Team penning kicks up a fair amount of dust

The upgraded Frank Herman Horse Arena was one of the busiest places at the Hood River County Fair, between the annual Horse Show and a new event, team penning.

Horses and riders learned and then competed in a new sport that offered a rare chance to local horse folk: working an actual cattle herd.

In the event, teams of three riders have 45 seconds to select three head from a herd of 30 cattle, and guide the cows into a pen. The cattle are numbered 0-5, and announcer Matt Richards would call out a number and the riders would have to locate, separate, and herd only cows bearing that number.

(For a humorous look at the event, turn to Ben McCarty’s report on Fair Moments, on page B1).

Richards regaled the crowd with jokes and information as trios of riders gave it their best. Richards took the opportunity to give some good-natured ribbing to fair board member Craig Ortega, who tried herding cattle with Marie Mallon and Carrie Deborde.

Richards, based out of Independence, has been doing team penning for 10 years and has been involved in rodeos for 19.

The team penning veteran said he wanted to make the event fun for newbies who had never tried the sport before.

“If you make it fun people will keep coming back,” he said.

Ortega credited fair board member Mark Mears and his wife, Jodie, for bringing Richards to the fair, saying the Mears had attended other penning events and saw it as a good fit for the Hood River fair.

“We wanted to do something that involved the community,” Mears said. ”I think we’re a large horse community, and the more interest the better.

“For the first year, it’s a real success,” said Mears, looking out on the arena as 25 riders waited their turn in an afternoon clinic, which was followed that night by a competition.

“It’s good to see a lot of kids, watching. If people like it, I see it continuing.”

“It brings people to the fair, a lot of people come to watch this,” Ortega said. “So it adds something to the gate, and it’s just something different.

“The thing about this is pretty much anybody with riding experience can do it,” Ortega said.

“If you‘re into rodeoing you’ve got to have a trained horse, and certain abilities, and in team penning you need to have a horse that knows what its doing, but it allows a lot of people out to do some things,” he said.

“A lot of people don’t have access to cattle, so it allows people without cattle to take part in it.”

That was the attraction for Dwight and Jackie Moe, who own horses and regularly ride but liked the chance to experience working a herd.

After the clinic, Richards offered up his herd for solo riders who wanted some more experience, saying “after we’re done, you can come back this afternoon and work the herd if you’d like.”

If you missed out on the team penning this year, don’t worry, it will be back.

Fair Director Clara Rice said the event filled the stands around the arena and drew plenty of spectators and competitors alike.

“We are going to keep doing it,” she said. “It was huge and people had a great time.”

They will also have a winning mark to shoot for.

Three girls from Estacada, all Richards’ pupils, penned three cows in 20 seconds.

“He said he’d never had anybody do it that fast,” Rice said.

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