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What Are The Three Legal Head Catches?

In most organized team roping competitions the rules specify there are only three legal head catches. Other roping competitions, particularly if they use cattle of a similar type and size as team roping cattle, commonly allow only the same three catches. So, what are the three legal head catches?

It's almost as straight forward as that, but not quite. For more information, please see the additional text and photos below.

Common sense warning! Rules for various roping competitions can and do vary, which means the information on this page won't apply to every situation. Always learn the rules for any particular event you may enter from the event organizers.


Legal Head Catch #1 - Around Both Horns

The "around both horns" head catch is when the loop goes around and underneath the horns on both sides of the head. This catch is also called a "horn catch," a "clean horn catch," a "slick horn catch," or something similar.

Below: An "around both horns" head catch. Notice the loop goes underneath the horns on both sides of the head.

A legal head catch: Around both horns


Legal Head Catch #2 - A Half Head

A "half head" catch is when the loop goes underneath the horn on one side of the head, under the chin or neck, and on top of the horn on the other side of the head. A half head catch is also called "half a head."

Below: A half head catch just as it's going on, without all the slack out of the loop yet.

Legal head catch #2: A half head


Legal Head Catch #3 - Around The Neck

The "around the neck" catch is when the loop settles around the neck. This catch is also called a "neck" or "neck catch."

Below: An "around the neck" catch goes completely over the head and both horns.

The third legal head catch: Around the neck


When Good Loops Go Bad

There are a variety of ways a head catch can be illegal. For example:

Below: An illegal head catch because there is a front leg in the loop.

An illegal head catch


Where The Three Legal Head Catches Don't Apply

The three legal head catches rule applies to many competitive roping events, but certainly not to all of them. Exceptions to the rule, or different sets of rules entirely, are not uncommon.

The three legal head catches rule also doesn't (necessarily) apply to roping cattle in non-competitive situations, such as in the pasture or the working pen. Whoever is in charge of overseeing the work usually has their own set of guidelines for how the cattle may be roped.


"It's All Legal In The Pasture" And
"Catch As Catch Can"

Whether it's for competition or in the pasture or working pen, two common phrases often heard when roping cattle are "It's all legal in the pasture" and "Catch as catch can." These phrases mean that any head catch (or heel catch, for that matter) is acceptable. However, "It's all legal in the pasture" and "Catch as catch can" shouldn't be misunderstood to mean rough treatment of the cattle is acceptable. Common sense and good cattle handling techniques are still expected to apply.


Legal Head Catches On Cattle Without Horns

As you've probably noticed, the rules for the three legal head catches applies to cattle with horns. So, what happens if the cattle are polled or dehorned? That depends. In competition or when working on a private cattle operation, you need to check the rules or get instructions from whoever's in charge.

However, when roping cattle that don't have horns you sometimes hear the phrase, "It needs to be a legal head catch," or something similar. Since the cattle don't have horns it's often assumed you'll simply figure out for yourself that since you can't catch the horns or a half head, you'll need to make a legal neck catch.

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