Stack On The Dallies


By: Corinne J. Brown

The first thing apparent about the ropers in the recent statewide finals of the Rocky Mountain Ranch Roping and Stock Horse Association (RMRRSHA) in Colorado was the way they moved—without a sound. Barely a whisper could be heard in the indoor arena or the grandstand, for that matter; the silence broken only by the bawl of a critter suddenly snagged by a rope. Then, with finesse and speed, the three-man teams sprang into action and completed the job. In the background, even the announcer, Mr. Rich Scott, tracking their success, spoke in a low and calming voice. Without fuss or fanfare, the fine art of roping and tying was demonstrated with humble grace and style.

Style here refers mainly to traditional roping methods by which some of the most accomplished cowboys and buckaroos work cattle and horses; in particular, using a big loop or “la reata,” the legendary Californio or vaquero technique. Breath-taking to watch, this kind of roping is extremely popular at ranches in Colorado’s high country and
all along the Front Range, and requires a great sense of timing and skill.

Those who competed came from diverse backgrounds. Some  are full or part-time cowboys; others, day workers. There were gear makers, horse trainers and farriers; even business people who might not work on a ranch but practice year-round anyway.

That’s part of what made the competition held in Denver at the Jeffco Fairgrounds on December 2nd, 2012, so fascinating. The event joined talented buckaroos from ranchlands north of Denver like Fort Collins, Longmont, Greeley and Brush, and from as far out as Garfield County and the famed Roaring Fork Valley near Aspen, hundreds of miles away.

For the spectator, there was plenty to ponder. According to Tom Harrington, ranch manager of the Crystal River Ranch in Carbondale, Colorado, and cofounder of the Roaring Fork Ranch Roping, “Ropers are hoping to score points for stockmanship and horsemanship. The judge is mounted on horseback in the arena so he can get a clear view and intervene if there’s trouble. During each go, ground work really counts, things like dallying and handling your slack, a necessity lest it get in the way of a moving cow or horse causing a wreck.”

Harrington should know. A competitor himself, he has also been the major guiding force behind the Roaring Fork Ranch Roping event held each September. He is involved with roping throughout the state, including judging on the Western slope, and serves on the board of the Rocky Mountain Ranch Roping and Stockhorse Association. He pointed out that the event judge, Mr. Jim McKinney of Gardnerville, NV, was watching for a competitor who is calm and collected, essential for keeping cattle quiet and in a low stress environment.

weekend-2“After all,” said Harrington, “pounds on the hoof is what a rancher is paid for; you want to handle the animals as safely and gently as possible. The judge is checking to see if the rodear is maintained; holding the group of animals together so you can get a good look at them, simulating a health check in a pasture setting.”

Mark Howes, a Colorado saddle maker, roper, and founder of the RMRRSHA in Colorado, confirms the growing passion for the sport. “People are interested in upping the game,” he explained. “Our members want to hold an event that showcases just how well you can handle livestock. Founded 12 years ago, we only became a full association in 2010. The Roaring Fork Ropers are part of our group. We hold six events a year, and every one, based on locale and members, has its own flavor and color.”

Each entry at the Finals provided another opportunity to watch some of the best ropers and novices go through their paces. Scoring is based on difficulty, distance, and the appropriate shot for the situation. The pros made it look like magic, smooth and fast. But then, withthe upset of an occasional cow hightailing the perimeter of the arena, and the bunch starting to mill, the novices inadvertently let you know how hard it is. The Finals, open to men and women, consist of traditional three-man teams. The roping teams are randomly drawn so none of the ropers know who they’ll be competing with. In order to make the finals, a competitor  must rope in two ropings sanctioned by the Rocky Mountain Ranch Roping and Stockhorse Association, and place first or second in at least one. A total of 40 ropers qualified for the recent first annual year-end finals; 21 open and 19 novice.

Winners of the Open and Novice events are posted on the Facebook site of the RMRRSHA. Notably, Sean Soya took the Smooth Hand Award, a bosalita made by Jim McKinney, and Blaire Adamson won Top Hand Lady Award, a fine buckle donated by Amy Star.

Cowgirl Ginny Harrington, Tom’s wife, summarizes the sport this way. “Ranch roping competitions are meant to represent how we feel cattle should be handled on a ranch, in the pasture, in the corral, on the mountain in the summer – each and every each time an animal is handled. Plus, it’s the enjoyment of doing a job that cowboys love, and doing it well for both the safety of the cattle and the horse’s sake. It’s a way of life on the ranch that is represented in the arena.”

As a fan who appreciates weekend ranch rodeo, narrowing the competition down to just one tough skill made this event a true test of the best. It was clear that neither size, age, nor gender made the difference: patience and savvy won every time.

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