Use Leverage To Your Advantage

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life

I’m on a lot of social media pages that concern stockmanship, horsemanship and livestock handling. I learn a great deal of new ways of doing things and enjoy seeing and learning how things are done other places.

That said, I also see some things that make me scratch my head and wonder. One of those things is when roping and holding a bovine down to be doctored, branded, whatever. Whether packing 30 feet or 80 feet of rope, the roper is out here on the end of it. I learned early on that it was much easier on my horse, plus safer for everything, to be closer to the critter. Of course, this only pertains to dally roping.


This calf is held quietly while being branded. The horse is a little further back to leave room for the ground crew to work.

The critter can really kick and struggle, even when stretched between two horses, if there’s 60-80 feet or more of rope between the horses. With that leverage, the critter can usually get a leg out of the heel loop. With two people it’s plumb easy to hold your slack and ride up and get closer, the header first so the heeler doesn’t slip a leg and the heeler can skid the critter a bit if it tries to get up before the header gets close enough.

Once a critter is down, it will struggle for a bit. As soon as it stops for a moment, which they do, ride up quickly, coiling your rope as you go, and if you see them start to move, take up your slack quick and dally, Then, whoever is doing the doctoring, can get off, and either tie off or keep the end of their rope tight while on the ground. With the horses that close, the head loop can be loosened and put on the front legs of the critter. The leverage the bovine can put on the horse is minimized on both ends. Plus, the horse without a rider is close and can be controlled if the situation goes south, which it can in epic ways.

For those doctoring alone, it can also be done. If one necks the critter, settle them and when they stop to pout, lay a trap with your slack and ride around them until you have their hind legs in a loop of the rope, ride off and pull them down gently, and holding until they stop struggling for the magic moment. While they are quiet, ride up quickly (walk/trot) and get your wraps. Again, repeat as needed until you are right up by the critter. You can then get off and either tie them down front and back, then pull your rope, or, pull a little slack on the honda and keeping your horse right there close, hold them down that way while you work on them. Your horse is controlled and you can reach up and step them back to keep the slack tight on the heels.

My preferred scenario, when doctoring alone, is to let them go through the loop and take up the slack above their hocks. You can ride along behind them, keeping your hand high to keep that loop tight and coiling as you can until you’re up close, then pull them down and ride right up to them after they stop struggling for a moment.


The yearling is still while the rider gets closer, coiling rope as he goes. He will have her hind feet pointing toward the horn when he’s done.

I like to get close enough that the hind feet are pointed up at the horse’s shoulder. Then take some dallies, step off, take your coils under your horse’s neck, around the rope, and back under and up to the horn, and take some more wraps. That has your horse within touching distance while you’re working on the critter. I usually tie off with a slip knot and lay my coils by me so I can keep ahold of a rein or my get-down rope while working.

The heel method works very well on bigger cattle. Even big bulls can be pulled down and held by a relatively small horse. I knew a tiny Arab mare that weighed about 800 pounds at most, but she could pull down and hold a bull by herself. It’s the leverage.

Those pictures of a horse holding a critter on a tight rope but is 40 feet from the critter is a wreck looking for a place to happen to me. Horse boogers, gets wrapped up in the rope, critter jerks it down, and maybe dies before it’s over. It can happen. Trying to get a horse over a wreck takes a long time, preventing one takes moments.

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life

About Jan Swan Wood

Jan was raised on a ranch in far western South Dakota. She grew up horseback working all descriptions of cattle, plus sheep and horses. After leaving home she pursued a post-graduate study of cowboying and dayworking in Nebraska, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota....

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