Jack McCue, 69, figures he’s been to 44 Fort Worth Stock Shows. He headed straight here after high school to start roping after getting a taste of it on a New Hampshire dude ranch.
It was an unusual start for a rodeo cowboy in Texas, but he made a living at it for three years — “I rodeoed, chased girls and drank, if you call that a living,” he said.
McCue, of Woburn, Mass., who said he lived in Colleyville for five years, was on his horse JJ at Justin Arena on Tuesday during tie-down roping, formerly known as calf roping. He said JJ would compete carrying another rider this year.
Nearby, Dave Laster of Alvarado was done for the day, which was not a good thing. Out of hundreds of entrants in six categories, only the top five and the top 65 would compete Tuesday night for money, and he would not be one of them.
He didn’t appear distraught. Laster, who said he’s been roping all his life, trained horses Sissy and Speedy, who were also competing Tuesday.
It’s not easy to teach a horse to bolt from a standstill and chase a calf at just the right distance for the cowboy to rope it, and then throw on the brakes to keep the calf still while the roper ties up at least three legs. Not only that, the horse and roper have to get all of it done in something like 10 seconds if they expect to win. Some competitors were just over 8 seconds Tuesday.
“To really have a horse finished, it’s four or five years’ worth of training,” he said.
Horse and rider are a team. Ropers tend to say “we” won a competition instead of “I.” Robert Johnson of Sealy even has business cards printed with his name and his horse’s, Blue Diamond. Johnson said he got into roping after he was injured playing college football.
His brother, Eric Dickerson, continued to play — at SMU, then the NFL. The star running back was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
Johnson said someone else is riding Blue Diamond this year. It’s not uncommon for someone else to ride a horse and split any purse with the owner.
Tie-down roping is a physical sport for both horse and rider, and it’s certainly not easy on the calves.
For the uninitiated: Once the running calf has been roped around the neck, which generally slams it to the ground, the cowboy has to pick the animal up and throw it on its side before tying up the legs. If the calf isn’t standing when the cowboy gets to it, the competitor has to pick it up and throw it (also called flanking it) under the rules posted on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association website, which are usually followed even at non-PRCA events.
The sport, like most of rodeo, requires a skill that’s needed on the ranch. Calves have to be caught for various reasons, including doctoring.
But animal-rights activists have criticized the event. In response, the PRCA changed the name a few years ago from calf roping to tie-down roping. A PRCA representative did not return calls seeking elaboration.
Laster said the calves at the Stock Show get a break: After they are roped twice, new ones are brought in.
Judy Wiley, 817-390-7843