Team sorting tests skills of young, old alike
Outside a fresh layer of snow and a cloudless blue sky made it feel more like January than mid-March, while inside the arena at Rimoe Ranch just east of Star Prairie, teams of contestants prepared themselves and their horses for the final Saturday of this season's Rimoe Ranch Sorting Series.
At first glance the festivities had all the trappings of a rodeo, 10-gallon hats, well-used saddles, chaps and spurs. But there was also something distinctly familial in the air as kids of all ages maneuvered confidently between horses five times their size holding cups of hot chocolate and donuts, while parents laughed and cheered on a first-name basis.
The only heated room was a crowded second story spectator area, which also housed the scoring crew and concession stand.
The judges occupied an elevated wood box off to one side of the arena that looked like it was part deer hunting stand and part hockey penalty box. A long hall open at both ends ran parallel to the arena to allow horses, riders and livestock to enter and exit the arena staging area.
Sorting challenges a team of two riders to wrangle or sort a herd of 10 calves, numbered from zero to nine, one at a time in order from a pen at one end of the arena into a pen at the other end. The competition begins when the judge calls out a number selected from a deck of playing cards.
One cowboy isolates the appropriate calf while the other makes sure none of the remaining calves moves prematurely into the pen. If a calf does get through to the other pen before its turn, the teamed gets black-flagged and the team is disqualified for that round. The goal is for the riders to herd as many of the calves as possible into the other pen in order within 90 seconds.
Eleven-year-old Audrey Ahlness and her horse Kite have been competing in sorting for three years.
"I like the competition. I learned how to sort from my dad," she said.
She was at the event with a number of family members, including her 7-year-old brother Wyatt Engstrom. He's been sorting since he was 5.
"I can spend time with my cousins, my sister and family and I can make new friends," he said.
According to Chad Engstrom, ranch owners Corina and Rod Rivard have been hosting the competition for the last five years.
"It's a five-week series with points accumulating throughout the series," he explained.
Saturday was the last competition of this season's series and it was followed by an awards banquet that night. There are three divisions of competition -- Youth, Rookie and Open. The Youth division consists of kids 17 years and younger teamed up with an adult. The Rookie division is open to anyone18 years or older. The Open division consists of competitors who have won $250 or more in any cattle event or take money for training or have won the Rookie division in the past.
"It's fun," Corina Rivard said. "People cheer each other on. We have a really good group here. We try to keep it so the whole family can get involved."
The whole Rivard family gets involved, including Rod's father Doug, brother Rick and sister Shelly.
"It's a family event," Rod Rivard said. "It breaks up the winter and gives folks an opportunity to teach and learn. It's a pleasure seeing these guys come back every year."
As morning turned into afternoon, teams of all ages took their turn against the clock -- fathers and sons, best friends, and blind draw partners. Cowboy hats mixed with stocking caps, chartreuse boots with canvas overalls and letter jackets with spurs.
For all the action, it was amazingly quiet as the sand swallowed up the hooves of sorter and sorted alike. Partners took turns yelling advice and encouragement, as calves were penned one after another. Spectators stuffed the observation area to keep warm while cheering on family members and friends. Outside blanketed horses tethered to long metal trailers awaited their turn.