The chute opened, the steer bolted, the horses launched, the ropes twirled and some of the best riders in Rim Country competed to raise money for kids — and maybe collect a cut of some $9,000 in prize money.
The fourth annual Gracie Lee Haught Memorial Roping drew more than 100 passionate ropers to the Payson Event Center Aug. 7 and Aug. 8 to compete in the exquisitely choreographed art of roping a squirrely calf from horseback at a dead run.
Sponsored by the Gracie Lee Haught Children’s Memorial Fund, a division of the Mogollon Health Alliance, the event raises money to help children across Rim Country with things like car seats, bike helmets and help with medical bills. The event is named for Gracie Haught, 3, who died in a tragic accident about five years ago.
Organizers said attendance was down, perhaps due to roping events in Williams and Kingman.
Chelsie Stodghill, 14, who finished second overall for heading, credited her dad’s coaching. She’s also a barrel racer who’s been riding “forever,” and dreams of trying her hand on the professional rodeo circuit — before becoming a veterinarian.
She said, “I just try to focus on the steer and not really thinking about anything else,” except maybe keeping her hand down when she takes out the slack so the rope doesn’t pop off the horns of the steer.
Carlos Aguirre, 39, finished second overall for heeling. He makes his living fixing Payson’s streets for the road department but gives his heart to roping — or just about anything else you can do from the back of the horse.
Aguirre grew up working on ranches — as did his father and grandfather.
But he got hitched, had two kids and settled down.
“Cowboying is long, hard work and it just don’t pay enough and don’t have insurance benefits,” said Aguirre.
So now he rides and ropes every chance he gets — along with his wife and 4-year-old daughter. His son, 17, lives in Yuma and competes in rodeos there.
His daughter is already an accomplished rider. She had little choice: she’s named Dally Shea, after the rodeo term for when you catch a steer by the foot and wrap the rope around the saddle horn.
Maybe 75 Payson residents have devoted themselves to the exacting art of steer roping, which demands precise teamwork.
Two ropers must chase down a calf in the arena. The “header” first ropes the steer around the horns, and then turns him to the left.
Only then can the “heeler” float a spinning lasso just off the ground ahead of the steer’s thundering rear hooves to “trap” the back legs.
“The header has to turn him left before you can rope him, or it’s called a crossfire and you get zero points,” said Aguirre. “That makes it a little bit harder, so it’s more of a fair game.”
The steer has “got to be in a forward motion before the heeler can actually rope him, so you have to be snappy and quick around the corner. It’s kind of like roping them out of the air, if you can kind of see it — swinging as the feet are moving forward so they step into the rope and you time it with the feet going up and down and up and down and kind of scoop it.”
The maneuver requires perfect timing, uncanny expertise with a rope and flawless riding — and Aguirre can get those back feet on about eight out of 10 throws.
The only rodeo sport in which men and women compete together, team roping offers all kinds of ways to screw up and only one way to do it right. The steer bolt out of the chute, but the riders must wait until a string tied to the steer pulls loose a rope that holds them back.
The header can catch the steer around both horns, the neck or one horn and the neck. The header then makes a “dally” by wrapping the rope around the saddle horn. That’s an intense, high-speed maneuver — and some cowboys have lost fingers caught in the rope.
Once the heeler has snared both feet — with a 5-second penalty for only getting one foot in the loop — the two riders stretch the steer between them — immobilizing him.
The best teams take just over 3 seconds to complete the entire sequence. But the contestants last weekend did well with times of 6 to 8 seconds.
Aguirre said the competitions throughout the region provide a way for people who love riding and horses to gather and indulge their great passion.
As a kid, he dreamed of being a professional rodeo cowboy — and did a little bronc riding in his time.
“That’s everybody’s dream, but I have to work and make a living — I’m not blessed like some of them. But we got a bunch of people here in Payson that rope and there’s roping somewhere most every weekend. It’s just good camaraderie — everyone gets along.”
He has five horses and tries to ride after work every day, ceaselessly practicing his exacting sport. “If it doesn’t have anything to do with horses, we don’t do it.”
2010 GLH Roping Results
Saddle Winners – Header, Chance Lewis, $685; Heeler, Amos Clendon, $1,161
Buckle Winners – Headers, #3 and Under, Chelsie Stodghill, $625, was runner-up to saddle win, #4, Ray Jodie, $595; #5 and Over, Rod Reidhead, $480; Heelers, #3 and Under, Chad Thompson, $535, #4, Jim Boyle, $620, #5 and Over, Carlos Aguirre, $695, was runner-up to saddle win
Breastcollar Winners – Header, Clint Clendon; Heeler, CJ Clendon
Rope Bag Winners – Headers, Shawn Sparks, Leo Teague, Rudy Pena; Heelers, Sharlie Hall, Jake Debold, Chay Pena
Jacket Winners – Header, Travis Jodie; Heeler, Darrell Harrison