Ranch Sorting comes of age in Wellington

Wellington is headquarters for the fastest-growing equine sport in America, the Ranch Sorting National Championships.

Ranch sorting began when cattle from many ranches grazed on open range and needed to be sorted out for branding or sale. Cowboys would circle the animals and the best riders entered the herd to sort out the desired cow, an activity known as rodear, today known as rodeo. It took expert horsemanship to ease the selected cow to the edge of the herd, a skill that has evolved today into a competitive sport called ranch sorting.

Dave Wolfe, the Ranch Sorting National Championships founder and prime innovator of the sport, has a background that made him a natural for developing what has become an enormous and unusual enterprise.

Born and raised on a ranch outside Tulsa, Okla., Wolfe grew up with horses and came to Fort Collins to enter the equine program at Colorado State University. He now lives on 160 acres outside Wellington with his wife Mandy and three sons. He trains horses for ranch sorting in the Wolfe Arena on his land, and for 20 years, he’s been a judge for paint and quarter horses competition categories.

While he’s been active in ranch sorting since 1986, it wasn’t until he formed RSNC in 2007 that the sport was formally established. That year 876 members participated in 76 sanctioned events and nationals teams numbered 997. In 2013, membership had exploded to 20,000 from all 50 states, who participated in 414 sanctioned events across the country with 6,734 teams participating in national competition. In April, Wolfe and his wife will travel to Australia and Brazil to initiate ranch sorting organizations in those countries.

“I saw the potential but the sport has grown beyond my wildest dreams,” Wolfe said.

The popularity of ranch sorting is due to several factors: It is the perfect sport for people who want to be involved in the Western lifestyle, whether or not they own horses of their own or live on a ranch. It’s affordable, well suited to participation by families and riders of all ages and abilities, and consists of timed events where politics do not affect the outcome. It takes place in a controlled environment where riders can set their own pace. Prize money is an incentive and adds to the excitement.

Wolfe’s older sons, Logan, 19, CSU mechanical engineering student and Kason, 17, a junior at Poudre High School in Fort Collins, are 100 percent involved in the family business. Each has each earned $100,000 in their Ranch Sorting careers. Jaden, 11, a student at Wellington Middle School, is following in their footsteps. Both Mandy and Dave continue to compete.

RSNC’s 20,000th member is Hadley True, age 8, from Douglas, Wyo. The senior contingent is represented by an 88-year-old Amarillo, Texas, rancher who competes regularly.

“Anyone who can ride can do it,” Wolfe insists, emphasizing that there are clinics for everyone from rank beginners labeled “grandma on a trail horse,” to clinics for experienced sorters wanting to hone their skills. Free memberships are available for all first year participants and for 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America) members.

A clinic introducing the sport will take place at Colorado State University for the fifth time this year. Cost is $40. Between 150 and 200 new participants enroll every year. Scheduled for March 15 at the B.W. Pickett Equine Center west of Fort Collins, the clinic will be followed on March 16 with a competition featuring 400 teams.

The National Championships are scheduled June 9-14 in Fort Worth, Texas. Wolfe expects 6,700 teams to compete. Monthly events take place at the Wolfe arena in Wellington during the summer. Frontier Days Rodeo in Cheyenne will host a competition with 1,500 teams in July.

Ranch Sorter, a magazine published six times a year, keeps members informed of upcoming events and offers training, riding and competing tips. Wolfe manages his magazine and his fast-growing business at his office in Wellington with help from a staff of two.

More information about Ranch Sorting can be found at ranchsorting.com. Email Wolfe at info@rsnc.us or call 970-897-2901.

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