Cattle Sorting at Mara Brandman Arena

Last Saturday, June 3rd marked the kickoff to Hitch’n Post Cattle Club’s Summer Sorting Series at the Mara Brandman Arena in Orange Park Acres.  Opening night featured a taco truck, a live country cover band, Sterling Sylver, and of course sorting!  Those who signed up to compete even received a wristband for all you can eat tacos from the truck.  An awesome price especially since it was only $20 to sign up!

Despite keeping my horses in Orange Park Acres (and competing in the local gymkhana series in years past) I had never been able to check out the cattle sorting series done at the public arena, and had sadly never really seen it before at all!  I decided this would be the best time to see what it was all about.

Knowing that neither of my horses had worked with cows before, I decided to play it safe and ride Miss Bee down to the arena sans Kitty.  I knew Bee had been around cows before, but being around them and working them are two very different things, so I was cautious.  Once I made my way down to the arena, Bee quickly made me feel very comfortable as she couldn’t care less about the cows in the pen.  We worked for a little bit in the arena with the other people and horses warming up as they made final call for sign ups.  Again, since I wasn’t sure how Bee would be working with cows in the same space, and had never watched sorting before, I refrained from signing up, but I did remain in the arena so that she could help push cows back into the smaller pen between runs (for those unfamiliar with sorting, I’ll explain how it works below).

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Gathering up the cows between runs, 2017

To my surprise, I think Bee really enjoyed pushing cows, probably because she finally got to boss someone else around for once!  Some horses with the proper breeding and training just have that instinctual “cow sense” and seem almost to know what to do with cow naturally.  While Bee wasn’t necessarily bred to be a “cow horse,” she seemed to catch on to her job right away.  Some horses can get a little too excitable with cows and can get aggressive towards them, biting and barring their teeth to chase; Bee however, maintained a pretty polite relationship with the cows (nicer to them than she is to geldings she meets!), though we did get scolded at one point for supposedly “chasing” one of the cows, when going to bring them back in (Bee just got excited and wanted to go fast and the cow reacted).

Overall, it was a fun experience, especially since I ended up going on my own to this one.  There were a lot of people (probably since it was the first night) both newbies like me to the sport and some who’d done this for years if not decades.  It was great to see people trying something new and getting help from those with more experience.

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Cows in the resting pen before the show, 2017

Ranch Sorting Rules and Directions:
For those new to sorting like myself, this may help you gain a better understanding of the sport.  There are a couple versions of the sport, but the overall rules are the same.  Typically, there are too large pens placed next to one another with an opening of about 12-16ft connecting the pens.  These can be similar looking to round pens or as was the case with this series a smaller pen enclosed within the larger arena with an opening for cows to be moved through.

There are a team of 2-3 riders, with one rider moving into the group of cows in the pen, separating them from the herd, and the other rider(s) helping to keep the gate.  The team is given a random number, and their job is to then select the cow with that number first, and then from that number proceed to sort them in order pushing them through the gate to the other arena.  There are 10 cows numbered 0-9.  Sometimes there are “dirty cows” that have no number, they are not to be sorted into the other pen.

If the cows are not sorted into the other pen in the correct order, the team is disqualified, which is why at least one rider helps to keep the gate, preventing the wrong cows from entering at the wrong time.  The rider at the gate and the rider sorting cows swap roles throughout the sorting after each cow is sorted.

The group who sorts all of the cows the fastest wins.  There is however a time limit of about 60-75 seconds depending on the show.  In some cases, not all cows are sorted, so the team with the most correctly sorted cows will win.  For the most part, this is how the Orange Park Acres version works, as again, most are new to the sport.

Since the sorting done at Mara Brandman was done in the large arena, the cows were able to roam freely among the other horses and riders after exiting the smaller pen, this meant that cows needed to be moved or “pushed” back into the smaller pen after a team was finished.  This is when I was able to test out Bee with the cows and it was a lot of fun.  You just have to make sure the cows don’t get tired out too quickly, so the goal is to move them back into the small pen without making them work too hard.

So next time you’re in the neighborhood and want to check out what sorting is all about, feel free to ride, walk, or drive on down to the arena and check it out, it’s worth the trip!

Once an official schedule is posted for the season, I’ll be sure to share it here!

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Sorted cow in the big arena waiting to be reunited with the herd, 2017
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