Roping Practice Equipment: Beyond the Roping Dummy

Roping Practice Equipment: Beyond the Roping Dummy

Like a trip to the batting cages, roping tools keep ropers tuned by teaching beginners the ropes and seasoning pros.

roping practice equipment (Credit: Lone Wolf Photography)

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

Article by Stephenie Tanguay

Pulling into the home arena of professional team roping instructor Justin Parish, ropers are greeted by an assortment of roping “toys.” Fun returns to the game for the pros and newcomers learn the intricacies of team roping on the sandy playground, formally known as an arena. 

“We equate it to going to the batting cages in baseball,” Justin says.

A menagerie of roping tools are parked, waiting for practice, each created by an expert in the industry. Allegiance is to the roper and the goal is improvement regardless of skill level. The top tools teach the winning traits of team roping.

MOJO Roping Horns

Moving through the maze of cowboy toys in the same order he instructs his beginner students, the first stop is a two-strand bale of alfalfa and an original set of large MOJO Roping Horns designed by Monty Joe Petska, a 14-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier.

“It teaches them to use a good, open flat swing, which covers all of the variables. We want to be able to reach the shot that can’t be reached,” Justin says. “We want to make the shot that can’t be made.” 

The MOJO Roping Horns come in a variety of horn widths, the degree of difficulty increases with the distance between the tips of the horns. Each head is handmade and real cowhide covers the head area, making no two sets of MOJO Roping Horns exactly the same. Horn spread sizes are listed as small (30 inches and under), medium (31-36 inches) and large (37 inches and up).

young roper practices with MOJO Roping Horns dummy

The MOJO Roping Horns teaches ropers to have a good, open flat swing.

The Speed Trainer, Smarty XTreme Roping Dummy

Moving on to a life-size metal horse: the Speed Trainer. Designed by Speed Williams, a 15-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier, the Speed Trainer is saddled and ready. While the MOJO Roping Dummy is one of the more affordable training tools at about $150, the Speed Trainer weighs in as one of the more expensive items.

A Smarty XTreme roping dummy is attached to a four-wheel ATV and positioned in front of and a little to the right of the stationary Speed Trainer horse. The Smarty XTreme was developed by four-time world champion Allen Bach and has a list price of $3,995. The distance between the horse and the dummy may be adjusted to simulate situations in which a roper may need to reach in different directions.

Equipped with sensors on the reins, the roper is notified if he or she gets in the “horse’s” mouth too much while roping. 

“We practice different drills,” Justin says. “Two swings and then throw, only kick with one foot, kick hard to catch up and then release,” Justin begins, listing exercises he runs through with his students. “This is where we work on our horsemanship.”

The horsemanship skills gained on the Speed Trainer are then applied on a live horse. Beginners learn the movements of the horse and how it feels beneath them as they track an ATV pulling the Smarty XTreme. 

Whether a roper is learning to head or heel, the Smarty XTreme is designed to mimic the movement of a live steer. LED lights on the legs let the roper know when they are at the highest point in the hop and keep the heeler focused on the target as the dummy is dragged around the arena. Headers are drawn to the lifelike head size and turn loose horns.

Justin Parrish rides Speed Rider mechanical horse while roping the Smarty XTreme roping dummy

On the Speed Trainer and roping the Smarty XTreme roping dummy pulled by a four-wheeler, Justin focuses on honing horsemanship skills … and not at the expense of the horse.

The Dummy Hauler

The most recent and technically advanced tool in the pen is a robotic dummy, which runs up to 30 mph across a set of rails or on the ground. The Dummy Hauler by Head Horse Technology Inc. is designed to work in conjunction with most stationary roping dummies.  

Aware of the expenses associated with the sport of team roping, Head Horse Technology focuses on reducing the cost of practice. The system eliminates the need for a four-wheel ATV or another pulling vehicle. The Dummy Hauler also accelerates to the same speed as a live running steer in just over a second. Ropers have the ability to routinely practice at speeds similar to those seen in competition rather than the rate the worn-out leased live cattle.

Perfect Calf Practice Dummy

A four-wheeler pulls a calf-roping dummy as his son, Denton, follows behind. Catching the heavy plastic Perfect Calf practice dummy by the neck, Denton’s horse sits down. Justin doesn’t let up on the gas and the dummy calf flips backward off of its stand.

Denton steps off his horse and runs down the rope toward the dummy. Lifting and flipping the dummy calf, Denton completes the run in a similar fashion to one with a live animal.

ATV pulls Perfect Calf roping dummy tracked by young roper on black horse

young roper flanks a Perfect Calf roping dummy

For tie-down roping practice, Justin drives a four-wheeler pulling the calf-roping dummy as his son Denton, 11 years old at the time, follows. When Denton catches, the calf flips backward off the stand, allowing Denton to step off and run down the rope to practice lifting and tying the dummy calf.

Cost-Effective Roping Practice

Roping live cattle is the final step of the program when the focus is no longer on the learning process.

More than a playground for ropers, the roping practice equipment Justin has invested in are a cost-efficient method of building muscle memory through repetition. The mechanical bovines have the added benefit of helping horses become desensitized to elements, which may present themselves in the environment of a roping competition.

Repetition is mandatory for improvement. Virtual reality allows the roper to practice exponentially more. Animals are not worn out and skills are developed quicker. The end result is more time spent in the winners circle.