Learning how to work on the ranch | VailDaily.com

Learning how to work on the ranch

Kelly Hagenah
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyKids in the 4-H Working Horse competition paused for the national anthem before the comptition started at the fairgrounds in Eagle.

EAGLE ” Some kids take out the trash. Others rope goats.

The working ranch horse show is a fairly new addition to the 4-H program, starting just four years ago.

“We had some older kids, mainly older boys, who didn’t want to keep showing horses,” said Jenny Wood, 4-H extension agent. “So we came up with the working ranch horse show. It focuses more on the things they do on the ranch.”

This year, about 20 kids are competing in the working ranch horse show.

“It mainly attracts the older kids, because it really is difficult,” Wood explained.

The competition includes several roping categories. Team roping involves a “header” who has to loop the rope around the horns of the steer, and the “heeler,” who ropes the two back feet. This is a timed event, and if the healer only ropes on foot, there is a five second penalty. It’s the sort of skill ranchers may need to separate a steer from the herd.

Breakaway calf roping is a more complicated procedure because the rider’s rope is tied onto the saddle horn. As the calf runs forward, the time ends when the rope breaks away from the saddle.

The working ranch horse competitors also try their hand at steer daubing.

“Steer daubing is similar to steer wrestling you see at the rodeos, except they don’t get off their horse,” Wood said.

In steer daubing, the rider has a little stick with some chalk on the tip, and they have to make a mark on the running steer ahead of its shoulder. One they get the mark, they must raise their stick in the air to stop the clock.

One category that really shows control is the versatility working cow class. This competition consists of a reigning pattern, as well as the rider having to work the cow off the fence. Meaning, they have to take the cow down from one side of the arena to the other. The judge looks at how well they control the cow.

In team penning, a group of three riders, who are randomly drawn, have to ride over to a herd of cattle on the opposite side of the arena. The steers are all marked with a number, in groups of three. The riders are given a number, and they have to separate the three cattle with that number out of the group.

Britney Smith, a 4-H horse competitor and the Eagle County Fair Queen attendant for 2006, said this event is her favorite.

“I like being in a situation where you have to work together,” she said. “Plus it’s fast paced so it makes it pretty exciting.”

The 4-H kids, Wood said, are “a group of young people across American who are learning leadership, citizenship and life skills.” She continued, “We try to help young kids develop those things through project work.”

But not all the activities involve animals. The 4-Hers also sew, cook and shoot.

“The county fair is kind of like the big wrap-up,” Wood said. “All of the projects are judged, with an interview, and the grand champions go on to the State Fair.”

Smith and her family, former residents Eagle, recently moved to Silt. Smith said she remembers joining 4-H when she was eight to gain new skills and responsibility.

“It was also just something to do with my time,” she laughed. Her favorite experience in 4-H? “The fair itself,” Smith said.

“I like showing everyone what I’ve done with my time during the year, showing them all my new skills and much more responsible I’ve become,” Smith said.

This article first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

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