Obviously, the keys to heeling are position, swing, timing and delivery. But if you ask great heelers, “What’s truly the meat-and-potatoes of heeling?” I think they would say, “being at the right place at the right time.”
What makes people “ooh and aahh” when they watch Jade Corkill? It’s not necessarily his swing or his timing. You may not realize it, but he has an amazing talent for positioning. Reading the corner is huge, whether you’re a #4 heeler coming around there at a truck roping or a #8 coming in during a big-money #13 roping. Even guys at the NFR make mistakes reading the corner.
The reason it’s so hard to do it perfectly every time is because conditions always vary between fresh cattle and slow cattle; between running down the arena full blast at the BFI or throwing as fast as possible at the Thomas and Mack Center. The guy who is the best heeler is the guy who can ride great position in all variable conditions.
And that does not include making the excuse that you got a bad handle. I’ve roped with every Tom, Dick and Harry behind every handle in the book. I learned to be able to clean that mess up. I remember pulling off some amazing shots on the first jump behind some amazingly horrible handles.
It’s about catching two feet even if it takes you more swings or riding your horse better to do it. At the NFR, Jade [Corkill] drew some steers that weren’t very good to heel, but he waited it out and persevered. I like to think that’s what I would have done, because I always strived to be that guy who doesn’t just catch the good ones.
To be that guy requires that you be mentally tough in every situation. You have to persevere through crap handles, too. I’m just going to come out and say it – a lot of guys are sissy heelers. Clay Cooper is the opposite of that, and I’ve been told I am, too.
Bobby Hurley once told his students at a school, “You know why I love Al Bach? It’s not because he can catch the easy ones. He catches the hard ones. I try to handle them, but I’m a realist. Thirty percent of my stuff is bad handles and he cleans them up and gets two feet.”
I want you to be that guy (or girl). Don’t just be able to catch the easy ones. Your goal is to be in the right place at the right time, even if your header misses a dally. Even if your header ducks or floats down the arena. Even if the steer’s dragging. Even if the steer’s about to wipe out the left fence.
Work on your horse control and motor skills to read that corner and react accordingly. Because you might have just one shot to heel that sucker, and you better get him.
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