By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Speed. Precision. Offensive strategy. Defensive strategy. Communication.
These are some of the hallmarks of sports, from football to basketball and beyond. They’re also integral to one of rodeo’s up-and-coming team sports: ranch sorting.
Ranch sorting requires two riders on horses to move 10 cows from one pen to another. Inspired by the actual ranching activity of separating cows into different areas, the sport heightens the stakes by adding a timer and putting numbers on the cows. Riders must prompt the cows to exit in numerical order. If a cow exits out of order, the team receives a “no time.”
Ranch sorting has been gaining steady nationwide momentum, and also in North Idaho. While the Bonner County Fair has hosted the event in years past, Fair Director Darcey Smith said that it continues to draw larger and larger crowds.
“This event is fantastic to watch,” she told the Reader. “You get to see folks use their horse riding skills and teamwork to separate cattle up close. It takes a lot of horsemanship and trust between the team members to pull this off correctly.”
Locals will be able to see ranch sorting for themselves when the sport comes to the 2022 Bonner County Fair on Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 6 p.m. The event is free to watch, and was recently taken over by volunteers who are working hard to expose more people to the sport.
One of those volunteers is Mark Powers, who said ranch sorting is a more multi-dimensional activity than roping and other rodeo sports that only last for a few seconds.
“Ranch sorting is a full minute of constant activity, and you have lots of opportunities to make a mistake and to recover — to do something right, do something wrong, and have a few things go right and few things go wrong,” he said. “You’re not defined by one thing.”
Powers said he’s found ranch sorting to be a welcoming sport, in which more seasoned riders often pair up with newbies to coach them.
“When I first started, I felt guilty when somebody had to ride with me. That would impair their chances for success,” he said. “But for the most part, the people who have been there, who are better, have been in the [beginner’s] position and they understand. They appreciate that people are at different levels and they have to step up.”
The unpredictability of cows adds a sense of variability to the sport as well, Powers said, and allows for luck to play a part.
“Even the best people can have things go astray,” he said, “and if things go right, even the beginner can have things go right.”
Contributing to ranch sorting’s growing local popularity has been Careywood Creek Ranch, which hosts sorting practices, clinics and jackpots throughout the summer. Third-generation owner Robin Harris told the Reader that she’d always envisioned the family ranch as a horse facility, so when her daughter and son-in-law, Rachel and Lucas Reid, started getting into ranch sorting, it was the perfect opportunity to become a community hub for the sport.
“We will have folks come who say, ‘My horse has never seen a cow and I’ve never sorted,’ but it’s a sport that you can start safely and learn, and not feel like you have to take a whole bunch of lessons and have a super fancy, trained horse,” she said. “It’s really fun that way.”
Harris echoed Powers in saying that camaraderie and beginner support are important to ranch sorting, and she likes that the sport is both “accessible” and “practical.”
“At the fair, come and watch. Ask questions. Meet people,” Harris said.
She said the same applies to Careywood Creek Ranch.
“Sign up and come,” she said, adding later: “It will be easy, fun, comfortable — you’ll learn. … The people are very nice. Jump in.”
While competition slots are filling up fast, Powers said that those interested in participating in ranch sorting at the fair should call him directly at 509-869-4360. Those interested in attending a session at Careywood Creek Ranch should view the practice schedule and sign up online at careywoodcreekranch.com.
The 2022 Bonner County Fair opens at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 17 and runs through Saturday, Aug. 20, concluding with the Demolition Derby on Saturday night. The fair itself is free, but parking is $3 per day and some events may require additional ticketing. For a complete list of events, visit bonnercountyfair.com, or pick up a Bonner County Fairbook at businesses around town or at the fair office.
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