Calf Roping Game

The calves are loose!

You need to get a rope off the fence…


rope them…


and take them back to the cow pen!


Ideally the sidewalker would be closer to the horse, but she was new. It only takes a few reminders of “Always ask yourself, am I close enough to do a thigh hold in an emergency?” for them to learn. Alternately, if the rider is well balanced and I clarify that the other sidewalker is now the primary and in charge of the rider, I will let the non-primary sidewalker participate in the game.)

Example Lesson Plan

Arena Set Up:

  • hula hoops on T-pole (“ropes on a fence”)
  • ground poles in square (“cow pen”)
  • laminated cow heads (“calves”) – have volunteers color in cow heads, laminate, and cut out.
    • Make the cows using this template:
    • Or find a better one. I did feel weird telling riders to go rope the cow heads.

Objective: The rider will demonstrate direct rein steering for 5 minutes of the lesson with leader unclipped and spotting, sidewalkers spotting, and no verbal prompts.

  • Tack Check #1
  • Introductions
  • Mount – croup, lift, min assist
  • Tack Check #2, Stirrups
  • Warmup
    • Arm circles – to stretch arms and shoulders to prepare for steering
    • Trunk twists – to prepare for steering
    • Two point – to stretch lower legs and work on lower leg strength which rider needs
    • Change directions across diagonal, Tack Check #3
    • Repeat same exercises the other direction
  • Whoa in middle of arena
  • Review Skill: Direct Rein Steering
    • put clips on rider’s pockets for visual reminder of where to bring hands
  • Practice #1: at halt
  • Practice  #2: Calf Roping Game!
    • explain the game
    • before going to each calf, the rider must point out which one they choose to steer to
    • the rider must use direct rein steering to correctly arrive next to the calf
    • the rider must hold both reins in one hand while using the other hand to toss the hula hoop
    • rope several calves on each side, to keep from being one sided
    • if the hoop lands over the cow head or partly on it, the rider gets to tuck the calf under the pommel, explaining how when a calf gets lost or hurt a cowboy will pick it up and put it across the horse’s withers to carry it to safety. (See here)
    • if the hoop hits the cow head and bounces off, or misses, they missed and the calf ran away, so they must find another calf
    • the instructor carried the hula hoop/”rope” around for the rider until they are halted and ready to rope (as opposed to the rider who should be concentrating on steering and the sidewalkers who should be concentrating on their rider and prepared to emergency dismount at all times)
  • Progression:
    • leader starts with helping steer
    • progress to lead rope 3 feet away and less verbal prompts
    • progress to unclip and no verbal prompts
  • Cool down
    • ride 1 lap without stirrups – to stretch legs
    • 10 arm circles while riding without stirrups – to stretch arms and improve balance
  • Dismount: croup to ground, min assist



Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgment!

5 thoughts on “Calf Roping Game

  1. Wonderful idea… off to print some calf heads and get some hoops…. my more “confident” riders are going to use my swim rings or rope quoits… a bit smaller….. I so, love your ideas and help! 🙂

  2. This seems like a fun way to practice steering and engage the whole team. I really appreciated the detailed lesson plan. It is also so important for the sidewalkers to understand their role and be attentive to the safety of the rider. This was a great example of opportunities to continue volunteer education even during lessons when it really counts. Thanks for another informative post.

  3. Hi, just wondering are your lesson plans aimed towards a 1 hours lesson?

    I love reading your wonderful ideas and plans and as a coach just starting out, it is so nice to have this as some help and guidance.

    Thanks Christine

    • Hi Christine, sorry for my late reply! That is such a good question, I need to include that on my intro page. These lesson plans are usually aimed at 30 minute lessons and could be stretched to 45, and even to an hour if you added grooming and tacking and untacking in. I’m glad you enjoy the blog! All the best to you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *