Phillips man takes a minute to become national Ranch Sorting Champion
Michael Squires sat atop his loyal horse, Strop, envisioning the next 60 seconds.
It was only a minute, but it would eventually set him apart from other cattle ranchers across the country and earn him the title of Ranch Sorting Champion.
“It's definitely a fun event to participate in,” he said. “It's something I'm going to stick with.”
Squires, 36, of Phillips, won the Ranch Sorting National Championships in early June. He edged out more than 100 other ranchers to win the competition in Fort Worth, Texas.
Ranch sorting is an equestrian sport, which gives two riders 60 seconds to sort 10 numbered cattle in one pen and move them across an arena to a second pen. One rider cuts through the herd, while the other guards the entrance to the second pen to keep out cattle before their turn.
The riders must be cautious not to let the “trash cow,” or cow without a number, across.
If a trash cow or cow out of order crosses into the pen, the round ends and the 60 seconds is added to the rider's total time.
The contest adds the time of each round. The goal is to sort as many cattle in as little time as possible.
Squires, who works a full-time job with Frito-Lay, owns two horses and spends his free time riding them. He'd been a competitor in Team Penning, a fast-paced equestrian sport similar to sorting. In that event, a team of riders on horseback have between 60 and 90 seconds to separate three breeds of cattle from a herd of 30 into a pen.
“It seemed like sorting was picking up,” Squires said. “It is very competitive. It's a really fun sport to be in.”
Squires had only recently started competing in ranch sorting. In November, he won the Pennsylvania state championship for the event, advancing him to the national competition in Texas.
He easily moved through the round-robin semifinals. He was in fourth place as the final round started.
“I felt pretty good about it,” Squires said.
His strategy was simple: He needed to move at least six cattle into the pen to tie for first place, or seven to win.
He told his riding partner to “guard the second pen with your life,” so he wouldn't be tossed out of the competition in the last round.
“And that's what he did,” Squires said. “He protected the whole time.”Squires was able to move six cattle into the pen. That meant his total cattle count for the competition was 31, tying him for first place.
In order to break the tie, judges looked at total time. Squires narrowly edged out his competition by five seconds — 602.2 to 607.53.
Squires said all of the riders did well, but he believes his technique may have set him apart. Instead of he and his partner switching between cutting and guarding, Squires said he remained in the pen to cut, and his partner stayed at the gate to guard.
“I think I may have played it a little smarter,” Squires said. “We ran it more as a ranch-hand type class, rather than switching riders.”
As part of his competition, Squires took home a cash prize, a trailer and a hitch.
Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.