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Sorting the Technical

[email protected] if you’re new to ranch sorting, it doesn’t take long to see that it’s a fast-paced, high-energy race against the clock with plenty of hollering encouragement (or disappointment) from the crowd. Spectators ride every step with the team with no filter for what they are thinking from the stands.

In this excerpt from the March 2008 Paint Horse Journal article “Sort it Out,” learn more about this exciting sport and how to get started with your own Paint Horse.

A Growing Sport

Brian Kammerdiener, a ranch sorting competitor and owner of Rocking K Spring Creek Arena in Gainesville, Texas, says the sport has boomed because it’s less intimidating than other cattle events. He explains that it is performed in a smaller arena and gives riders of all skill levels the chance to succeed and have fun.

“I think someone would want to try sorting because of the challenge of working with cows and seeing if they can acquire the skills of ranch work,” Kammerdiener said.

Brian Bouska, former president of the Southwest Team Penning Association, adds that sorting requires split-second problem-solving skills.

“You have to learn to manage a different situation every time you go,” Bouska said. “[Ranch sorting] lets you focus on doing something with your horse rather than just riding. You’re constantly trying to stop a cow that got loose or run down [to the opening] faster.”

Because penning and sorting are similar cattle events­—they both involve a team cutting numbered cattle out of a herd and chasing them into a separate pen—some team penning associations began hosting sorting classes during their competitions. APHA chose to add ranch sorting as an approved event in 2008 after seeing how successful it was in team penning association competitions, and because it provides an additional opportunity for people to show their horses in cattle events.

“I won’t say ranch sorting is more popular than team penning,” said Bouska, “but it’s much less intimidating because you don’t have to go so fast and cover so much ground.”

Getting started

cattlesorting-pattern0308Rule SC-276 in the 2014 Official APHA Rule Book describes ranch sorting as “a timed event consisting of two riders with the objective of sorting 10 head of cattle from one pen into another in a designated sequence.”

Each run begins with 12 cattle—10 cows numbered 0–9 and two left blank—located on one side of a foul line that separates two equal-sized pens in an arena, and two mounted competitors begin on the opposite side of the line. The sorting area in each pen is from 50 to 60 feet in diameter, and is shaped like an octagon. The foul line is the opening between the two pens, usually measuring 12–16 feet across.

The announcer calls out a given number, signifying the team to start and the specific animal they must sort first. If the number 7 is called, for instance, the team must numerically sort the cattle labeled 7, 8 and 9, and then continue with those marked 0 through 6. Teams score “no time” if any part of a cow crosses the foul line out of order, and they are disqualified if a sorted cow re-crosses the foul area.

Since ranch sorting is a speed event, a 90-, 75- or 60-second time limit is imposed. The time continues to run until all the cattle are sorted or the time limit is reached, and herds cannot be re-sorted in the first go-round.

Ranch sorting requires at least one judge to be positioned evenly with the foul line in order to disqualify the team if a cow should cross the line out of order. Kammerdiener says he makes sure a line judge, announcer and secretary are present at competitions.

Depending on riders’ skill levels and interest in competitions, they can participate with a horse bred for almost any discipline. If they choose to become more competitive, however, purchasing a horse with innate cow sense could prove helpful. Paint Horses often make excellent sorting horses because of their cow-sense, athleticism and swiftness.

“As soon as the competition starts to get higher, you really have to get into the cow-bred horses, and get a horse that’s very smart, quick and athletic to do this,” said Bouska. “You can buy incredible performance-based Paint Horses if you take the time to find those horses.

“If you have a good cow-bred horse, it is very quiet in the herd. These horses are very much like cutting horses, so the quieter the horse, the better job you can do sorting.”

Expanded knowledge

Ranch sorting is highly beneficial to both the horse and rider in a variety of ways. It enhances their ability to work cattle while maintaining proper balance and form. Riders also get the satisfaction of achieving skills and doing well in a sport in which they’re interested, while cow-bred horses get to perform and compete at what they’re bred to do.

“It’s incredibly fun for horses that have cow sense,” said Bouska. “It gives them a purpose, a reason to do something. In doing that, the horse gets to be a better athlete, as well as the rider.”

For more information about ranch sorting, check out the Ranch Sorting National Championships.

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