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Willmar area cattle sorters leaving their mark on growing sport

Briana Sanchez / Tribune Deb Shriver, novice champion second place, from left, Kailey Schlaak, senior youth first place, Sloan Stahnke, junior youth champion, and Kristi Jo Block, rookie champion first class, line up for a photo at Paffrath Paint Ranch, with their horses Chic, Cody, Freckles and Kat.1 / 8
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Sloan Stahnke, junior youth champion, has a strong bond with her horse, Freckles.2 / 8
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Deb Shriver, novice champion second place, center, keeps an eye on Sloan Stahnke and Kailey Schlaak while they play on their horses Nov. 16 at Paffrath Paint Ranch.3 / 8
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Kailey Schlaak, senior youth first place, from left, Sloan Stahnke, junior youth champion, Kristi Jo Block, rookie champion first class, and Deb Shriver, novice champion second place, display the buckles they won recently in Minnesota Sorting Cow Horse Association competition.4 / 8
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Kailey Schlaak, senior youth first place, rides her horse, Cody, recently at Paffrath Paint Ranch.5 / 8
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Kristi Jo Block, rookie champion first class, waits with her horse, Kat, for a car to pull out of the driveway at Paffrath Paint Ranch Nov. 16, before putting Kat back in the trailer.6 / 8
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Sloan Stahnke, junior youth champion, rides her horse, Freckles, at Paffrath Ranch.7 / 8
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Sloan Stahnke, junior youth champion, stands on her horse Freckles Nov. 16 at Paffrath Paint Ranch.8 / 8

Sloan Stahnke is accumulating quite the trophy case.

Just 10, the pint-sized cowgirl can patently lay claim to being one the state's best cattle sorters.

She already has a national championship to her name.

And, last month in Verndale, she added a state title, too.

"I like winning," Stahnke says through a wry smile that's a consistent feature of her ruddy cheeks. "It's fun."

A western-style equestrian sport, sorting is an extension of the toils of ranchers who used mounts to separate cattle into pens for branding, doctoring or transport.

The sport has grown in popularity in recent years — particularly across the region — with dozens of events conducted at the state level each year through the Minnesota Sorting Cow Horse Association.

Domestic events are also held under the National Sorting Cow Horse Association. The state association, however, operates independently.

The competitions require two riders to move a herd of 10 cattle in numerical order from one round pen into a separate adjoining pen in a minute or less. Two unnumbered cows are mingled throughout the herd.

Any cow that crosses the line out of order will result in what is referred to as a no-time or simple disqualification for the team.

Points are tallied for each rider.

Stahnke, all of 7 at the time, took the national competition by storm two years ago, winning the junior youth championship as the top sorter nationwide for all youth ages 14 and under.

But her most recent title may prove her proudest.

Not only did she dominate the competition — winning by 11 points despite having her ankle taped after falling from her horse, Freckles — her mother, Deb Shriver, won the novice championship. The duo's achievement marks the first time a mother and daughter have won their respective divisions at the same contest, according to Shriver.

"It was amazing," Shriver said Nov. 16, during an interview at Paffrath Paint Ranch, a spread amid the rolling hills northeast of Green Lake, and where Shriver boards a number of her family's horses. "To be in that position with Sloan. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

It was also a good day for other regional sorters: Kristi Jo Block of Spicer, who also boards at the Paffrath spread, won the rookie championship, and Kailey Schlaak of Paynesville claimed the junior youth championship.

Stanke's success, though, is no surprise to those around her.

While her training is cut back in the fall and winter months due to curricular commitments, she trains for hours daily in the summer months under the tutelage of Kenny Kresbach, a six-time world champion sorter, who is based in New Prague and well-known in the sorting realm for his meticulous eye.

Shriver says her daughter has become more focused through Kresbach's lead and believes the sky's the limit moving forward.

"You know it's really hard to win these contests," Shriver said. "And Sloan still finds a way. Kenny has made her a better rider, a better sorter. She's stone cold when she rides. She's a competitor."

For more information on the Minnesota Sorting Cow Horse Association, visit www.mnscha.com.

Paffrath Paint Ranch and its adjacent Rusty Spur Arena are located at 13392 172nd Avenue N.E. in Spicer. The ranch offers boarding, lessons and training. For more information, visit www.paffrathpaintranch.net or call 320-491-5297.

Dan Burdett

Dan Burdett is the community content coordinator at the West Central Tribune. He has 13 years experience in print media, to include four years enlisted service in the United States Air Force. He has been an employee of Forum Communications since 2005, joining the company after spending two years as the managing editor of the Redwood Gazette and Livewire in Redwood Falls. Prior to his current position, Dan was the presentation editor at the Tribune.

(320) 214-4338
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