The History of Team Roping


The origins of team roping date back to the 18th century when Spanish caballeros worked on ranches. Cowboys developed this technique when they handled larger animals that one man couldn’t handle alone. It’s one of the few rodeo events that directly evolved from cowboys’ handling of cattle on the ranch.

Team roping is also known as “heading and heeling”: It features a steer and two mounted riders. The first roper is called the “header” and attempts to rope the front of the steer in one of three ways: around its two horns, around the neck or around one horn and the nose. Once the steer is caught by one of the three head catches, the header must daily, or wrap the rope around the rubber covered saddle horn and use his/her horse to turn the steer to the left. The second roper is called the “heeler” and ropes the steer by its hind feet once the steer turns. A five-second penalty is placed if the steer is only caught by one hind leg.

After the Civil War, the cattle business boomed in an effort to provide for the densely populated East. Eastern cattle hands moved west and met with caballeros. When labor became increasingly difficult for cowboys to find, they turned to Wild West Shows. These shows combined theatrics, competition and money. The promise of a cash reward trickled down to the less formal competitions in which cowboys still participated and spectatorship of these shows grew. Sound familiar? This was the beginning of the rodeos we recognize today.

A numbering system was added over time to rank ropers talents against each other. The numbers range from one to nine for headers and one to 10 for heelers. Now these numbers are often paired with a handicap in an effort to even the playing field against ropers of different skill levels in a single competition. It typically takes a skilled team between four and eight seconds to stretch the steer, depending on the length of the arena. At higher levels, the header and the heeler are allowed only one throw each. If either misses, the team doesn’t receive a score.

Team roping is the only rodeo event where men and women are held in equal regard, and teams can be either single-gender or mixed. Rope yourself some tickets to the Stockyards Championship Rodeo and impress everyone with your team roping expertise!