762 Grahams Woods Rd Newville Pa 17241 USA 717-226-0692

Rhody Ranch


My First Experience Cow Sorting


What Is Cow Sorting?

Simply put, sorting cows involves horse and rider moving into herd of cows, picking one and moving that cow out and away from the herd to a separate area. Most of us weekend cowboys can only handle sorting one cow at a time. Depending on the horse and riders’ skill level its possible to sort out more than one cow at a time. I’ll describe for you this activity as best I can from my previous experience. Mind you my horse, Sonny, knew far more about cow sorting than I did when I experienced this for the first time. To this day I’m still finding things he knows that I had no idea were in there. Yep… he’s holding out on me.

Getting My Feet Wet

Cow sorting is an activity where horse and rider work together to move a specific cow – usually an older calf or young cow – out and away from the rest of the cows to a separate area or holding pen. The first time I went cow sorting with my horse I had no idea what I was expected to do. After some instruction we went to an area where there were about 10 small cows; each wearing a number.

As I watched I noticed a number would be called out and the horse and rider would work the cows till the cow with the number called was moved out and away from the other cows. Then the horse and rider had to move that cow into a gated shoot that led to a pen where they would stay until that horse and rider’s turn was complete. It is timed, so the better the pair is the more points are scored by how many cows are sorted out from the herd and into the holding area.

Back In The Day

I can imagine in real life – and please, if I get this wrong remember I’m a weekend cowboy and all week rider always learning. A cow hand and his horse would gather up all the young cows in a place together for the purposes of branding or some other activity where they needed to collect them together. Horse and rider would pick out a cow, move in on it and get it moving away from the rest of the cows. Cows, being herd animals, will want to stick together, so the cow hand would have to separate them out one at a time and move that cow to the place they needed to be.

Your Horse May Surprise You

At any rate, it was finally Sonny’s and my turn. All the cows were returned to the enclosure. Sonny and I entered the enclosure. At the time I didn’t know just how much Sonny knew about this activity, but I soon found out. They called out a number, so I urged Sonny in the general direction of the cow wearing that number. As we got closer to the cow, Sonny lowered his head, pinned his ears and moved quickly towards the cow. At that point I was more of a spectator than a participant because Sonny was doing all the work. This young cow saw Sonny coming and wasted no time moving away from this horse who had a look on his face like he was about bite! Horses can deliver a nasty, painful bite.

As soon as the cow was away from the rest I realized what had just happened, So, I asked him to move toward the cow and we moved it into the shoot to the holding pen. Then we got another number. I also learned that day that while my horse was working the cow there wasn’t much for my hands to do unless I thought we needed to backup. Most of the directional signals I was to give where done with my feet by applying light pressure to one side or the other.

Dumb-founded that my horse was holding out on me I just pointed him at the number called out and we’d move that cow to the shoot. Thus it went till time ran out. We got five. We may have gotten more had I known what “I” was doing. The ones we did get sorted out was all Sonny’s doing. That day He taught me how cow sorting was done.

~Mark Weaver
If you're willing to learn there are many teachers. Not all of them are human!