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Cows Rule

Published: 6/13/2011
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By Julie A. Kenney
Photos by Renee K. Trust

Got Cows?
After taking a clinic in Ranch Sorting and Team Penning with two of my horses, I’ve come to the conclusion that cows are way smarter than I had them pegged.

This is the year that I decided to try lots of different activities with my horses.  One of those is working cows in sorting and penning with the Central Maine Team Penning Association at their new home at Maple Lane Farm in Charleston, Maine. 
What a fun time I had at the beginner’s clinic weekend.  Everyone was so helpful and nice. Despite the rain, wind, and drizzle along with cool temperatures on Saturday, I still had a wonderful time.

I found two really important items to remember about sorting or penning:

  • Cows take top priority.  They must not be stressed or harmed in any way.  In fact, I’m pretty sure the cows ran back to the herd laughing when I couldn’t position myself just right in order to separate them from the large group.

  • Solid horsemanship is essential in being able to sort or pen cows.  Your horse must have a great whoa, side pass, roll back, and a general willingness to move where you ask them to in order to successfully work cows.

Ranch Sorting

In sorting, you have two round pens connected together with an opening called the hole.  In one pen are 10 cows, numbered zero through nine, plus two unnumbered cows referred to as “trash” cows.  Two team members on horseback work together to sort the cows starting with the number that is called by the judge, into the second connecting pen. 
All successive cows have to be sorted in order, based on their number, without allowing the “trash” cows to join the herd in the second pen. 
Sounds much easier when written down than it did in reality.  You are judged on how many correctly ordered cows you managed to get into the second pen, without allowing any “trash” to join them within a very short time period.

Team Penning

Even though these two games are all about working cows with your horse, the two sports are quite different.  In penning, you have a very large arena with 30 head of cattle at one end.  There are three cattle each with the same number, from zero to nine. 
Once you cross the foul line, the judge will call out the number your team of three are trying to separate from the herd.  You must get the three cows with the same number moved to the other end of the arena without bringing any “trash” along with you.  “Trash” in this game is any cow that is not the number you are looking for. 
Again, much easier said than done.  Once you have the three cows at the other end of the arena, your team must then move them into a smaller pen and call “time” before your allotted time period runs out.

I highly recommend attending a clinic in Ranch Sorting and Team Penning with the CMTPA  or take a drive to watch a competition.  The folks couldn’t be nicer or more helpful.  A huge thank you to Tom & Janette Ross, Chris & Lynn Boynton, Barry Higgins, and the Maple Lane Farm family. 
I only planned on taking the clinic to try something new, but found a huge desire to go try it out some more.  What can I say?  The instructors did warn me that the sport is addicting, and for some reason I feel the need to hear those cows laugh at me some more!

View Reader Comments:

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6/13/2011 Gary Foss
You're right Julie, addicting to say the least, so much fun.
6/13/2011 Lynn Boynton
You put a smile on my face! Your descriptions are wonderful...I can almost hear the frustration! You actually did really well. Hope we'll be seeing lots more of you this summer.
6/13/2011 Molly Stark
Hey Julie! oh Yeah! it is FUN! I am addicted as well and you've written a perfect article explaining the sport. They were right when they said it was "an art". Penning and Sorting takes a lot of thinking and a responsive horse...with good instruction, as we were given, it only helps your horsemanship skills and riders seat. (ps: I want to thank you for being such a good sport and keeping my daughter company when you and her inspected the sand in the ring...truly she didn't feel so alone in her endeavors and that helped her the rest of the day to persevere and continue on! :))
6/13/2011 Jeff Lander
Julie--Great article! Enjoyed getting to know you.Hope to see you at future events.
6/13/2011 sonia
Good for you, Julie! Great article!
6/14/2011 Julie Kenney
Thanks everyone! Sonia ~ I'm soooo glad my closeup inspection of the sand was helpful to your daughter :) At least it was super soft!!! Anyway, after taking the second clinic this past weekend, I really am starting to understand how to position my horse to effectively cut a cow from the herd. So much FUN!!! For anyone who doesn't have a horse to ride or who don't feel up to this type of sport, I recommend going to watch the competitions...they are pretty exciting and fast-paced entertainment.
6/15/2011 Laura Ingerson
Your article is great. This is my 3rd year penning and it is still as fun as the first day I started. Molly is right it helps your horsemanship and seat. Everyone should try it at least once. Good friends, horses, camping, and cows - Life does not get any better!
6/30/2011 Maxine Friend
Hey Julie, loved your article. See you on the trails! Cheers, Max

"No horseman or horsewoman has ever finished learning" - Mary Gordon-Watson