse hobbyists, along with cutting and sorting cows. It's fun, and you're always learning and improving.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Virginia, you're right - about the reins, and about the solidarity of the cowboys. Just one more reason I'm obsessed!
    I have a friend who just went down to the Bahamas to play on the National team. It's fun to watch, but I have no idea what's going on! Ditton on the scenery, though.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Aurian, I'm trying like heck to remember a romance I read a while back where the hero taught the heroine to play darts! It was kind of hot:)

    Terry, Highland games are awesome! The strength of those guys is amazing. And the kilts - gotta love that!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Oooh, Cheryl, I didn't know you were a dressage rider! Don't tell the cowboys, but I'd rather watch dressage than just about anything. It's just beautiful to see the partnership between the rider and the horse.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Shana, I'm with you! I don't watch any sports but rodeo, and that's one where you're always rooting for the contestant to win (well, sometimes I'm rooting for the horse or the cow, but still...)

    ReplyDelete
  14. So Grace, you're a dressage rider too? You ladies have all kinds of hidden talents!
    Most of the top horses in roping are quarter horses, because they can put on that incredible burst of speed.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Tamara, he is a handsome devil, isn't he? And a nice guy, and a family man. He smiles a lot because he just about always wins, but he's extremely focused and determined.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Love your post...of course, I do!
    Cowboys! Yes, ma'am!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Great post, Joanne! I attend rodeos but can't say I'm a huge fan of the sport to the point I know who's who in the arena. But they sure are nice to look at, especially from the back when they're leaning on a fence watching the action themselves. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  18. I loved every word, Joanne! I know I've said it before on this loop but I love cowboys, too! Thanks for explaning so much that I had never understood. Well-done!
    Amelia

    ReplyDelete
  19. Becky, I agree. Always sit behind the bucking chutes:)

    Thanks, Amelia! I know you know what I'm talking about!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Carolyn! I didn't see you there somehow, and I missed you! Cowboys forever:)

    ReplyDelete
  21. Thanks Joanne, I learned a lot from your post. There really is something special about a cowboy!

    ReplyDelete
  22. I'm cowgirl--bred and born. Nothing like watching a roper in action. My husband doesn't rope, but he's a good rider, and a super cowboy!

    ReplyDelete
  23. Amanda, there sure is! And it sounds like D'Ann knows that as well as I do!

    ReplyDelete