Team roping consists of two riders on separate horses (Header and Heeler), competing against other teams of riders for the fastest time that they can successfully rope the horns and back heels of a running steer. This is a humane contest in that the steer is not jerked to the ground. Timing stops as soon as the back heels are caught.
Team roping also known as heading and heeling is a rodeo event that features a steer (typically a Corriente) and two mounted cowboys or cowgirls. The first roper is referred to as the "header," the person who ropes the front of the steer, usually around the horns; the second is the "heeler," who ropes the steer by its hind feet. Team roping is the only rodeo event where men and women compete equally together, in either single gender or mixed gender teams. Cowboys originally developed this technique on working ranches when it was necessary to capture and restrain a full-grown animal.
The steers are moved through a series of narrow runways from a holding corral and lined up to enter a chute with spring loaded doors. One steer at a time is loaded into the chute. On each side of the chute is an area called the box. The header is on one side (usually the left, for a right-handed header) whose job is to rope the steer around the horns, or neck, then turn the steer so its hind legs can be roped by the heeler, who starts from the box on the other side of the chute. A taut rope, called the barrier, runs in front of the header and is fastened to an easily released rope on the neck of the steer of a designated length, used to ensure that the steer gets a head start. An electronic barrier, consisting of an electric eye connected to a timing device, is often used in place of the barrier rope.
When the header is ready, he or she calls for the steer and an assistant pulls or trips a lever, opening the chute doors. The freed steer breaks out running. When the steer reaches the end of the rope, the barrier releases. The header must rope the steer with one of three legal catches: clean horn catch (around both horns), a neck catch (around the neck) or a half-head catch (around the neck and one horn). The header then takes a dally, that is a couple of wraps of the rope around the horn of the saddle. Speed is important and some have lost fingers in this event. Once the header has made the dally, he will turn his horse, usually to the left, and the steer will follow, still running.
The heeler waits until the header has turned the steer. When he or she has a clear way, he throws a loop of rope under the running steer's hind legs and catches them. As soon as the heeler also dallies tight, the header turn his horse to directly face the steer and heeler. Both horses back up slightly to stretch out the steer's hind legs, immobilizing the animal. As soon as the steer is stretched out, an official waves a flag and the time is taken. The steer is released and trots off. There is a 5 second penalty for roping only one hind leg and a 10 second penalty for breaking the barrier.
A successful professional-level team takes between 4 and 12 seconds to stretch the steer, depending on the length of the arena. At lower levels, a team may take longer, particularly if the heeler misses the first throw and has to try again.