Getting Started in Ranch Sorting

Ranch sorting provides a unique blend of strategy, skill, and adrenaline. It’s a great way for riders to challenge themselves and their horses in new ways. This guide walks you through everything you need to know to get started, from choosing the right horse to understanding the competition levels.

What Kind of Horse Do You Need?

Ranch sorting is highly inclusive, undoubtedly welcoming a wide variety of horses and riders to participate. According to RSNC Director of Events, Logan Wolfe, “Any rider on any horse can compete in this sport. Bring the horse you have, as long as you can trot in a circle and guide it around in a 50-foot round pen, ranch sorting is for you.”

However, certain traits can make a horse particularly well-suited for ranch sorting:

  • Cow Sense: Horses with a natural ability to read and react to cattle will surely have an advantage.
  • Agility: Quick, nimble horses that can make sharp turns and quick stops are ideal.
  • Training: Horses trained in cutting or working cow horse disciplines often perform exceptionally well.

While breeds such as Quarter Horses are popular, Logan notes the sport’s diversity: “We have had everything from ponies to draft crosses enter in competitions.”

Photo courtesy of C Bar C Photography.

Get Started

The Ranch Sorting National Championships (RSNC) provides resources that make getting started in ranch sorting straightforward. Here are some steps to help you begin:

  1. Find and Contact a Local Producer: The RSNC website has tons of information, including a calendar of events. Find an event near you and reach out to the producer to get started.
  2. Attend a Clinic or Practice: Logan Wolfe suggests, “If you’re not ready to enter, start with a practice or clinic.” If you’re feeling like a bit of experience before entering is for you, then attending a clinic or practice can be a great way to get a feel for the sport.
  3. Show Up and Participate: The best way to get into the sport, however, is to show up and get started! You will quickly meet other ranch sorters by entering an event, and experience is not required to compete thanks to the rating system. Wolfe advises, “You can just show up at an event and talk to the secretary or producer, and they’ll get you signed up in the right class for you.”

Levels of Competition

Ranch sorting has a structured rating system to ensure fair competition. Here’s a brief overview:

  • #1: Beginners who are new to the sport with very little or no cattle working experience.
  • #2: Rookie riders who are starting to understand the game, however haven’t won significant amounts.
  • #3: Novice riders who are proficient and are working with their horses or learning to read cattle well.
  • #4-6: Amateur riders who are winning and moving up the ranks.
  • #7-9: Advanced riders, with #9 being professional-level competitors.

Logan Wolfe explains, “The way we move people up after a #1 is based on their win-loss ratio. So I don’t necessarily determine where you need to be rated. You prove it based on how well you compete against other similar-rated riders.”

[Read: Q&A on Ranch Sorting]

What to Expect as You Progress

As you start to level up, expect a quick move up from the beginner levels. The rating system ensures that you compete against riders of similar skill levels, making the sport fair and competitive.

Moving Up the Ranks

  • Rapid Advancement: Beginners can realistically expect to move up from the #1 level fairly quickly. According to Wolfe, “We move #1s up pretty quickly after they have won three checks or $500. Expect to not be a #1 for very long.”
  • Self-Regulating System: The rating system self-regulates. Wolfe states, “With the metrics of a win-loss ratio, the system moves up the most successful riders.” It is not a decision based on judgment. You will move yourself as you excel.”

Coming Up

Stay tuned to Horse&Rider for more ranch sorting content coming soon, including live streaming the CINCH RSNC World Finals in Fort Worth June 7–12, 2024 on RideTV! We’ll also be bringing you how-to videos, rider profiles, and much more. Happy sorting!

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