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Copyright 2012 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


Flaming Panels

An Innovative New Technique

for Training Rope Horses

By Chris Ellsworth, Gillette, WY  


May 2012 issue


      A few years back, I came across a calf that we’d missed at branding. We were going to head out to summer pasture in a few days, and I wanted to get him branded and vaccinated before we went.

      So I got the calf corralled, lit the branding torch to heat the irons, and made ready to get this calf done.

      Plan A had been to simply mug the little fella in the back pen. But, upon closer inspection, the person who was helping me in this endeavor and I decided that this calf had grown — a lot — since coming into the corral and was too big for the two of us to rassle into submission.

      We figured a device called a “branding fork” would be our best option. A branding fork is designed to hold the front end of a calf for branding while your horse holds the hind legs.

      To use it, you simply (“simply”– ha! ha!) rope his hocks and drag the calf past the fork so it can be hooked over his neck. My daughter’s horse, Zim, was already saddled, so I jumped on him and got down to it.

      All went well at first. Zim put me in position for a nice, easy shot at both hocks. I closed my eyes, threw my loop, and the calf accidentally stepped into it. Zim dutifully drug the calf past the forks and… the ground-person missed on the hook-up.

      Did I mention we cowhands are not so big on planning ahead? The configuration of this particular pen meant that you only got one chance to hook up the branding fork. If you missed, your horse came to a dead-end and it got real hard to keep enough tension on your rope to hold the calf down. Impossible, actually. I did not account for that in advance.

      So, the calf got up and went streaking past poor, unsuspecting Zim. In doing so, he’d kicked one foot out of the loop, but it had gotten tight above his other hock. In case you didn’t know, a calf caught by one leg is way feistier than when he’s caught by two!

      I did some quick mental math. A sixty-foot rope, plus a three-foot long calf, in a forty-foot pen meant that there were approximately twenty-three feet of lass rope for a circling calf to tie around an innocent rope horse.

Therefore, turning loose of my rope was not an option. All I could do was swap my end of the rope from one side of Zim to the other as that calf wind-milled around us.

      Did I mention the two portable corral panels standing randomly in that pen? That calf must not have known about them, either, because he plowed right through them… plowed right through them, wrapped the rope around them, and drug them into the branding torch, which was still lit.

      At this point, the ground-person (the smartest human involved) crawled up on the fence to watch the show. A calf on one end of a rope, a horse on the other with two panels and a branding torch in between can be quite a show.

      Zim, however, disappointed the audience. He calmly kept swinging around to face the calf, dodged the panels and ignored the propane comet until I could get things under control again — just what you’d hope for in a well-seasoned rope horse.

      There was one other thing I forgot to mention: This was the first time Zim had ever been used to rope a live animal!

      He was well prepared, though. A few weeks earlier, I’d told my daughter she ought to get her horse ready to rope from. Apparently, she’d done a good job. She’d had her rope off both sides, crossed him under it, held a post tight, and drug logs. She could move his front or hind quarters with her legs in either direction. He backed well. She’d shown him he could ignore scary things.

      He could already do these little things very well, so well, in fact, that when the chips were down and he really needed to, he could keep it together and do them all at once.

      The lesson here is that even though you can’t necessarily practice being tied to a flaming calf and two flying corral panels, you can practice enough parts of the equation to at least give your horse a chance if his number comes up.

      Plus, it’s a good idea to teach your kids to plan ahead if you aren’t going to!


      The author, Chris Ellsworth, lives in northeastern Wyoming, runs a ranch, and raises and trains horses.


Copyright 2012 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


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