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A Guide to Competing Successfully in this Popular Sport

By Phil Livingston.
A guide to competing successfully in this popular sport. Chapter titles: What Is Team Penning?; Getting Started; Horses; Conditioning and Keeping a Horse Fresh; Equipment; The Arena; Breeds and Types of Cattle; How Cattle See and React; Settling the Herd; Making a Run; Problems; Putting On a Penning; Terminology; Profile: Phil Livingston. 144 pages.


Chapter 1 - What Is Team Penning?

DURING THE last decade, no event has taken over the horse world as has team penning. The appeal is universal, and people from all walks of life and from clear across the country are competing. Some stay in their own backyards, attending the small jackpots and practice sessions. Others have stepped out and made their mark at the "high-dollar contests" that are appearing.

No cowboy background is necessary to team pen. It doesn't require the specialized skills or the highly trained mounts that roping, reining, and cutting do. There is no discrimination because of age or sex, and it is a sport in which all members of a family can participate. In fact, members of the same family frequently compete together and make up one or more teams.

Your saddle doesn't have to sparkle with silver, and your horse can lack show-ring conformation and glow. No one cares if a rider hangs on to the saddle horn or cues his mount. All that matters is that you and your teammates cut out and then drive your assigned three head of cattle into the pen faster than any other team.

Sometimes your efforts work like a charm and the cattle trot right down the arena in a group and swing around the wing into the pen. Other times, the herd resembles a covey of startled quail and nothing works. But regardless of what happens during your run, team penning is FUN.

The sport began in California during the middle 1950s, when a number of ranch cowboys got together to make a contest out of separating and corralling cattle.

Instead of roping, riding broncs, or just cutting, they figured that sorting out a designated number of yearlings from the herd and then hazing them through a gate (as they did when they were actually sorting cattle on the ranch) would be a fun kind of contest. It was, and the sport gradually began to grow. Over the years formal rules were drawn up and the contest became more standardized. The number of cattle to be cut out and penned was experimented with, as was the number of contestants on a team and the time allowed for each team to pen their animals.

Finally, after lots of trial and error, it was decided that separating and penning three like-numbered animals from a herd of thirty was a good contest, and allowing a team of three riders 2 minutes to get the job done worked out just fine. More riders than three just got in each other's way.

Team penning was on the move and gradually spread north and east as more and more horsemen heard about it.

The rules for team penning are simple. Although there are some variations in different parts of the country, and between different associations, the basic idea is the same everywhere. A team of three riders, starting from behind a line, has 2 minutes to enter a herd of thirty cattle located at the far end of the arena. The object is to separate the three head bearing the team's assigned number, drive them up the arena, and corral them in the small pen set off to one side.

Time stops when all three animals are penned and at least one contestant rides through the gate and raises his arm. It is possible for a team to receive time with only one or two head penned, but more credit is given if they pen three. And a team that pens three always places higher than a team that only pens two, regardless if the latter team has a faster time.

A team can be disqualified for having more than four head of cattle across the starting/foul line at one time, for signaling for time when an extra or incorrectly numbered animal is in the pen or for not driving it back across the foul line, and for striking or being unnecessarily rough on the cattle. The latter penalty is called at the discretion of one or both of the judges.

Knowledge of a few of the finer points of team penning can make the sport more enjoyable for spectators and contestants alike. Even if you don't ride, it is an event that can be appreciated from the stands, since it is easy to understand, fast, exciting, and a team's fortunes can change rapidly from a successful run to failure.

Watch the way team members work together, setting up the run, and reacting almost automatically as the action develops. Notice the understanding that many penners seem to have of how a cow will react; they always position themselves to move the animal in the desired direction. And, of course, the cow sense that a good horse can demonstrate is always enjoyable to watch. All of this can take place within a single run, one that often stops the clock in under half a minute.

The roots of team penning are buried in the American West, back in the days when the trail herds were "shaped up" and sent north. It took a top hand mounted on a good horse to handle those wild Longhorn cattle and required that man and mount work as a team. Now, those skills have moved to the arena, just as other ranch work has, and have become a contest against time. It has developed into a sport, one in which anyone who can ride a horse can participate. And, besides the challenge of competition, team penning offers the opportunity to be outdoors, astride a good horse, and around some of the finest folks who ever wore boots. Enjoy it.