Ranch sorting requires patience, agility and angles
“Slow down!” Larry Maybon hollered at a pair of riders inside the corral who were attempting, while on horseback, to maneuver 10 calves from one end of the corral to the other, in numerical order, within the one-minute time limit. “Watch your angle.”
The secret, Maybon explained to me as I sat next to him on horseback and watched the action in the pen, is not speed. It requires moving carefully to select the right calf in the proper order, to maintain the proper angle to keep it headed in the right direction and to push it through to the other side of the pen while your partner on his or her horse tries to block any unwanted calves from going through out of order.
Speed, Maybon said, is necessary at the upper levels of ranch sorting competition, as well as an agile horse that can turn a calf quickly. And he frequently urged novice riders to “Hurry up. Keep that calf moving,” during a clinic.
But for beginning sorters, as most of us were at Maybon’s ranch recently, it’s more important to move carefully and deliberately.
“It’s better to take a little extra time than to be disqualified for letting cattle through out of order,” he said.
Maybon owns L-M Ranch Sorting, on 22 1/2 and H Roads, where he gives lessons, holds clinics and stages jackpot sorting competitions. He also trains and sells horses.
He knows a about upper-level sorting competition. He’s won top prizes multiple times at large sorting events in Arizona and Las Vegas, Nev. The photos on the wall of his home and the numerous belt buckles and other trophies attest to that.
But most of the folks congregated on their horses at the ranch Maybon shares with his wife, Joanne Weatherly, weren’t worried about upper-level competition, at least not right now. They were just enjoying the challenge of sorting cattle and experiencing the pleasure that comes when your horse understands the task and horse and rider work together.
Some of those who participate in sorting at L-M Ranch Sorting ride horses that, while they may be inexperienced, have the right breeding and ability to become top ranch-sorting horses.
For me and several friends who showed up on tall jumping horses, not compact little cow ponies, the objective wasn’t to make it to big-time sorting competitions. Rather, it was to present our horses with new and different tasks, see if they reacted boldly and obediently and to encourage them to respond to our commands as quickly as possible.
I had Moose, easily the largest horse present on the two days I sorted cattle at Maybon’s. With draft horse and thorougbred breeding, there is no way he can gather speed as quickly or respond as rapidly to turn calves as the nimble quarter horses, paints and Appaloosas do.
But Moose quickly figured out what his job was, moved eagerly to herd calves when asked to, and turned with reasonable agility in the small corral. I was pleased.
For Maybon, horse size and conformation aren’t issues for beginners like us. The idea is to introduce people to the sport of ranch sorting — or the “addiction,” as he calls it — teach them basic techniques and allow them to move on to tougher competition if they like.
Maybon, a native of Fort Collins, has been a horseman his entire life. He rode rough stock in rodeos for 20 years, part of that time as he was working for the Loveland Fire Department.
Twenty years ago, he moved to Arizona, where he worked at and managed horse facilities.
He turned to ranch sorting because, “I wanted to get involved in something that was not as expensive as cutting.”
Luckily for him, the Cryin’ Coyote Ranch in Yuma, Ariz., not far from where he was working, stages “one of the biggest ranch sorting competitions in the country” from Novembr through February, featuring as many as 600 different sorting teams.
A year ago, while visiting western Colorado to hunt, Maybon met Joanne through a friend. He took her to dinner once, then a second time. On the second date, he asked her to marry him. She agreed, and they were married a year ago this month. He moved to her ranch near Fruita.
Joanne is a lifelong resident of Mesa County, who has been around horses most of her life. But she didn’t get involved with ranch sorting until she met Maybon. She attended her first competition with him in Las Vegas. Now, she competes some herself and acts as announcer at Larry’s clinics and competitions.
Ranch sorting is often associated with team penning, a similar event that involves teams of three riders. In fact, the U.S. Team Penning Association establishes rules and sanctions upper-level competition for both events.
“Team Penning and Ranch Sorting are sporting events that involve the movement of cattle on horseback by rider teams,” the association website says.
“Created to preserve that traditional skill sets of working cow horses and handlers, Penning and Sorting challenge modern riders and mounts to compete in a timed event to identify, move and pen specific cattle from a herd in a limited amount of time.”
Maybon’s hasn’t sought sanctioning for his jackpot competitions, but he follows the association rules. There have also been competitions regularly in Montrose and Rifle.
To read about the sport, go to the U.S. Team Penning Association website, http://www.ustpa.com.