Roping “family” gathers at Lincoln event

Several ropers wait until their turn to compete at the Nebraska Roping Horse Association Pointed Show on Feb. 12. The competitors could compete individually or as a team.

By Kim Buckley, NewsNetNebraska

Call them cowboys and cowgirls. They don’t mind.

Dozens of men and women wearing cowboy hats walked around on the dirt arena floor in the third pavilion of the Lancaster Events Center. They had ropes in their hand, practicing their skills.

The Nebraska Horse Association held a show Feb. 10 through Feb. 12. Competitors could enter in several roping categories – tie-down, breakaway, heading and heeling. They either competed as part of a two-person team or as an individual.

With team roping, two ropers ride on individual horses. The header ropes the head and turns the calf so the heeler ropes the feet. The riders then turn so the horses are facing one another.

“You have to have a head on your shoulder because you’re not only roping, you set it up for the steerer,” said Sierra Peterson, who competes in team roping as a header. She competed in team roping when she was in 4H and during high school and won the title Miss Rodeo Nebraska last year.

The amount of time ropers practice depends on the seasons and the roper’s resources.

Jadin Bilger, who is new to roping, can’t rope every day because of other responsibilities so she ropes when she can. Because the place she ropes at is out in the elements, she mostly practices indoors with a metal practice calf.

At the competition, Bilger rode a 17-year-old bay horse in the competition. She grooms the horse once or twice a week to shine the coat.

“He likes rolling in the mud so it gets the mud out,” she said.

Bilger said she enjoys working with the horses because they can be challenging.

“We have a few different colts we’re working with and it’s a lot of fun,” she said. “Sometimes they’re calm in the box and look really lazy. Other times they’re up and looking around and how they track with the calfer and stuff like that.”

Roper Jay Wadhams has been competing at rodeos for almost 30 years. He spends time traveling to one to three shows a month depending on the time of year.

Being away from his family for an extended period of time can be difficult, Wadhams said.

“It’s tough, but they understand this is what I do for a living,” he said. “What I’ve done my whole life and this is what I want to do.”

While traveling takes him away from his family, Wadhams has competed in seven or eight roping shows in Brazil, where the horse shows are getting really big.

Wadhams once went to Australia for a roping show. He said going to different countries as a roper let him have experiences he wouldn’t have normally had.

Competing in rodeos often runs in the family. Peterson practices with her brother, father and uncle. Peterson said one of her favorite memories of competing in the rodeo was competing with her brother and his friend. Her brother and his friend placed first and second place. While she didn’t rope, she turned the calf for the two riders so she feels that she helped them succeed.

Wadhams is currently teaching his sons how to rope like their father.

“Right now they need to learn to be consistent and, you know, catch everything they throw at,” he said. “And when they learn how to do that, they can get faster.”

After about 20 years of roping, Jason Pieper is more comfortable sitting in a saddle than a recliner. On Sunday, he practiced his skills roping a metal calf with his nephew Hunter before he entered the dirt arena. Hunter was one of several children off to the side watching the roping show.

Pieper has known some of the ropers and their families for more than 30 years. He referred to the roping community as a great baby-sitter.

The roping community is close. A lot of the families know one another and watch one another children grow up. Wadhams said those in the roping community always look forward to seeing one another at shows like the special roping event.

Peterson said at rodeos there are lots of people to ask for help in the rodeo community. For instance, she can ask a friend to keep an eye on her roping and riding to see what needs to be improved.

“Rodeo is a family, no matter where you’re at,” she said.

The community is quick to welcome people who just got started roping. Bilger has spent the last three to four years learning how to rope and attending rodeos. The roping community helped her when she was starting out.

“I kept just chucking it out like a baseball, the rope,” she said. “It’s more like laying it out on the calf’s head. It took me a few tries to get it down.”

Bilger may be new to competing in rodeos, but not to the community. She was sitting in the bleachers at a rodeo to watch her friends compete. She thought it would be fun, so she gave it a try.

Bilger said it’s fun to meet new people at competitions. The roping community lets newcomers meet new people and find different roping techniques to see what works for them.

“It’s not just sit on the horse and leave,” she added. “It’s socializing with other people.”

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