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World Champion on a Whim!

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity – Seneca

Not exactly a whim, as Kathy Laskye has been learning and preparing for this moment for the last eight years. 

Kathy was born a “horse girl” and grew up on a dairy farm in northwest Illinois.  She started with a Shetland pony, then spent her school years competing at local county fairs in Western Pleasure and Horsemanship.  When she headed off to college, her “horse bug” was put on hold for many years. 

In 2011 Kathy decided she “wasn’t getting any younger” and bought a Paint gelding to start riding again.  Her initial intentions were to simply reconnect with her horse roots and trail ride until she stumbled upon Evergreen Ranch Sorting Association (ERSA).  Kathy had never worked cattle before, but thought it looked like fun, not to mention the people at ERSA were welcoming and easy going, creating an ideal learning environment – Kathy was hooked! 

Kathy explains, “the beautiful thing about ranch sorting is all you need is a horse that is interested in cattle. Again, I started on a Paint gelding who wasn’t ‘cow bred’ but he was a willing participant and we learned together.  A year after I joined ERSA and became a true addict, I decided to give the competitive arena a whirl and in 2013 I won the Colorado State Championship with RSNC (Ranch Sorting National Championship) Beginner Division.”

RSNC is the National Association based out of Wellington, CO which promotes ranch sorting all across the country. RSNC was started with the intent to preserve the heritage and integrity of the ranching lifestyle while providing a family oriented, competitive riding experience at the grassroots level. Created for all levels of ranch sorting enthusiasts, RSNC has divisions available for beginners all the way to professionals.  Everyone can compete at their comfort level and gain confidence along the way.

Through the support and encouragement of her friends, Kathy took her first try at the Cinch RSNC World Finals in Fort Worth, Texas in 2016.  Kathy reports, “I didn’t place nor even make any cuts, but what an experience it was to watch what a true cow horse and rider can do!  That 1st World Finals experience sealed the deal and I was all in!”

As she continued on with ERSA and RSNC competitions, Kathy’s new desire to really hone her skills and knowledge led her to further her horsemanship and reading cattle skills by working with Cole Piotrowski (Evergreen trainer and multi-World Finals winner) as well as Wolfe Cowhorse trainers, Jessie & Logan Wolfe.  Kathy also found Honey, a ‘cow bred’ mare who she could partner with to compete at the higher levels, adding Kat to her string this past April. 

Honey, Kathy and Kat

After several more years of competing regionally with RSNC Kathy and Honey won the 2017 Colorado State Finals in the Rookie Division and attended several more World Finals down in Ft. Worth.  Each year learning something new to take back home and work on.

At the beginning of 2019, Kathy thought she might take a break, still ranch sort, but not as much and maybe even skip the CINCH RSNC World Finals in Fort Worth this year that she had attended the last 4 years.  Fast forward to June.  Kathy explains, “of course, peer pressure played into my decision and away I went!  I’ve met so many wonderful people over the years that I wanted to see again in Fort Worth and there was a great crew headed down from Colorado/Wyoming.”

The CINCH RSNC World Finals is a 7-day show with numerous classes and divisions running all week long.  Classes can range from 100 – 600+ teams. The week kicks off with the Western Heritage division. Western Heritage classes are designed for the team to work the cattle in a quiet, more authentic ranch sorting style.  There are no loud noises to scare them away from the gate; there is no loping into the pen to move the cow quickly.

Kathy rode in the Western Heritage class with another competitor from Parker, CO, Tanner Sperle.  Tanner and Kathy have competed together as a team for several years and know each other’s style and strengths.  After making the final cut to the Top 10, they were in the finals!  Luckily, they were called out to sort in the #10 spot, giving them the advantage of knowing exactly what cow they were to cut 1st and exactly how many cattle we needed to be World Champions and they DID IT!  Kathy also rode another class of Western Heritage with a dear friend from South Carolina, Beth Lindler, where they finished 5th in the World.  The combination of both of those class finishes put her in the High Point position at the end of the day to win the World Championship saddle!

