Sheep hooking comes alive in Moffat County
It is a fairly common practice at smaller rodeos and jackpot bull riding competitions to have a mutton bustin’ integrated into the event.
Not at the Wild West Weekend, held recently in Craig, Colo.
Moffat County is sheep country, so they wanted an event that would showcase the sheep-industry heritage of what was once the largest wool-shipping point in the country.
“We have a lot of sheep industry in Craig and throughout Moffat County and some people really don’t know how it works,” said Melody Villard, director of the Moffat County Tourism Association. “It was a way to introduce the sheep industry to the community because they don’t see what goes on all the time and to showcase the sheep ranching heritage of Moffat County.”
The event committee wanted something with plenty of action, so they settled on “sheep hooking” — in a slightly modified form.
Back by popular demand, this was the second consecutive year the event took place at the Wild West Weekend.
A sheep hook is not the shepherd’s crook that most people are familiar with.
The sheep hook is used in open country.
In fact, it is said to be the most efficient way of catching an individual animal out of a flock of sheep on open range.
The hook is analogous to the cowboy’s rope as a means of capturing and controlling animals.
“Out in the open, the sheep herder would be on horseback running alongside the sheep and hook a rear leg with the sheep hook,” Villard said. “If you have a good horse, you can pull the sheep right up to the horses chest and the horse will help hold the sheep while you get off and tie her to a piece of brush so she can be doctored.”
When it came to the sheep-hooking event, it had to be modified to fit into a pen and hooking on foot was added.
There was still a horseback division, but since it was in a pen, the sheep were not running.
An additional mounted team hooking was added, where one team member guided the horse and the second team member sitting behind him did the hooking.
Team hooking is not a “real world” practice and used only for contests.
The sheep hook is a ten to twelve foot wooden pole with a hook at one end which is just wide enough to allow the leg bone of the sheep to slip through, but not the foot.
In the pen are a number of sheep, some of which have different colored ribbons around their necks. A ribbon color is called out and the contestant has to hook that sheep.
That is when the fun begins — the two-legged contestant is trying to control a four-legged animal, which can weigh more than their human adversary.
The caught, but certainly not restrained, sheep is now jumping around at the end of an 8-foot pole.
According to the rules, it is at this point that “Once hooked contestant will then get sheep in hand and remove hook.”
That sounds innocuous and simple enough, but what actually happens is that the contestant is on the wrong end of a fulcrum and trying desperately to hold onto an 8-foot pole as the sheep tries to get away.
To avoid getting beat up, the contestant quickly moves hand-over-hand down the wooden pole until they are reasonably close to the sheep.
Then the contestants drop the pole and let the sheep kick out of the hook, while they dive onto the back of the sheep and wrestle it to the ground.
It should be pointed out that this method is only used by younger, smaller contestants.
The eventual winner, 21-year-old Nick Chew made short work of his sheep using a method that more closely followed the event description.
All kidding aside, the event was a huge success with contestants and fans.
Every contestant left the pen with a huge smile on their face, and the organizers successfully showed the people of Craig a part of their sheep industry heritage. ❖