At the sound of a buzzer, a steer is released from a chute as two riders and their equine mounts light out in pursuit, ropes and the ready.
The team, a header and a heeler, attempt to use ropes to secure and gain control of the sprinting steer, their opponents being the steer, the clock and the times set by their competitors. That is team roping, a common equestrian event at the Four States Fairgrounds and Rodeo arena.
Kirby Hill, a competitor of 25 years in team roping as well as owner of Hill Productions, a team roping promotion company, puts on several of these events. According to him, 1,000-1,200 roping teams would be riding across the arena, competing for prizes, sharpening their skills and hoping for that prize at the end. However, it is not just the prize at the end that is of value, a high placing here also enables them to advance to higher level competitions and promotions, where the top contests can mean prizes in the millions of dollars.
"I personally have made it to some of those high level competitions several times," he said. "But even at that level, it is fundamentally the same sport. Sure, the prizes are bigger, the stakes are larger, the competition is more intense. You have bigger crowds, the lights of Vegas, say, are brighter. But the fundamentals are the same. You have your teams, pairs of riders and horses. You have your steer and the same objective. Keep your eye on the objective and your head in the game and do your thing.
Supporting those basics, Hill says it is a few fundamental elements.
"Good horse, good partner," he said. "Top of that list, a good horse."
What makes a good horse, according to Hill, is one that is good under pressure.
"You want a horse that is fast and quiet," he said. "Athletic. As focused as the rider is on the objective. Not easily spooked. Some of the horses seem to really enjoy doing the sport, too."
For those considering team roping, Hill says the first thing is for a horseman to do is to be coachable.
"Find someone with experience in this sport, someone with knowledge, and learn from them," he said. "Don't go into it blind. And listen to them. Be coachable."