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.
For this event to work 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.