I love when headers say they’d win more if they had a better heeler behind them. Like when Clay Tryan won first, second and third at the Windy Ryon last year and people said, “Well sure, he had the three best heelers in the world.” 

 And he did have Jade, Patrick and Travis. But then he went to the WTRC Finals in Billings. He could have said to himself, “Man, if I just had my three main guys up here at my dad’s finals, I could win $10,000.”

Instead, he went up there and caught every steer aggressive and handled them so clean around the corner that he still won first, second and third – with a guy who headed all year and borrowed a heel horse (Joel Bach), a retired guy (Jhett Johnson) and his cousin (Chase Tryan). He won more than $16,000.

That’s the mindset you need as a low-numbered header, too. Are you able to set the steer up to where it’s easy for your partner to read the corner? Can you make that heeler rope better than he or she has ever roped for anybody else?

Because of pride, a lot of times it doesn’t happen. Headers make excuses and you hear them say all the time, “I turned every steer and these heelers keep legging and missing for me.” Well, are they listening to themselves? There’s a common denominator! Somebody is handling steers well enough that guys are catching.

Consider two headers at the NFR, both of whom are catching every steer. But one guy’s heeler is missing every night and the other guy’s is catching. It might not be that the one heeler ropes so much better than the other.

There’s a bigger difference than you think between a head horse that leaves out of there at 9 o’clock and one that takes the steer left more at 10:30 and slows down just a tick across the arena. The first corner is sharp and hard to read as it happens.

Some young headers, when they know a high-numbered heeler is behind them, will think it works to just stick it on and get out of there. But with maturity, they start realizing the difference they can make.  

I used to ask Chad Masters to get our steers’ heads turned quick, but then to just slow down and lope to the corner. When I say “lope to the corner,” I mean not speed the run up. It might sound funny, but why not have your header try it?

The year we started doing that is the year we won the NFR average, set a new earnings record, and I won the world. The next year, we won second in the average and he won the world. Chad only missed one steer, and I was 50 years old and roped 19 out of 19 by two feet. Riding out of there at the correct speed lets your heeler be the best he can be.

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