Getting Off Your Horse (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

This month, we are talking about the dismount during a calf roping run. Though I didn’t start roping competitively until I was sixteen, I grew up riding and roping on our ranch. Everyone in the family was involved when it came to working cattle: my brother and sisters, my dad, Granddad and me.

Now and then, I was allowed to ride one of the good horses and when I was about ten or twelve I came up with a game of sorts to entertain myself. I would be in a big pasture, where I wouldn’t get caught, get my horse into a good lope, and then get off on the right side while he was running. Soon, this wasn’t quite exciting enough. One horse I rode would jump small mesquite bushes. So we would be loping along pretty fast and while he was in mid-air, jumping the bush, I would get off and run beside him. He would stop and I would get back on and do it again. I had no idea what I was doing. I was just a kid having fun.

Consequently, getting off my calf horse has always been very easy for me. Some kids roped the dummy, or tied a lot and that would be their specialty when they got older. My specialty was getting off because I had been doing it for years and it is second nature for me. When I started roping calves, I could get off while my horse was running full speed. I’ve had to work at not getting off too soon.

For a smooth dismount, it’s important for your horse’s performance that you have good balance. If you lean out too wide or to the side, you can throw his balance off where he has to brace himself. This can cause him to step to the left to compensate for your weight. For the same reasons, you don’t want to get off too far behind or to the front. It’s a finesse move that involves good timing and balance.

You need to be in time with your horse. Your right knee is bent and your left leg needs to swipe over the cantle. Keep your right foot straight, pointing towards the calf. Usually when your body is in the stirrup, your foot turns. It takes some effort to keep it straight and out of your horse’s stomach and shoulder.

As you dismount, it’s important to get off using the saddle horn and not the bridle reins. This is one of the most common errors made by calf ropers. Many people use the reins for balance without realizing it. Horse trainers spend a lot of time making horses nice and broke and very sensitive. This is quickly undone when the reins end up supporting body weight. The pressure that should be put on bridle reins can be measured in ounces but using them for balance involves hundreds of ounces of pressure. Consequently, not only is it bad for your horse and his confidence, it will end up costing you time and money. When you pull his front end off the ground, even unintentionally, it throws everything out of whack.

If you’re going to Las Vegas this year for the NFR, I will be at the NRS Trade Show at the MGM each morning at 9:30 a.m. I invite you all to come and would love for you to send me some topics you would like me to talk about. Please email them to me at

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