Tie-Downs Aren’t Necessary to be Fast Says 2023 San Antonio Champ Shelby Boisjoli. Here’s Why.

Shelby Boisjoli just won the 2023 San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo without a tie-down. Here, she breaks down how, when and why she uses tie-downs as a tool in her training program—and why she doesn't rely on them.

Shelby Boisjoli ropes her calf at the 2023 San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.
Boisjoli chose to go without a tie-down at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo and got the win. Image by Hailey Rae Photography.

Shelby Boisjoli is a three-time NFBR qualifier who knows how to be fast on some of the biggest stages in rodeo, and she’s been using a tie-down less and less, while easily stopping the clock in the 1’s at rodeos.

Boisjoli won the 2023 San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo title after catching three out of four calves in under 1.8 seconds, and the fourth in a 2.4. Boisjoli earned $10,583 during the rodeo aboard 2021 AQHA WPRA Horse of the Year, No Wimpy Turns, “Onna.” And she did it all without a tie-down. Boisjoli broke down her philosophies on when and how to use tie-downs that have been successful in her training program.

Setting the Tie-Down

Shelby Boisjoli: When I do set a tie-down, I set it long enough that if they throw their head they hit it, but when they’re running or doing other things, they’re not touching it. I don’t want them balancing, pushing or bracing on it. I only want it there to hit them if they’re doing something they shouldn’t be doing, they hit it, then when they go back to doing something right, they have their release.

Pressure and Release

SB: The tie-down for me is pressure and release. I don’t want my horses balancing on the tie-down. I don’t practice with tie-downs or use them in the practice pen, unless a horse is going to make a full tie-down run on cattle.

So, the pressure is there when they do a movement they shouldn’t be doing—they throw their head, or whatever.

It’s comfortable for them, they don’t have to be pushed by the tie-down or trapped by the tie-down. But if they do throw their head, it’s going to hit them, but when they put their head back down, the release is there for them.

A lot of people say horses need a tie-down to brace or balance on or to leave the box, and I’m not speaking for team roping or any other events, I‘m just speaking to what I do. I think it’s best if you can get them broke and soft enough that they’re doing their own thing, using their own body and not bracing or pushing on that tie-down. 

Shelby Boisjoli ropes a calf in the breakaway roping at San Antonio Rodeo without using a tie-down.
Shelby Boisjoli went 1.9 seconds to top the first Semifinals section in San Antonio sans tie-down. Image by Hailey Rae Photography.

When to Put a Tie-Down On

SB: I chose to ride a tie-down at the NFBR because every tenth was important there. I went to win go-rounds, so just in case she threw her head or something, I wanted to put a tie-down on (Onna.) We ran 10 calves, couldn’t practice in between, and I just didn’t want something freak to happen where we ended up being slower.

Shelby Boisjoli ropes this calf on Onna at the National Finals Breakaway Roping
Boisjoli rode a loose tie-down on Onna at the 2022 NFBR. Image by Jamie Arviso.

Alternatives to Using a Tie-Down

SB: I have a lot of other tools I’ll use instead of a tie-down. I’ll use draw reins sometimes. I’m soft with them. I do A LOT of dummy work  and a lot of slow stuff.  None of the horses do fast stuff—I can’t even remember the last time I’ve run a full contact calf on any of my good horses in the practice pen. We do a lot of walk-starts, run slow calves, use the jumping lane and just work on keeping our horses super soft, everyhing in control. We keep them really controlled through their stop, nothing crazy.”