Switching things up, the Wyoming State Fair Ranch Horse Competition took on a new format this year. Event coordinator Kevin Meyer, of Douglas, decided to make the event a little closer to what actually happens on a ranch.
“This is the 10 million dollar question, how do you set up an event that is true to actual ranching? What ranchers actually do?” Meyer said.
Contestants in this year’s competition were given a list of required dry work maneuvers, like rollback each way, lope a circle in each direction, working trot, but not a specific pattern. They were to make up their own.
“I bounced idea [of no set pattern] off a lot of people,” Meyer said. “I hate those show to judge, but loved it as a competitor. It allows me to hide my horse’s inadequacies, but some people got a little lost. Clark O’Donnell did fine; he’s a good judge.”
Meyer said he isn’t looking for the perfect show horse, and the judge, Clark O’Donnell, of Alzada, Montana, wasn’t either. The average cowboy could be competitive, he said, if they realize this.
“Most cowboys don’t understand what judges are actually looking for in ranch horse contest. We’re not looking for the horse where you never have to lift a hand on reins. People ruin a run because they ran through without visual cue and it wasn’t great,” Meyer said. “If you have to use your horse, I want to see that he responds willingly and softly.”
Immediately following dry work, each competitor from ladies’, youth, and ranchers’ division, respectively, entered the sorting pen and sorted out a designated number heifer and had the option to show a little cutting or boxing, or just take it out of the gate.
From there, competitors had to loop their heifer around each of three poles, but in no particular order. The youth had to maneuver two poles. Heifers had to cross back over their tracks for the maneuver to count. Penning or roping was the last option. To pen, riders had to open the gate, pen the animal, then close the gate to receive all points. In order to successfully rope, riders had to catch with only one loop and stop, but not drag.
The 26 runs were timed, but time was only considered in the event of a tie. There was no time limit in the event.
“I think that we have some tweaking to do. This year’s was a little harder than we intended it to be,” Meyer said. “My goal is to have everyone have a chance for success, but I want them to think about it.”
“It’s a great family event. Anytime you’re getting people out here and anytime we can have horses, dirt, cows and family, you can’t beat it,” Shaun Strickland, of Casper, said. “It’s something I’ve never done before and it was challenging. It was incredibly challenging. I looked at it and thought it isn’t going to be too bad, but then I got in there and was like, ‘Whoa’. It was hard.” Strickland shows cutters and reined cow horses and his wife barrel races on the professional circuit.
The winners for ranchers are, respectively, Strickland on Niko Itchi, Lucas Palmer in second, and Strickland on Sophisticated Redneck in third.
Of the four youth, Brynn Zwetzig, of Douglas, and her palomino Shimmer topped the competition. In second was Paisley Palmer on Buckshot Bob, in third, Josey Lankister on Hondo, and in fourth, Gracey Palmer on Willy.
Holly Gundlach, of Casper, captured first for the women’s division on Gimmie A Gun. Wendi Lankister and Wright Cut placed second and Darlene Brunkhardt placed third.
“I really enjoyed the event because it’s something different for these horses that have shown a little bit and I like to come out here and be able to sort of mix it up for my horse,” Gundlach said. “It’s so good to get him in the show pen and do something different. It helps his cow work, it’s good for rating, it’s good for circling. Great to go in there and rope one and cut and get in the herd, and the ground was great here today. People need to come.”
Meyer wishes to minimize the divide between ranch horses and show horses and not produce another typical working cow horse event.
“[In working cow horse shows], we put them in an impossibly small area with an impossibly small time limit and it turns into who can control their wrecks the best, who can be a hand enough to get something done four times as fast as things can be done. I don’t want ranch horse competition to be like that,” Meyer said. “There was a time ranchers used to go to town and show all the time. Somewhere along the line, we’ve lost that. It has become so individualized horses don’t even look like the same species, but also have a hard time doing more than one thing. I think the tide is turning. I think [Wyoming State Fair Ranch Horse Competition] could fit in to help that out.”
“I think the other part is getting the word out about this competition,” Meyer said. “Everyone has in their mind what a ranch horse competition is up until this point. I’d love to see a bunch of the ranch rodeo guys do it too.”
Meyer operates under Mantz Creek Horses training performance and finished horses, starting colts, and offering clinics and lessons. To learn more about him, visit http://www.MantzCreekHorses.com.