Cowboy Up: Houlihan Throw

Useful for long-distance catches, the houlihan is a swing that every working cowboy should know.

illustration depicted the houlihan thow
illustration by McKilbo Illo

When to use the houlihan throw

A versatile catch, the houlihan can be used in a variety of situations, from the ground or the saddle. It’s most often used when roping horses in a corral. Because the houlihan’s loop can be placed in a great range of positions—from vertical to horizontal—from a relatively far distance, it’s ideal for picking out a horse’s head from among several that are close together. For right-handed ropers, use this catch when the animal you’re angling for is traveling in front of you from left to right.

Related: Cowboy Up—Stop a Stampede

Building the houlihan throw

To begin your swing, start by holding the loop and spoke in your right hand with your palm down. The loop should hang parallel to your right side when horseback. When afoot, the loop can begin wherever feels comfortable, but starting on your left side will result in more momentum.

The swing

Swing the loop so that the tip of the loop rolls back, then up, and finally forward before the release. As you swing, extend your throwing arm behind you and keep your thumb down as the loop comes forward over your head. Although you can take any number of swings, the houlihan is typically thrown after a single swing so as not to spook the herd.

Related: Cowboy Up—Tie a Hondo Knot

The release

If you’re roping from horseback, throw as the animal you’re catching passes your horse’s ears. If you’re roping from the ground, most likely you’ll be roping horses standing still. As you release, your thumb should be pointed down and your palm should be perpendicular to the ground—adjusting the angle of your hand at the release point will affect the angle of the loop. For long-distance catches, significant arm action is required to give the loop proper momentum.

Tips and hints for throwing a houlihan

When roping horses out of a cavvy, there are certain points of etiquette to follow. At some outfits, the cowboss will rope your horse out for you. At others, cowboys rope their own mounts out, but one at a time and in the order prescribed by the boss. Either way, the roper should be calm and quiet and not step too far into the horses so they’ll stay calm, too.