Learning to Rope: Troubleshoot Swinging and Throwing

Learning to Rope: Troubleshoot Swinging and Throwing

At the 2016 AQHA International Horsemanship Camp in China, a Sam Houston State University instructor shares tips for how to rope.
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I'm writing from Inner Mongolia, China, where I have been with Sam Houston State University instructors for the 2016 AQHA International Horsemanship Camps. The horsemanship camp has been hosted by the Brother's Fortune Equestrian Club, a state-of-the-art equestrian facility that specializes in the barrel racing and speed events. 

The Chinese Quarter Horse Association members are interested in developing their ability to compete in performance events such as Versatility Ranch Horse events. In light of their interest, Sam Houston State University instructor Cody Wellmann explained the fundamentals of learning to rope. Cody has had extensive success with competing in roping events. In 2010, Cody won the youth 18-&-under breakaway roping and the team roping events of heading and heeling at the American Junior Paint Horse Association World Show. 

The Sam Houston State University instructors explained that learning the basics of roping is beneficial for many things such as ranch work with cattle management, to competing in roping classes like the VRH ranch cow work, and additionally is a great way to have fun with friends. 

Familiarizing Yourself With the Parts of the Rope

To learn the basics, you should begin roping on the ground using a dummy on a hay bale. Also, note that before you practice on your horse, you should introduce the rope to your horse on the ground. Start with the full rope in a coil with your left hand. 

To understand the techniques of throwing a rope to your target, Cody defined the following parts of the rope:

  • The tip of the rope is the bottom of the loop. The tip of the rope determines the direction of where your loop is going to go when you throw it at your target. 
  • The eye of the rope is where the rope slides back and forth and allows your loop to get bigger. The eye needs to be pointing away from you. The eye is used as a reference point for the start of your spoke. 
  • The spoke is the distance between the eye and your hand on the loop. 

rope for team roping or breakaway roping

Swinging the Rope

The loop should be held in your dominant hand; meaning that if you're right-handed, then the loop will be held in your right hand. (If you're left-handed, then vice versa). The size of the loop varies, but after the rope is the proper size it should be from your armpit to about your ankles.  

When you begin to swing your loop, you use your wrist and your shoulder for a proper swing, rather than using your whole arm. 


To swing, pick up your rope, and move it out in front of you. You should think about having your palm positioned upwards in the back of the swing. Then you should bring the palm of your hand in front of you as you swing forward. When the rope is in front of you, your palm should be facing down to the ground. As the rope crosses over your head and moves to the back of the swing, your palm should be facing up. Your shoulder is stationary and your elbow and wrist will do all of the work.

Tip: This rope-swinging technique allows you to clear the horse and your stirrup, so you don't catch the rope on it. 

You should "feed the rope" within the first initial two swings. Only feed the rope one time before you release it towards your target. Feeding the rope is where you make the loop bigger as you swing it by  loosening the grip to let the strand of the rope slide through the eye. 

Throwing the Rope 

When you swing the rope, always use the weight of the rope and the tip to pull the strand through the eye. The non-swinging rope hand should be as stationary as possible, because your reins will be in that hand when you rope on your horse. The more stationary your non-swinging hand is, the more effective you will be at your catching the calf or dummy. 

At first, start close to the dummy. Just before you throw the rope, take a forward step for momentum, which will give you extra power before throwing your loop toward the target. Additionally, open your hand as big as it can be and then release the rope toward the target. 

Precautionary tip to keep your rope from hitting your horse: 

If you're roping right-handed, position yourself directly behind or on the left of the calf or dummy, and vice versa if you're left-handed. In doing so, you will be in a safer position to prevent your horse from getting caught up in the rope. 

Thanks for following the International Trail Blog! Up next, the Sam Houston State University instructors and I will be traveling to the Yihe Farm for the final International Horsemanship Camp in China!