When Walt Eddy comes to town, most folks don’t know why.

“Who are these guys in cowboy hats?” people ask. “Is there a rodeo or something?”

Eddy is not part of a rodeo but the U.S. Team Roping Championships.

The event is in Moab this weekend, starting Friday, May 4, at 10 a.m.

Admission is free.

“If watching equestrian things is part of what you like to do, it is a very low-key atmosphere,” said Eddy, the event’s producer. “You can get up close and watch it.”

But just what exactly is ‘it?’

Team roping is a partner sport that involves horses and a steer.

One partner is the “header,” said Ben Clements, a team roping announcer and editor of “SuperLooper” magazine. He – or she – ropes the steer around the horns or head and turns the steer “off,” or around, so the other partner, the “heeler,” can rope the steer’s two hind legs.

Once they’ve accomplished both, the clock stops. If the heeler only gets one of the steer’s back legs, the team gets a 5-second penalty.

Just like in track or swimming, whoever has the fastest time wins.

“It’s one of the most popular equine sports today,” Clements said. “It will feature contestants from the professional ranks of team roping all the way down to the novice, amateur level.”

Organizers expect anywhere from 600 to 1,000 people to compete.

Last year, contestants came from Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Oklahoma and Texas, Clements said.

Anyone is welcome to compete – as long as they bring their own horses. Organizers provide the steer. Registration takes place at the event.

Spectators are welcome, too, though Eddy said it’s not always the most exciting event to watch.

Most audiences usually are made up of friends and family of the competitors, he said, though he admits others may just not know about it.

Since officials don’t charge admission, they also don’t spend money advertising to members of the community. Instead, they focus on getting competitors into the arena.

That said, anyone is welcome to come out and enjoy.

“We have in a lot of instances become the social gathering for rural people,” Eddy said. “Our contestant base is pretty big and broad. People come to our events to hang out and visit with people.”

The competition is split into different categories. The best, or most advanced, compete on Friday. The middle classes are Saturday. And the novice, or beginner, competitors take part on Sunday.

The middle classes are usually the most exciting and fun to watch, Eddy said.

And it’s appropriate entertainment for all ages.

“We are definitely a family event,” he said. “We have a lot of three generations competing – granddads roping with grandsons or granddaughters.”

A lot of women compete, too, he said.

The U.S. Team Roping Championships has a finals contest in Oklahoma City at the end of October each year (prize money there totals $5 million). To participate in that, contestants have to win at one of the qualifying opens, like the one in Moab this weekend. Across the United States, there are 83 such events, Eddy said. One is in Grand Junction, Colo., others are in Farmington and Vernal.

Last year at Moab’s event, about $75,000 in cash and prizes was awarded.

“We’re kind of an asset to the community,” Eddy said. “And people get to come out and watch as long as they want for free.”