Ropin'

Some children grow up playing baseball, football, or other sports. Hours upon hours are spent tossing a ball back and forth. But not me. I spent my childhood roping. From age 3 all the way through high school, I was never without a rope. This often drew sneers from little old ladies in church and funny looks from girls on dates but, nevertheless, I was determined to become a roper.

It all started on my third birthday. My uncle gave me a blue-and-white-striped rope. It was one of those quality ropes made overseas. I'll never forget what he told me. In front of my parents and family he said, "Be careful with that thing." But as soon as nobody was listening, he told me, "Go rope whatever." Within the hour I'd roped a fence post, three chickens, the sheep buck and grandma. So began my career as a roper.

The most unfortunate turn of events since my innocent childhood is my lack of talent. I really haven't advanced too much with my rope since those first days after my birthday. Of course, the equipment has gotten fancier, more expensive and much neater-looking, but my roping ability seems to have stayed the same. My earlier dreams of Vegas now seem to have changed into having to buy tickets to watch. But I haven't given up hope just yet. I come from a long line of ropers.

Once, a couple years back, I was pretty serious with this little gal and brought her home to meet the family. My mom and her hit it off right away, which is pretty much the reason why I got rid of her, but that's a whole other story. Anyway, those two started going through old family pictures that night and, about halfway through the album, she stopped and asked my mother a foolish question.

"Why don't any of these people have thumbs?"

"Sweetheart," my mother answered, "they're all ropers. Take, for instance, Cory's uncle Jim. He lost his thumb roping in Cheyenne. His grandfather lost his practicing right here at the ranch. Cory's father lost his right thumb roping at a branding, and his left at a small Fourth of July rodeo. And, of course, his aunt Hilda lost hers down in Vegas."

"Cory's aunt roped at the National Finals in Vegas?" she asked my mother.

"Of course not. She lost her thumb by slamming it in the trailer gate while unloading her horse. She never even got to rope the first go-round."

I've long since realized that I'd never become a great roper, or even a mediocre one, but it's still a necessity to rope on the ranch. I've had to come up with many different ways to rope sick calves and ornery cows, other than in the traditional sense. Below is a short list of types of roping I do on the ranch.

Pickup Roping: One cowboy drives while the other cowboy ropes from the box and dallies onto the roll bar. I've found Chevy to be much faster than Quarter Horse, even in the short-distance runs where Quarter Horse is at its best. The only drawback is that mirrors are expensive, and I lose one about every other run.

Feedbunk Roping: There's nothing as simple as using feed to attract a cow into range. Unfortunately, there usually isn't a whole lot to dally onto in feedbunk roping, so the cow usually ends up dragging me all around the corral. It isn't so bad during warm weather, but in the winter the lumps that I'm drug across are usually pretty hard.

Sneak-Attack Roping: This form of roping is probably my favorite. It involves putting on camouflaged clothing and crawling up behind the calf in the middle of the pasture. Usually the roper will be undetected by the calf, as calves aren't that smart, but the cow usually zeroes in and goes for the kill awfully quickly.

The Old-Surprise Roping: Surprise roping can be a lot of fun. The would-be roper walks around the pasture nonchalantly, as if just out to smell the crocuses, carrying the rope behind his back. Once he's close enough to the calf, the roper tries to sneak the rope from behind his back and toss a loop quickly. This seldom, if ever, works.

The Drive-Through Roping: The drive-through roping offers probably the greatest challenge. Here's how it works: 1. The roper talks a buddy or child into chasing the cattle past him. 2. The roper hides himself along a building, behind a tree or inside a culvert. 3. The cattle are driven by the buddy or child about a quarter-mile away from where the would-be roper is hiding. The roper needs a long rope and a strong arm for this technique to succeed.

Not too long ago, I decided that I should try to rejuvenate my roping career. I had a 3-year-old with a pretty good start and thought for a few bucks I could probably buy some green calves and make another go at my dream. So I hooked up the pickup to the trailer and off I went to Larry's Livestock.

When I got to Larry's, the selection was pretty poor, but at least the price was right. I bought some ribs, with a little hide sticking to them, at $200 apiece. Feeling mighty proud, I hauled them over to my dad's place as he had a lot more hay than I did. Fortunately, dad wasn't home, so I was able to unload them into his corral. Had he been there, I wouldn't have been able to unload them, at least not without a lot of name-calling, finger-pointing and uncontrolled hysterical laughter.

Dad called me that night.

"Cory! Guess what?" he began. "Some of the neighbor's scrubs stumbled over to the place. Why don't you bring your horse over, and we'll do a little practice roping?"

"All right!" I said. I couldn't let on that they were my scrubs, at least until after we roped for a while, because there was the chance he'd go into shock from knowing his own flesh and blood paid money for them.

Within no time I came bouncing into the yard with my trailer in tow. We pushed the group of calves into the arena and through the runway system.

"You want to take the first run?" I asked Dad, to which he excitedly agreed.

"Sure, I'll go first. I love roping somebody else's cattle."

Well, it turned out it was hard to stretch them when they wouldn't run out of the chute. The calves would stroll slowly out the front of the chute and come to a grinding halt as soon as a rope fell on them. I was a little disappointed because the group of cattle never did help me to improve my roping ability, at least not off a horse. However, with their help, I have mastered the sneak attack.

This is an excerpt from Cory G. Neumiller's book, My Horse Got a Flat: Stories, Tales, and Lies from a Modern Cowboy, which is available at www.amazon.com and Barnes and Noble bookstores.