Working the way of the vaquero |

Working the way of the vaquero

Back Row L-R: Pat Rice, Tom Moulden, Levi Ellis, Yancy Gore, Jerry Eicher, Tom Harrington, Dan Moyer. Front Row L-R: Cody Reader, J.C. Shintala, Joe Miles, Kriss Peterson, Derick Wilson.

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Love to rope? Bored with the same-o, same-o? You might give Ranch Roping a try. No, not the rammin’, jammin’ kind of ranch roping you see at the average ranch rodeo, where time is of the essence, and almost anything goes. We’re talking about a contest showcasing the old vaquero skills of hackamore horsemanship, artistry, and finesse, where the style of your loop and the slow, deliberate manner of working livestock gain points.

Organized in the Grand Valley by Levi Ellis and Tom Moulden, this group just completed their first Ranch Roping Series. Points were accumulated in competitions in November, December, and January, and the finals were held in February. Hosted by Flattop Training near Fruita, Colo., and catered by the High Desert 4-H Club, the event drew a great bunch of cowboys for the competition, as well as lots of friends and family to cheer them on. Tom Moulden was kind enough to invite me to watch the competition and perhaps write an article, as the group is open to all, and they are seeking people who might be interested in joining them either as a participant or as a sponsor.

Although not directly affiliated with the Rocky Mountain Ranch Roping and Stock Horse Association on the Front Range, this group follows the rules set up by that organization. And when I say rules, I mean RULES – there are so many, it makes a newcomer’s head spin! For example, there are five different “head shots” that are scored, as well as 12 “heel shots” that can gain a roper points. In addition, various points are deducted for misses, roping errors (such as a one-heel catch or a loop caught above the hocks), animal abuse, and even for loping your horse. But these guys are pros at this game, and they know what they’re doing and why, which makes it fun to watch. But don’t expect razzle-dazzle excitement – witnessing this sport is more like watching an artist paint a fine masterpiece.

In this sport, loops are large and ropes are long, some a long as 80-feet, with the kind of rope being a matter of personal preference, I’m told. The competition is a family affair open to men and women, as well as youth, and there is much more to it than this, but here are some of the basics. Each team consists of three ropers. For Round one, each team has three “chances” (if this were football, they would be called “downs”) to complete a perfect run, each time using a different calf. They are told which animal they are to rope, and they carefully cut that calf from the herd bunched at one end of the arena, without chousing the livestock or getting them too excited. A different man must perform the head catch on the animal chosen for each of the three go-rounds, so they each get a turn at heading. The only legal catch is a head catch; the header has three minutes to rope his animal; once that is accomplished, the other two men can try for the heels, both of which must be caught below the hocks for a successful catch. One heel is still legal, but points are deducted for it.

The goal is to immobilize the animal, while the third man quietly dismounts, walks over, and flips it on its side (this sounds easy, but some of the so-called calves were huge!). He then has the task of removing the rope from the head and placing it around the animal’s front feet. If it’s a one-heel catch, he must work that loop onto both hind feet. Only then can he remount his horse and gather up his rope and mecate so time can be called. All of this takes place within a five-minute time period. How’s that for a challenge? If the team is disqualified by taking too long, they can still hope to do better in their second and third go-rounds. The only occasion when speed comes into play is in the event of a tie in points. In that case, the faster time within the five-minute limit is declared the winner. After all the teams had their three go-rounds completed in Round one, they broke for lunch and then came back for Round two in the afternoon.

This just gives you a general idea of how the sport works, as there are many other considerations taken into account by the judge for a final score for each round. Yes, I said the judge – there was only one! I didn’t envy Judge Tom Harrington’s job, with so many different things to keep track of for each team. It looked like a super-human task to me, and I admired him for his focus and knowledge of the sport.

Winners of day monies at this event were Joe Miles, Derick Wilson, and Tyler Galimor. The overall final results for the 2011-2012 Ranch Roping Winter Series were: High point winner – Joe Miles of Hotchkiss, Colo.; 2nd place – Tom Mouldon from Grand Junction, Colo.; 3rd place – Dan Moyer of Nucla, Colo. Besides monetary prizes, lots of donated items were awarded to the winners, clear down to 10th place, everything from bridles and bits to cinchas and saddlepads.

Think you’d enjoy the challenge of Ranch Roping? If you live on the Western Slope and are interested in continuing the old vaquero way of horsemanship and handling of livestock, contact Levi Ellis at (303) 947-7826 or e-mail him at Or check out their facebook page (Flat Top Training’s Arena) for pictures and updates.

A clinic where you can learn vaquero-style horsemanship and ranch roping, given by finalist Dan Moyer, will be held April 14-15 at a location to be determined. Dan has competed and judged numerous Ranch Roping events and is a three-time winner of the California Vaquero Days. He may be contacted at (435) 401-3784.

For more information on Ranch Roping competition in general, please check out the Rocky Mountain Ranch Roping and Stock Horse Association online at

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