The courage to act on that whim and head back to Fort Worth brought all of Kathy’s preparation and learning together, giving her the opportunity to run into that “luck”, accomplishing a long time goal – Congratulations Kathy and Kat!  For more information:  RSNC https://www.rsnc.us/ and find ERSA on Facebook under Evergreen Ranch Sorting Association. Heather McWilliams (c) 2019

Cowboy Pursuit – Cole Piotrowski

“Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole and once it has done so, he/she will have to accept that his life will be radically changed.” – Ralph Waldo EmersonFullSizeRender (21)

At 7 years old, local resident Cole Piotrowski asked his parents if he could learn to ride a horse.  After searching the internet, they found Fiona Laing at Skye Stables in Evergreen.  An accomplished horsewoman and a student of well-known trainer Chris Cox and his methods.  Cole began learning the fundamentals through weekly lessons on Fiona’s black and white paint, Ace.  Knowing that horses are much more than just riding, Fiona taught and exposed Cole to all aspects of horse ownership.  The spark of interest Cole had in horses soon turned into a full-blown fire and he was asking to do any chores that needed to be done at Skye Stables including feeding, cleaning stalls and unloading semi loads of hay in order to be immersed in this new life he found.

Cole continued to become a better rider and horseman.  Fiona has a gift of looking past her students fears and worries and challenges them to become better partners with their horses.  Cole’s confidence continued to grow and his family decided it was time for Cole to have a horse of his own.  Fiona helped Cole’s parents find a 5 year old gray gelding named Blu and they gave him to Cole for his 10th birthday.

From the beginning, Cole was drawn to all things “cowboy”.  He didn’t miss the Evergreen Rodeo or National Western Stock Show.  He couldn’t watch the ropers and riders enough as he carefully studied their every more.  When Cole was 12, he had the opportunity to attend a roping clinic with Krece Harris.  Krece took him way out of his comfort zone by having him ride new horses and team rope steers. Krece told him that roping is “80% horsemanship and 20% roping skill” and because Cole had put so much work into his horsemanship and so much ground work into practicing roping, he would be an excellent team roper! The clinic with Krece was a defining moment for Cole and his dedication and focus intensified.

Around the same time, Cole started Ranch Sorting with ERSA (Evergreen Ranch Sorting Association) in Pine.  Cole quickly picked up the skills necessary to move the cattle between pens in this competitive and timed sport.  However, Blu was not quite as interested in Ranch Sorting.  Blu was a steady, strong, and reliable partner when Cole visited the working ranches of friends. He would drag calves to the fire for branding, go on long drives, and work his heart out all day for his boy. But Blu did not possess the athleticism needed in the sorting ring.

Cole had a strong interest in ranch sorting, but needed to find the right horse for the sport.  His family decided to contact Chris Cox, to see if they could find the right horse through someone they trusted.  While Chris does not usually sell horses as part of his training business, he invited Cole to Texas to try out several horses that might be a good fit for him.  Cole immediately took to a 4-year-old bay gelding named Scooter and they have been an amazing team in the sorting pen ever since.

IMG_5054Cole and Scooter have competed in the Colorado state finals 3 times; finishing his first year as the Youth champion, second year 3rd in the Rookie Division and in December 2016 they finished 3rd in Colorado in the Novice Division and 2nd in Wyoming. He has competed in Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas. Additionally, he and Scooter qualified first in Cole’s division the past two years for the World Finals held in Texas.

While Cole loves competing, he is most passionate about his horsemanship. Now 15, he rides and practices every day to increase his skill set. He has been attending Chris Cox Horsemanship Clinics for the past two years and will complete his Level 5 horsemanship this year. As Cole has heard Chris Cox tell his students, no matter who you are or how long you have been working with horses, they have something new to teach us everyday – Cole looks for and seeks those opportunities to learn. Chris went on to tell one class, “This will not be the last you hear the name Cole Piotrowski. I am sure he will make a career with horses and will go on to do many great things.”FullSizeRender (22)

Cole is already training horses and helping others to improve their horsemanship. He purchased three ponies to train in 2015, and has sold one finished pony to a delighted 5 year old girl who loves her calm and trusted new best friend. He also purchased a 2-year-old Palomino this past summer who is already showing promise under saddle to be great athlete in the sorting ring one day.

