Tammy McCullough is a team roper because of Parker Stringcatcher.
“He was trained for cutting, but he didn’t like it,” McCullough said. The 8-year-old sorrel stallion “took right to heeling.”
Heelers are the second half of a roping team. A heeler for two years, McCullough, 49, of Poolville, her header, Preston Randon, 30, of Springtown, and a few hundred other cowboys and cowgirls tried Monday to lasso shares of about $18,000 in prize money. The fastest 65 teams from the one daytime go-round Monday in John Justin Arena returned that evening for a single shot at glory.
Success demands that the header catch up to and rope the horns of a 650-pound calf that’s skedaddling flat out after leaving a chute before the team’s horses can start running. Then the header has to get the slack out of the rope and turn the calf to the left. The heeler then must throw a rope and capture the calf’s back hooves. To advance, teams pretty much have to do all that in less time than a rodeo rider has to stay on a bull or bronc, said Casey Elrod, 33, of Peaster.
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“All the people in the 65 teams tonight will be in the 4- to 7-second range,” Elrod said.
Actually, the cutoff was 6.9 seconds, and Zane Bruce of Graham rode off Monday night with $10,948, taking first and tying for second, third and fourth.
But all the cowboys and cowgirls were part of a show that’s the biggest of its kind in America, said Horse Show Manager Bruce McCarty.
“This is the largest registered team roping event for the American Quarter Horse Association,” McCarty said Monday. “Tomorrow, we’ll have the largest AQHA-registered tie-down roping contest in the country.”
Some of the cowboys who team rope also are among the 275 who compete for shares of the $15,000 purse in the tie-down, McCarty said.
John C. Brian, 31, of Weatherford, is one of those double threats. He wouldn’t say which event is harder.
But tie-down also is a team sport — the team is the cowboy and a really good horse, Brian said.
“The horse has to do more by itself,” Brian said.
The chase starts the same, but with a much younger, smaller calf — about 6 months old and around 250 pounds. An instant after the cowboy tosses the lasso, the horse is on its own, Brian said.
“The horse stops and backs up as you step off on the right side, if you’re right handed,” Brian said. “You run down the rope and flank the calf (grab the calf by the flank and throw it down). Then, you tie any three legs together with a piggin string.”
How pigs got involved is anyone’s guess, Brian said. But the piggin string is about 4 feet of quarter-inch-thick line that’s so rigid it’s almost a stick.
“You’re looking to tie in seven seconds,” Brian said. “The best will be about 6.5 seconds. A 10.5 or better will probably be good enough that you can come back [for the championship go-round].”
By Tuesday afternoon, it turned out there was a little more wiggle room. The cutoff time was 11.6, said Freddy Vest, a 64-year-old homebuilder from Pilot Point who roped in the amateur class, but advanced to the final go-round with a 10.6.
“I was one out of the top five,” Vest said about 4:30 p.m., an hour and a half before the big contest began. “It will be tough tonight, but it’s great to rope with the top 65 in the world. All the world champions are here in Fort Worth.”
Roping competitions are part of the rodeo heritage and that makes them significant, Vest said.
“If you’re from around this area, rodeo should mean something to you,” he said.
The events in Justin Arena also have drawn bigger crowds than many shows outside the coliseum. McCarty estimated Monday and Tuesday evening audiences at 1,000 or more.
“A lot of the PRCA champions from Vegas are here,” McCarty said. “These are the best cowboys and horses in the country. And because you get only one go, you’ve got to give it all you’ve got.”