Before the days of four wheelers, panels, and mechanized chutes, cattle outfits used to measure their mettle by their cowboys’ abilities to cut, sort, and separate steers.
Ranch sorting celebrates traditional skills by requiring modern day riders to demonstrate their herd control skills and horsemanship as they divide and separate cattle.
At the start of the event, 11 cows (10 of which are numbered 0–9, and one of which is left unmarked) wait in one of two adjoining 50- to 60-foot round pens. Two riders cross the 12-foot opening between the two pens, starting the time and signaling for the judge to read out the number of the first cow to be cut.
Each cow must enter the second pen in numerical order, followed last by the unmarked cow. If any cow or part of a cow crosses the line out of turn, the team is immediately disqualified. It takes strategy, teamwork, and stock knowledge.
Ranch sorting, although popular at local levels, did not become an organized discipline until 2007, when its rules were formalized by the Ranch Sorting National Championship (RSNC).
A rider has to know and anticipate how a cow will instinctively move—or, as we say, how to ‘read the cow,’” explains Wolfe. “It’s a skill that comes straight out of the oldest traditions of the West.
Ranch sorting appeals to all levels of horse and rider combinations.