While horses have brought Cole and his family on an amazing journey in the past 8 years, one of the best parts of the adventure has been the opportunity to be involved in the “cowboy lifestyle”.  Through traveling and competing, they have forged friendships that will last a lifetime.  People who share simple family values, generous and loving spirits, and a passion for horsemanship and competition. All because of a 7-year-old cowboy who wanted to learn to ride a horse.  Heather McWilliams © 2017.DAE94CFB-B55C-4C2B-A056-DE104A8AB6E7

Evergreen Ranch Sorting Association (ERSA)

Ranch Sorting is one of, if not the fastest growing equine sport around the country, not to mention in our mountain area.  In true mountain folk tradition, a set of locals have started up their own ranch sorting group nicknamed ERSA, to enjoy this addictive and entertaining sport in our own backyard.

Evolving from the need to separate cattle into different pens for tasks like doctoring, transport or branding, the sport of Ranch Sorting is done in two equal, fifty to sixty foot diameter pens that are connected in the middle with a twelve to sixteen foot opening.  Eleven cattle, with large numbers on their sides are in one of the pens. Typically two riders (there are variations with one, two or three riders), enter the pen and as soon as they cross the opening/barrier between the two pens, the clock starts.

The two riders must then work in harmony to move the cattle in numerical order from one pen to the other.  The judge chooses the number that they start with and if they get one across the barrier out of numerical order, they are eliminated.  The fastest time wins.

There are different styles that Ranch Sorting teams utilize to sort the cattle.  For example, some teams choose to have one rider stay at the gate and fend off the wrong numbers, while the other rider attempts to bring the correct cattle in the right order.  ERSA teams take turns guarding the gate and sorting out the next number up to drive through to the other pen.  This gives each rider a chance to do both positions and helps to level the playing field during competition.

With a solid group of leaders and members, ERSA has created a fun, supportive and social environment for its members.  People new to sorting will find knowledgeable help to get them going and the group is small enough to ensure that each participant frequently gets a turn. One member stated, “I sorted for the first time last summer.  I had a great time and everyone was very helpful in assisting me to learn the skills I needed to sort.”  Coming from a different perspective, local horse trainer Tucker Black found that, “Ranch Sorting with ERSA gave me a great way to freshen the minds of my horses by giving them a reason to do the maneuvers we practice in training.”

Friendly on the wallet compared to other Ranch Sorting gatherings and groups, ERSA is $150 per year to join and $20 per day for members or $45 per day for non-members.   All of the money is used to care for the cattle and other expenses, as well as put on a Buckle Sort and barbeque at the end of the season, which starts the weekend after Evergreen Rodeo weekend and goes as long as the weather allows.  Any shape or size of horse is welcome as well as families who want to enjoy the sport together.

Pep and Jim Reffel have graciously offered their perfect place in Pine for ERSA to hold the Ranch Sorting’s.  The ERSA officers include:  Carl Heckendorf, President; Jerry Toman, Treasurer; and Linda Heckendorf, Secretary.  The Board of Directors as well as fencers, haulers and cattle number-er’s aka wranglers of the group are Bruce and Laura McReynolds, Rex Eaves, John Orlando, Al Chidester, Harvey and Laura Penland, and Porter Bennett.  Most importantly, Adam Shirley devotedly feeds and waters the cattle everyday to keep them happy, healthy and gaining weight for their owners!  Thankfully, Carl Heckendorf’s connections with feedlot owners have kept the cattle price at a feed only basis.

Tom Hushen has added a link to ERSA through www.evergreenrodeo.com. More information on Ranch Sorting can be found at the Ranch Sorting National Championships website, www.RSNC.us and through its sister discipline, the United States Team Penning Association, www.ustpa.com.  Copyright 2013 Heather McWilliams, MtnHomes4Horses.com.