Ranch sorting focus of clinic at Circle L arena | TSLN.com

Ranch sorting focus of clinic at Circle L arena

Photo by Bill BrewsterParticipants learned the right positions by working cattle on foot.

During two weekends in November, more than two dozen riders attended a clinic at Circle L Arena in Belgrade, MT, to learn about the fast growing sport of ranch sorting from arena owner Rod Cline and clinician Jim Brown.

The two-day clinics highlighted the techniques needed to excel in this popular equine activity that requires a combination of good horsemanship skills and a working knowledge of “cow psychology.”

Because riders expressed an interest to compete in the sport later this winter, the clinic was expanded to a second weekend.

“Ranch sorting fits in with our ranching lifestyle in a lot of ways and the techniques are very similar to the way we work cattle on Montana ranches,” Cline noted. “In the case of ranch sorting, we just put in a little more speed into the competition and turn it into a really fun event.”

Cline said Circle L began staging ranch sorting events about four years ago.

“I had been team penning and I wanted something that was different with more finesse and not so much running and gunning that occurs in team penning,” he said. “It’s really a family sport that everyone from youngsters to grandparents can enjoy.”

During last year’s competition, there was an average of 80 teams during each session.

The winter series begins at Circle L Arena at 11 a.m. on Jan. 16 and continues through April with the second competition in February.

There are categories for open riders; novice competitors; beginning riders under the rancher category; and, perhaps, a youth division. In the rancher competition, the beginning rider must handle all of the cattle work and the partner handles the gate work.

Cline and his partner, Lisa Armstrong, are also considering a category for green horses of any age that haven’t competed in ranch sorting.

At the end of the winter season, an awards banquet is held at the ranch with buckles and other awards.

Ranch sorting, a relative of team penning, requires two-person teams to sort cattle (numbered from 0 to 9) in the proper sequence from one pen through an open gate to a second pen with the fastest time winning the event. In the open and novice competition, the teams have 60 seconds to get cattle through the gate. In the rancher’s class, there is a 75-second time limit.

Team work is critical because both riders need to work in harmony to cut out the correct numbered animal and move it to the second pen while keeping the wrong numbered cattle back.

No simple matter, the sport requires the use of a well-broke horse and a solid grasp of working cattle in close quarters – which is why aspiring ranch sorting riders turned out for the clinic.

During the clinic, Cline, who raises cattle in addition to operating the indoor arena on a year-round basis, taught the cattle handling aspect of the program. Brown, a trainer from Gallatin Gateway and a former cutter horse rider in California, taught the horsemanship portion of the classes.

To get the right techniques, students began sorting and handling cattle on the ground; meanwhile Brown reviewed stopping and turning and other horsemanship skills with the other participants before working from horseback.

Cline outlined 10 important factors that riders should follow during the clinic, which he’s learned from competing and a lifetime of working cattle:

1. Competitors need to ride a well-broke horse because cattle aren’t going to wait for the rider to move in slow motion. There is always room for a green horse, but even then the horse needs to be able to stop, go and turn appropriately.

“If you have these points down, it will make your job and the job of your horse a lot easier,” Cline said. Horses, in this event, need to be able to work off of their hind quarters and turn correctly instead of making big, wide barrel turns. In other words, good horsemanship skills and training are important in this event.

2. Communicate with your partner. “If you don’t know what each other is doing, you might just be getting in each other’s way,” he noted, “and you might not know what the next numbered cow is needed.”

3. Understanding cow psychology. “You have to be able to read the cattle because they will tell you what you need to do,” he said. The key is to be able to read those signs immediately or it might be too late, he added.

4. Have patience. “You might need to count to three or four before you make your move so you need that patience,” he said, “and this attitude goes for any livestock work. If you get rattled and your horse gets rattled, then nothing is going to work.”

5. Position cattle to move. “A rider needs to go to the head and front shoulder to stop and turn them. If you want forward motion, go to the hip,” Cline said. In addition, riders need to learn about blind spots directly in front and directly behind cattle.

6. Learn from your mistakes. “When you make a mistake and do something wrong, remember what you did incorrectly and try not to do it again,” he said.

7. Learn you partner’s style of riding and cattle handling. This way you will be able to anticipate what will happen before the partner makes a move.

8. Use pen fences whenever possible. This tactic gives a rider a third partner when working cattle, Cline noted.

9. Be flexible. The game plan needs to be adjustable in a split-second because of the nature of cattle. “By the time you begin to ride into the cattle, they may have changed their position and you may have to end up doing something entirely different to make your plan work,” he said.

10. Always take advantage of the opportunity to work fresh cattle. Using fresh cattle will always make you a better competitor, Cline said.

editor’s note: for additional information about ranch sorting at circle l arena, visit http://circlelarena.com, or call 406-581-0697 or 406-570-5711.

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