Sorting ’em out
Cattle herding, penning events growing in popularity
By Douglas Crowl | Loveland Connection
Originally published April 28, 2008 in The Coloradoan and also on The Loveland Connection.com – posted with permission
What’s the best way to read a cow’s mind? “Buy a good cutting horse,” answered Stephanie Allart, from atop her 7-year-old quarter horse, Laker, while participating in a ranch sorting competition in Loveland Sunday.Ranch sorting involves two people on horseback sorting through 11 cows in a small pen, herding them by number into a larger pen, all done in one minute. The more subtle aspect of the sport has to do with understanding the animal and predicting its actions, in some ways reading its mind. “My daughter does it with me, she’s 12. It’s a good family thing,” said Allart, who began competing three years ago. She then added with a laugh: “And it keeps her mind off the boys.”
About 125 people from around the region visited the ranch sorting and team penning event at The Ranch this weekend, which began Friday and concluded Sunday, said Dave Wolfe, who produced the event through his company, Wolfe Productions. While most people competed in both disciplines, it’s the young sport of ranch sorting being promoted from Northern Colorado that is getting much of the attention these days nationally in the equine world. It’s now billed as the most-popular family equine competitions.Last year, Wolfe, of Wellington, organized the first Ranch Sorting National Championship, with 140 sanctioned events throughout the nation, ending in a national event in Oklahoma.
About 900 teams participated in 2007. This year, 3,000 teams are on board, Wolfe said. “If you give people a game to play, they’ll play it,” he said. Ranch Sorting has caught on so fast because experienced and less experienced riders can both participate, because of the number of cattle involved. In team penning, for example, 30 cattle are in a much larger pen, while ranch sorting has only 11. That makes it easier for people to pick up, but still involves the skill of understanding the cattle’s behavior. “There is a real niche to it. The guys who work in feed lots and on the ranches, they pick up on it. It’s trial and error,” Wolfe said. The smaller number of cattle also makes the events less-expensive to organize, Wolfe added. Last year, the busiest and best professional ranch sorters made $100,000, Wolfe said. But for most people, competing in equine events isn’t exactly about the money.“It’s just a lot of camaraderie,” said Troy Gordon, who competes with his 8-year-old daughter, Lucy, and his father, Jack. “Everyone here is good people and it’s a family sport.”