Branding Etiquette

With Buck Brannaman

This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.4

There are many unspoken rules to the tradition of gathering and branding calves at seasonal spring brandings. Horseman Buck Brannaman offers some suggestions to help keep everyone safe and your horse and cattle happy.


  • Riding in ahead of the boss is disrespectful.
  •  When you are given an area to gather in go exactly where you are told. Do not cross over into another rider’s area. If you didn’t come back from the gather or if your horse fell or bucked you off, the boss needs to know exactly where to go look for you.
  • Never assume that you are going to rope. When you arrive, step off your horse and keep him out of the way. Help with whatever needs to be done to get set up on the ground first. It’s a good idea to have your horse hobble broke so that he’s not in the way and doesn’t upset things.
  • Watch everyone else, where you can be of help and keep from getting in the way.
  • Wait for the boss to tell you to get your rope; wait for the invitation. The easiest roping is at the beginning when the cattle are fresh. Toward the end of the branding when they have figured out what is going on, they will be more difficult. Most times the boss will select a mix of weak and strong ropers to be in the pen together so that there will always be a flow of calves coming to the fire.



  • Never lope your horse in the branding pen.
  • When taking your shot, consider where the calf is going to go. You don’t want to get another roper in trouble. It’s a lot like a game of pool. You consider where the cue ball is going to end up after your shot.
  • If your horse is not in a good position to get to the fire, don’t take the shot.
  • Watch out for your fellow ropers. If you are making plans to take a shot but notice that a nearby roper is not looking your way or aware of what is going on, pass up the shot.
  • Never ride in front of a fellow roper; move to where there is an empty spot in the branding pen.
  • Help set up shots. Good hands know that as the branding goes on, the calves that were missed earlier in the day will be harder to catch. You can help set up a shot by getting the calves to move from left to right in front of a roper so that he can get a flank shot.
  • There are some good hands who use a team rope style of roping and use a rubber horn. I prefer a slick horn because you can be easier on both your horse and cattle by tapering pressure on and off by slipping rope. With rubber on the horn, the pressure is either on all the way or off, and there is no give. I’ve seen some calves really stretched out by a header and heeler. With a slick horn if your horse backed up too much and was going to put too much tension on rope, you could slip a little rope over your horn and save the calf. This is not to say that just having a slick horn makes a good roper, because if you don’t know how to use it and take 5 wraps, you aren’t helping your horse or the cattle.
  • If I’m on a young horse, I will always set up my shot facing the fire. That way I’m not always having to whirl them around to drag the calf. It keeps them good mentally and prevents them from getting too worn out.
  • A good roper will know how to stalk the cattle by leg yielding and keeping a slow pace so that he can set his shot up without scattering the calves all over the pen.



  • The best ground crews are ones that are the best horsemen. Many times the ground crews don’t know enough to get out of the way of the roper who is dragging the calf to them. It can be a scary experience for a horse, and the crew should get out of the way of the man on the horse and let him ride past, then converge on the calf and do their work.


This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.4

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