How to Pen a Steer
Thursdays at the ranch start out slow. We lolly-gag to the barn then mount up for a leasurely ride up the mountain to our breakfast point dining room. There, atop the mountain, you relax while enjoying the majestic view and the magnificent food. After riding back down from the point, the morning is filled with ample opportunity to read a book, relax in the yard, play in the creek, or take a little snooze.
After lunch, the tone around here changes. Teams are named for the afternoon's event and normally calm guests start slinging foul names and gestures at one another. Sweat starts gathering at brows as whispered conversations regarding attack strategy occur behind pulled-down cowboy hats.
It's team penning time. Time to get the game faces on. Time to get your posse and get them doggies.
Here's how the afternoon works: After the wranglers bring up the steers from the pen down the road, the arena is set up with the steers at one end, two barrels near that same end, then a pen at the other end. Teams of three riders are named. No spouses on the same team--we don't have a divorce lawyer on staff to handle such conflicts. Then, one team at a time, riders enter the arena. The riders take their horses to the far end where the steers are relaxing and are told to sort out three steers from a small herd.
The wranglers keep time. Once a rider passes the barrels headed towards the steers, the clock starts. Once all three steers are in the pen, the time stops.
The team then starts pushing the steers down the arena.
Typically, if the steers have a good leader, they'll walk down easily if the riders push nice slow.
Occasionally, you'll get a wild steer or two that just want to run crazy around the area and back to the herd. Other times, all it might take is one patient cowgirl to make them go where they need to go. A few shouts of "yip" and "hey-cow" are helpful too.
Finally, the three riders and three steers make it down the arena. The riders then have to turn the steers into the pen. This maneuver often proves the trickiest part of the whole event. Sometimes the steers get within inches of going in the pen before bolting sideways and galloping back to the other end of the arena. Proper horse placement around the pen is key at this stage.
Once all three steers are in the pen, time is called.
Next team, please enter the arena!