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Turning work into competition: ranch roping championships show off skills

Top ropers from throughout western Canada take part in elite event
Anyone taking in a ranch roping event for the first time will quickly see just how much different the competition is compared to what one might see at a rodeo.

The arena is largely quiet, teams of three riders take their time and skillfully maneuver their horse before letting their ropes fly and setting the best position possible for their teammates to continue their run. One ropes the head, the other the feet and a third dismounts and adjusts the ropes into the perfect position to end the run.

If it all looks like something one might see on a farm or ranch, well, that’s exactly the case.

Some of the top working cowboys in western Canada were in Moose Jaw this past weekend for the Canadian Ranch Roping Association championship final at the Golden Mile Arena, showing off a host of practical roping skills that one would see in the open field even more so than in competition.

‘What we do here is basically is what we do when we’re out in the pasture treating sick animals, we just make a competition out of it,” explained CRRA president Ross Smith, himself a high-level competitor in the organization. “Whatever would be bad or get you in trouble out in the pasture, you get negative points here. Whatever is a good thing out in the pasture gets you positive points here. So it’s all geared toward good practices in the pasture.”

That brings an interesting angle to the competition itself – what you do as your work in your day-to-day life is a key part of how well you do when you are in the arena looking to claim cash and championships.

“You can take a cowboy who’s a very good hand at home, treating cattle and stuff on his home ranch and he could come to one of these competitions and he just might win the very first roping he enters,” Smith said. “That’s how close this is to real life. So these guys here who are really good at it, that’s what they do for a living, they’ll load up their trailers and they’ll head out and be right back at work tomorrow morning.

“So this is just a chance for us to get together and have some fun and show off what we can do.”

Around 70 teams took part in the event Saturday and Sunday, as well as the Ranch Horse competition on Friday.

While the top riders were in action on one side of the arena, a Novice division was also working through their class, featuring a wide range of up-and-coming ropers looking to gain experience in the ring.

“It’s beginners of any age, you’ll have men and women and young kids,” Ross said. “It’s not uncommon to see three generations of the same family competing on one team. We’re very, very beginner and family oriented… a lot of times at home, when they go out to treat an animal, the husband goes out and the wife will help and if they have kids old enough to rope they’ll be out there too. It’s a family-run operation so they’ll have to take care of everything themselves sometimes.”

That care for the animals is what the whole scope of ranch roping is about and is evident right from the get-go, with as little violent movement as possible.

“If we’re back home and roping a sick animal, we don’t want to stress it any more than we have to, so we want to catch it with the least amount of stress we can, administer medication and turn it loose,” Smith explained. “We don’t want to chase it, we don’t want to yard it around, we want to be as gentle as we can because these animals will later on go into our breeding program… so we always want to make sure we’re keeping the animals as comfortable as possible when we’re out in the field and when we’re competing.”

As it turns out, Smith not only can talk the talk, but he can walk the walk, as he joined with Clayton Millar and Adam Thiessen to take first place in the Open division.

Millar ended up having an impressive weekend himself, as his teams finished in three of the top four placings as well as five of the top eight. He joined Dane Knox and Mike Ramage to finish in second as well as with Darcy Driedger and Don Millar to finish fourth.

The team of Ross McDonald, Adam Thiessen and Colton Thiessen claimed third place.

The Novice division saw Leanne Myer and Derrick Schaeffer take top spot, with Tammy King and Codee Kyle in second and Melissa and Don Turner in third.

Be sure to check the Canadian Ranch Roping Association on Facebook for full results from the competition.