In ranch sorting riders show off their horsemanship and cattle savvy skills |

In ranch sorting riders show off their horsemanship and cattle savvy skills

Jody Hall
For The Fence Post

It's been a year since CINCH (Miller International Inc.), a Colorado-based company, acquired the Ranch Sorting National Championships and Dave Wolfe, founder and president of RSNC, couldn't be happier. It's been an exciting ride up to now and the future looks big and bright.

Ranch sorting is the fastest growing equine sport in the U.S. Its 27,000 members are spread across every state and has partnerships in Brazil and Australia. Ranch sorting has been around since ranchers have had to sort cattle, but the competition of ranch sorting began in Wellington, Colo.

Wolfe came to Colorado from Oklahoma. He completed a two-year equine associates program at Lamar Community College and then transferred to Colorado State University in Fort Collins. He worked for CSU, was a judge for the American Quarter Horse Association, Paint and Palomino horse associations, and showed and trained horses.

The horse business was tough, and Wolfe knew he had to find a niche and be good at it to survive and prosper. He founded the National Team Penning Championship Association but membership peaked at 5,000 members and he could not get it to grow. He found that two major problems seemed to be the reason for the associations stagnate growth. Cattlemen did not like it because the cattle were getting run all over the arena, and every cattleman knows that's not good for his cattle. Horsemen didn't like it because mostly novice and amateur riders were trying to control 30 head of cattle in a large area and many times there was a lack of control. However Wolfe noted that good horsemen within any sport can make it look easy and exciting while showcasing their horsemanship and cattle savvy skills.


Dave went back to his ranch in Wellington to sort these issues out. He came up with the concept of two 60-feet round pens with a gap in the middle. Team members had to sort numbered cows in sequence from one pen to another. It eliminated chasing a cow around a big area and as Wolfe said, "it turned into a finesse game." Cattlemen and horsemen were happy. In RSNC's first one and a half years it was as big as his team penning association.

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So why has Ranch Sorting grown so big so quickly?

» Competing is affordable — entry fees start at $15.

» It is a family friendly sport.

» Classes are jackpotted, so contestants can win cash prizes.

» You don't need an expensive horse or equipment to get in the game.

» The first year's membership is free.

» And as Wolfe said, "Grandma on a trail horse can do it."

It truly is a sport that anyone with the interest and a horse can participate in. Here are some interesting demographics:

» 35.7 percent of members are 55 years old or over

» 28.3 percent are between the ages of 45-54

» 48.2 percent are female

» 44.3 percent are male; 75 percent are new to horse sport.

Wolfe said that he credits a lot of his success with the RSNC to the fact that he has always treated it like a business. Last year's business deal with CINCH was made with the hope that it would continue to grow with greater marketing strategies, more financial stability and larger prize packages. CINCH has been a sponsor of RSNC since it's conception in 2007. When asked if it was hard to hand over the reins to CINCH Wolfe replied, "Fortunately it has worked really well. I wouldn't have sold it if it would have been pass the reins over. We have an agreement when I sold it that I would remain as president for at least five years and I totally continue to run the association. Nothing has changed on the front other than we have financial security and marketing that I have always wanted to grow the sport."

According to since CINCH partnered with Wolfe there has been a 25 percent increase in participation across all events, the CINCH shootout prize line has grown its purse size and there were 5,000 teams at the World Finals.


Going forward after the acquisition, CINCH RSNC and Wolfe would like to focus on three new programs to promote and continue to grow the sport: a grass roots level program to introduce new people to the sport, the Western Heritage class and introductory clinics as ice breakers for the sport. With CINCH on board they have the ability to hold 10 introductory clinics a year.

On March 10, CINCH RSNC will be hosting its annual introductory two-hour clinic at CSU. In the past, RSNC has had tremendous success with this clinic every year with over 100 people attending who have never sorted before. It has become a tradition in Fort Collins. They will cover the rules of ranch sorting, techniques to be successful that include learning how to read a cow and horsemanship. There will be a practice and a competition, buckles and a jackpot prize will be awarded.

The Western Heritage class is a new class formed in June 2017. The rules are the same but riders can not use noise to move the cattle (for example: no "ha" or "yip" noises) and the horses can only walk or trot. Wolfe found that there were people that wanted to compete in ranch sorting but didn't like the idea of the fast pace with a lot of hollering at the cattle. Wolfe said it is more consistent with how cattle were worked on ranches and yet is still a competition and it's timed. Like well-known horseman Ray Hunt said, "the slowest way is often the fastest way."

Doug Householder, Extension horse specialist for Texas A&M University, has been brought on board to head the educational aspect of sorting clinics and classes. "Doug makes it real fun." Wolfe said. "He's a teacher at heart. He has all kinds of props out there." Householder will host an all-day 4-H youth clinic for 60 kids on March 10.

So, what is the future for CINCH RSNC? Wolfe said they are trying to get the event into rodeos from the high school level, college and the pros. Even though ranch sorting's conception was born in Colorado it has become a worldwide sport. Wolfe and CINCH RSNC will continue to preserve the ranch lifestyle one sort at a time.

Contact info for CINCH RSNC and Dave Wolfe: PO Box 1, Wellington, CO 80549, (970) 420-3440,

Hall is a freelance writer from Platteville, Colo., when she's not writing she is riding her horse in the mountains. She can be reached by email at