In a Sow’s Ear |

In a Sow’s Ear

The history of ranch roping is so rich, it’s difficult to decide how to approach telling the story, but it’s seriously connected with cows, calves and horses.

Recently it was my pleasure to attend a Northern Range Ranch Roping Series clinic. Put that in initials and it spells NRRRS. The clinic was held near Absarokee, Mont., in the Jeremy Young Arena, a splendid structure that accommodated dozens of horses and riders, not to mention some cagey calves. The event was managed smooth as the hide on a summer-slick sorrel by instructors Christian McKay, Clint Johannes, C.T. Ripley, Bob Young, Jeremy Young and Rich LaFramboise.

While I have tossed a loop a time or two, the most I’ve ever managed to catch was a fast- moving fence post. At the clinic, I watched riders swing their lariats to send the loops sailing with amazing accuracy onto heads or heels of the target calf.

In the early days of cattle raising (before four-wheelers, horse-trailers and portable chutes) doctoring sick or lame critters on the range meant a hands-on action. That’s true today as well. Very few cattle learn to lie down and stretch out just because a cowboy asks nicely. No, the puncher rides a “ropin’ horse” and employs a lariat/lasso/rope to catch and immobilize the animal.

Many of the day-to-day ranch routines turn into a sport. Think of rodeo. Men and women happily compete for prize money by trying to last for 8 seconds on a bronc or keep somewhere in the middle of a snot-slinging bull for ditto seconds. While calf roping is one of the events in a rodeo, the sport of ranch roping differs enormously.

Ranch roping has its own tradition, history and style. As a sport, ranch roping has been around in California, Oregon, Nevada for many years, but it arrived in Montana through the efforts of Joe Wolters of Grass Valley, Calif. Joe offered clinics in ranch roping and doctoring. He taught a variety of loops ” the goal being how to catch an animal from any position.

The NRRRS was born in 1999 and now sponsors several roping contests a year around the state. Their mission statement: The goal of the NRRRS is to promote a form of roping that encourages low-stress roping with proper horsemanship and stockmanship, employing a variety of functional and, sometimes, fancy loops. To this end, the NRRRS sponsors ranch roping clinics and events to promote this style of roping.

Contests basically mean a three-man team (or three-woman or a combination of guy/gal) ropes a calf for branding or doctoring. The emphasis is on safe, easy and proper handling of the livestock as well as horsemanship. The events are timed; points are earned for fancy or difficult catches. The loops are called “shots.” Head shots include the Overhand Shot, the Houlihan Shot, and the Scoop Loop. Heel shots include the Standard Hip Shot, the Straight Behind Hip Shot, the Backhand Hip Shot, the Straight Behind Hip Shot with a Backward Roll and the Backhand Over the Hip Shot. (The names sound like titles of country western songs, don’t they.) But, skillful roping is an art and once you understand what’s happening, it’s thrilling to watch.

While the roping is impressive, it’s the ropers who make the event. These are men and women dedicated to their sport and devoted to the traditions associated with roping. Their credos are courtesy, cooperation, concern, and respect.

Delving into the history and tradition of the various types of ropes and the different shots will be in future articles. In the meantime for information and a schedule of ropings and clinics, you can visit


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