Breakaway Roping 101

The most commonly asked questions about breakaway roping answered.


What is Breakaway Roping?

Breakaway roping is an equine sport developed in the western United States in which a person horseback ropes a calf around the neck, with the roper’s rope “breaking away” from the saddle once the calf is far enough away from the horse.


How Does Breakaway Roping Work?

In breakaway roping, a calf is loaded into the roping chute and the roper enters the box on the right side (heeler’s side) of the roping chute. The breakaway roper waits in the corner of the box with the calf in the chute until his or her horse is standing squarely looking ahead. Then the roper nods his or her head and a chute operator opens the gate, allowing the calf to enter the arena.

In most competitions, a small rope is looped around the calf’s neck, connected to the rope barrier in front of the roper and his or her horse. That rope barrier breaks when the calf runs far enough from the chute, ensuring he has a head start on the horse and roper. When the force of the calf leaving the chute releases the neck rope, the roper may leave the box. Leaving the box early and “breaking the barrier” generally results in a 10-second penalty.

Once leaving the box, the roper’s horse runs after the calf from behind, putting the roper in position to rope the calf around the neck in a bell-collar catch. When the calf is caught, the roper stops his or her horse abruptly, pulling the rope tight and breaking the small string that ties it to the saddle horn—marking the end of the run and stopping the clock. In most associations and competitions, ropers are required to have a flag—usually made from a bandana or white cloth—at the end of their rope to make the break easier for a judge (often called a flagger) to see. The fastest time wins.


What Are the Rules of Breakaway Roping? What Penalties Can Breakaway Ropers incur?

The most common penalty in breakaway roping is the 10 seconds added when a roper breaks the barrier, failing to give the calf the appropriate head start. Breakaway ropes may also be flagged out (disqualified) for any catch other than a bell-collar catch—that is, a clean catch around the calf’s neck.


Who Can Compete in Breakaway Roping?

Breakaway roping is primarily a women’s event, but it is also a stepping-stone event for young boys to help them learn to calf rope in the National Little Britches Rodeo Association and other similar organizations. In American Quarter Horse Association competition, both men and women can compete in breakaway roping. In the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association—the largest sanctioning body at the professional level of the sport—only women can compete.


What Types of Ropes do Breakaway Ropers use?

Breakaway ropes—generally shorter than any other ropes on the market, at 24 feet to 29 feet—are quickly evolving as the demand for them grows. Breakaway ropers often cut their ropes shorter to customize their feel.

Breakaway ropes are made from either a nylon/poly blend or pure poly, are twisted and designed specifically for maximizing tip control to rope the calf around the neck. 

Breakaway ropes are also designed to be more durable than team ropes because the calf drags the rope out of the arena after each competition run.


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