Roping with friends

Rodeo sport requires much practice and teamwork

When it comes to the rodeo sport of team roping, Bud Graham knows he's unique.

"You won't find many like me," the long-time Hayden resident said. "I'm left handed."

Team roping requires two people on horseback working as a unit to direct a steer, which is running full-bore into a position where it can be stopped cold by skillful ropers.

In team roping, the lead rider, known as a header, is responsible for getting a rope around the head of the steer, while the trailing rider, known as the healer, is aiming for the back legs of the animal.

For Graham, his southpaw style means different equipment. His saddle is specially made for a left-handed roper. He said the indoor arena is "awfully narrow for us heelers."

The key to being a good heeler, Graham said, is the same strategy Tiger Woods uses for golf: "Practice, practice, practice."

And that's what several people -- all the way from Craig to Baggs, Wyo., from Steamboat Springs to Hayden -- have been doing, as evidenced by Tuesday night's jackpot competition, which takes place weekly throughout the winter at the indoor arena at the Moffat County Fairgrounds.

"We've got a little bigger crowd here tonight," fairgrounds manager Bill Sixkiller said. "That fellow from Montrose was just passing through and decided to stop."

The jackpot competition involves roping three steers in a progressive jackpot, meaning once one misses, he is done for the evening.

Roping two steers will advance a contestant to the third round, where the money is. The fastest starts in the first two rounds will ride first, and the fastest in the third round wins the jackpot.

"It's a draw pot, where you enter as a header or a heeler," Sixkiller said. "The draw tells you who you will ride with."

The cost is $12 for each time a rider enters the competition, and one rider might finish in first, second and third places if they have entered enough times and ridden and roped well that evening.

The event has taken place in Craig for 25 years, and the normal Sunday competition is being held Tuesdays this year.

Riders are always looking for ways to keep active through the winters, and are willing to travel to do so.

"On New Year's Eve we were up in Dixon, (Wyo.)," Sixkiller said.

Seventeen-year-old Jaguar Terrill of Craig has been "rodeoing a long time," he said. He especially enjoys the jackpots, and said Tuesdays work well for him.

"It's good to stay tuned up," Terrill said. "If they have a roping competition, I'm around."

He has been coming to the events since they started in the fall and has placed well in the competition.

The same is true for John Harding of Craig, who's been coming for five years.

He's been riding at the arena not only on Tuesdays, but on Fridays and Sundays, as well.

"It kind of breaks up the monotony," he said. "It's good to throw some competition into it."

He likes the draw system because he gets to ride with everybody that shows up.

Stevie Brumback is a 17-year-old rider from Craig who just came to stretch her horse's legs a bit.

"I've been rodeoing for 5 or 6 years," she said. "I ride barrels, poles, break-away and goat tying."

Brumback used to show horses and dogs for a number of years at the county fair, but now she said her main focus is rodeo.

She came to the arena by herself Tuesday so her horse Woody could learn by watching.

"He's not ready yet," she said. "I'm getting him ready to go for the spring season."

Brumback has come to the right place according to Sixkiller.

This arena gets a lot of use through the winter, he said.

"Tuesdays, Fridays and Sun----days, it's used for roping. Wednesdays and Thursdays Little Britches Rodeo is here," he said. "And on the first and third Saturdays of the month the 4-H people use it. This building is used all the time."

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