Off The Ropes

Posted in: Featured, Horse Care, Horse Training, Ranch Life

Roping horses “off the ropes” is a traditional way of catching horses for a cowboy crew. The practice isn’t commonplace these days, probably because running a large cavvy of ranch horses is becoming less common. The Spanish Ranch in northern Nevada maintains the tradition, however, because it is still the most practical method to use. Each afternoon, the cavvy is wrangled into a set of “ropes,” which is actually a mostly pipe enclosure with a length of rope held on one side. The pipe is handy because it doesn’t sag and need constant maintenance like traditional rope.

Before horses can be caught, the cavvy must first be brought in from the wrangle pasture. Here, Connor (the speck in the distance – it’s a big pasture) wrangles the cavvy into the ropes.

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The leaders come through the gate from the pasture into the ropes.


Once the cavvy files into the ropes, they all line up facing outward. Whoever wrangled that day stays on his horse in the ropes to settle any horses that leave their position and wander around. Keeping the horses orderly is important for both horse and human safety.

On the ropes

Here, Jim ropes a horse for a fellow cowboy. He throws a houlihan loop with one or two swings, keeping swinging minimal so as to not stir up the horses.

Roping horses, off the ropes

He then leads the horse to the rope section of the enclosure, which another cowboy lets down so the two can cross.

Cowboy and horse, off the ropes

A cowboy then halters the horse, giving Jim his rope back. The horse in this sequence didn’t change colors; I had to stop photographing while they caught the gray horse to regulate my three-year-old daughter. Or maybe I had to tend to the baby strapped to my chest. Or maybe the sun was in my eyes/wind was in my hair/I spaced out? Who knows.

Black horse

Cole leads the horse to the night lot while Jim heads back to rope out another horse. On most ranches, the cowboss or jigger boss (next in command) ropes out horses. The crew takes turn wrangling, except the cowboss who is exempt from that chore.

Cowboy and horse

The geldings are very much accustomed to the wrangling/roping process and usually stand peacefully on the ropes. This bay roan horse looks like he thought he’d investigate a potential escape route.

“Hey, guys, what’s under here? Did anyone look under here before? Maybe I can fit if I think skinny.”

Bay roan, off the ropes

“Yeah, you’re right, there’s no way out down there. Might as well sty behind this pipe barrier that is conveniently positioned chest-high to a ranch horse.”

Cavvy horses, off the ropes

Yawn. Being wrangled is so boring if you’re not being roped out.”

Yawning horse, off the ropes

Boring isn’t a bad thing when it comes to working with livestock. Boring is uneventful, peaceful, and usually means things are working just like they’re supposed to.

After the next day’s horses have been roped out and everyone’s had a good yawn, the cavvy is turned back into the wrangle pasture. The cowboys stand in strategic places to help the horses leave the ropes slowly and in an orderly fashion. This prevents horses from rushing and getting injured by kicking each other.

Cowboys, off the ropes,

The cavvy then goes out to a green pasture, where they eat good grass and supplemental hay until the next afternoon, when the process is repeated and another batch of horses is roped.


Posted in: Featured, Horse Care, Horse Training, Ranch Life

About Jolyn Young

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

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