Cowboy Skills: Dallying

Posted in: Featured, Horse Supplies, Ranch Life, Rodeo

“Take your turns!”

“Go to the peg!”

“Go to the wood!”

These are all creative cowboy ways of saying “Dally!” To many ropers, dallying is as important a skill as catching. Unless you’re using a horn knot and tying off like a Texan or Southwest cowpuncher, you’ll need to stop the roped animal somehow, and wrapping your rope around your saddle horn is a popular way to get that done.

A significant benefit of dallying is the roper’s ability to “slide rope” or offer slack to the roped animal.


This way, a tired calf can catch his air while waiting for a heeler at a branding or a sick yearling can take a few deep breaths while being doctored. A roper who is tied off has the end of their rope tied securely to their saddle horn with no way to give the animal slack.

On the downside, it’s easier for an animal to escape when roped by a dally roper. Once the loop settles around the bovine’s neck, the roper must quickly take his dallies before the animal runs off with his rope trailing behind it. This is called “casing up” in buckaroo circles, because the offending roper must then buy the crew a case of beer to atone for his lack of dallying skills.

Here, Jim must dally while his horse and the yearling are running.


Wrapping a rope around a saddle horn while a large animal is on the other end of it moving away from you and taking the slack out can be intimidating at first. But once you get the hang of it, “stirring the pot” will become second nature and you won’t even think about it.

Unless you screw up and rope burn your hand. Then the art of dallying will jump straight to the front of your brain and stay there until your seared, raw, burning flesh heals.

Most people dally in a counterclockwise motion. Once the loop settles around the cow’s neck, the roper jerks the slack out of it, then immediately dallies. He’ll take as many dallies as necessary, depending on a) how fast the animal is moving, b) how heavy the animal is, and c) what type of horn wrap he is using.

Horn wrap material significantly impacts a dally roper’s performance. A “sticky” horn wrap such as rubber is what team ropers use and buckaroos won’t touch, unless they have a flat tire and the ranch mechanic isn’t available. Team ropers use rubber because it grips the rope the most aggressively and therefore stops the cow the quickest. Buckaroos typically use chap hide (which comes in a variety of fun colors, BTW), elk hide (which is thinner than chap hide), cotton (which is super cheap, looks like hell, and popular in Arizona) mule hide (which isn’t actually mule hide, but is made from boring ol’ cow hide), or latigo (which is slicker than polished glass).

Oooh, a pink chap hide horn wrap! So pretty.


Some experienced/daredevil guys even spray their saddle horns with Show Sheen to make them extra super-duper scary slick. Or, they’ll spray their buddies’ saddle horn, because they think it’s funny when other people get in a wreck and lose a finger.

Regardless of type of horn wrap and any additional lubricants, a roper must dally once he ropes a cow. Sometimes it only takes two wraps to stop an animal; sometimes it takes six. Once the animal is stopped, the roper is in control of the situation and can slide some rope, take another turn to guar-an-tee the animal won’t go anywhere, or lift his hand straight up to un-dally.

Once a roper has “popped his turns,” he can kick his horse closer to the cow to shorten the slack in his rope and re-dally. Or, if the cow has been doctored and is ready to be turned loose, both ropers will pop their turns at the same time to let the animal run free. Dallying affords a roper quite a bit of flexibility, and mastering the nuances of the skill is a vital part of a working cowboy’s career.



Posted in: Featured, Horse Supplies, Ranch Life, Rodeo

About Jolyn Young

Jolyn Young lives near Montello, NV with her cowboy husband and 3 small kids. For more, visit

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