This post is in response to a conversation on Twitter the other day, when one of the people I chat with online posted a picture of a roping dummy she built, and someone else said I should get one. I sat down and counted, and realized that we own nine roping dummies, not counting the table top version.
Roping is like any other sport. You don't learn to play basketball by jumping right into a full court game, and you don't learn to rope by jumping on a horse and going hell bent for leather after a calf. First, you have to master the basics. How to swing, how to throw, how to handle the slack so you don't end up tangling your horse in the rope with a calf on the other end.
To do that, you begin by standing on the ground, roping a dummy.
Roping dummies come in three basic varieties: calf roping dummies without horns, steer roping dummies with horns, and steer roping dummies with legs to practice heeling the hind feet.
Or, one dummy that can be either a calf or a steer. This is my college dummy. It's made of a section of six inch steel pipe. The legs come off so he can be stuffed in the tack room of your horse trailer. Or under your dorm room bed. Yes, that is a section of a radial tire. When you take the horns off, the tire becomes the calf head. We're not going to talk about how old this dummy is, or how many miles he's got under his treads.
However, throwing a loop while standing is a completely different experience than while seated in a saddle. Plus, for tie down ropers, there's the whole issue of learning to step off the right side of the horse after throwing (the opposite side of a normal dismount, for my non-horsey readers). That's why we have this guy:
(The white stuff is salt, we have to work it into the dirt every few years to keep the ground from freezing in the indoor arena.)
My husband designed this dummy with the same concept in mind, except for calf roping. He built it out of race car tire and flattened one side so by bolting in a chunk of wood for a base. It's towed along on the sled and can either be tied on, or left loose so it rolls off when roped, mimicking what happens when a tie down roper catches a calf and gets off to tie it, while the horse keeps the rope tight. This is the dummy we use most when first getting a new horse used to tracking an animal and not spooking at the rope when it's swung and thrown.
Dad bought this dummy, which is really cool except I can't seem to get a rope around its 'neck' to save my life. It's also meant to be pulled. Notice the long, curving rails. Once you catch it and the rope comes tight, it rocks back until the rope pops off the front, then drops back down to be roped again. No getting off to retrieve your rope. Another excellent training tool for beginning ropers or horses.
If you don't have the money or the space for a full roping dummy, there's always the option of just buying a head that's mounted on steel spikes that can be stuck in to a hay bale. Most are molded, high impact plastic, like the calf head on the right. Our steer head is slightly more authentic, although a tad lopsided since the bulls got into the indoor arena and stomped around.
Not all dummies are for roping. Some are for tying:
So, with all those options, it's only natural that people ask what I rope when I'm fine tuning my loop. And the answer is...none of the above. I prefer to rope the plain old hay bale.
Addendum: Since posting this blog I've had several inquiries about the white Calf Tracker dummy in the middle picture. We've had it since I was in high school so I had no idea where it came from, but when I said so to my husband he not only knew, he'd met and chatted with Don Parsons, the man who makes them. Don is from Walla Walla, WA, I don't have a number or address but I did find a great newspaper article about his business: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19920308&slug=1479808