Think Inside the Box
Story and photography by ROSS HECOX
Champion roper Jackie Hobbs explains her strategy for breaking out of the box and recording faster roping runs.
THE SHORT PERIOD of time in the box—right before the horse explodes into the arena in pursuit of a steer or calf—can be a blur for ropers. Although getting set before a run becomes second nature, good ropers are always thinking about the fastest way to leave the box without breaking the barrier.
Jackie Hobbs says what happens in the box can make or break a roping run. In October, the Stephenville, Texas, roper claimed another world title in tiedown roping in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association and also earned the organization’s all-around championship. She believes that the key to a winning run is positioning your horse, knowing precisely when to cue it forward, and taking the best angle as you leave the box.
Before nodding her head to start a run, Hobbs sets her focus on the pin where the barrier latches to the front corner of the chute. As the steer or calf breaks out of the chute, she uses the pin as a reference point. Depending on how the barrier is set, she may cue her horse to leave the box when her line of sight with the pin aligns with the animal’s shoulder. Or, if she knows the event’s barrier gives its cattle a bigger head start, she may cue when its hindquarters pass the pin.
“You have to know what to look at when you score,” she says. “Some watch the end of the [chute] gates when they come open. Some people watch the pin. I watch the pin because you can see it from the time you’re sitting in the box. It’s not something I’m trying to find after I nod.”
When tie-down roping, Hobbs sets her horse in the back, right corner of the box and makes sure its frame is pointed directly at the pin. Some ropers make the mistake of allowing their horse to angle away from the front corner of the chute. If that happens, the roper has to steer the horse toward the calf while moving through the box.
“You position your horse in a way that he can break flat and smooth; all the while, you can still see your target and be in position to rope,” she says. “In calf roping, you want your horse’s butt against the back corner [of the box]—but not leaning on the bar. You want him to break straight to the front of the chute in order to get as close to the calf without breaking the barrier.”
In team roping, headers leave from the left box and need to track the steer from the left, not from directly behind. That changes where Hobbs sets up in the box.
“In the heading, you’re going to be positioned a little more toward the middle of the box and you’re going to break toward the middle of the barrier,” she explains.
Whether heading or calf roping, Hobbs always looks to the pin and watches the steer or calf pass it. Using that visual cue to time when she breaks from the box leads to better positioning and faster runs.
“Obviously you’re going to position your horse different ways, but for the most part the scoring itself is the same,” she says.