I’ve never imagined animals, particularly young bulls, loudly barracking for their teams in competitions against humans. But that’s certainly how it appeared to me a couple of weeks ago when I filmed yet another of Canowindra’s constant surprises – the Sorting and Penning Trials at the showground.
Sorting and Penning goes back to the 1940s when a couple of cowboys in California decided to turn a cattle ranching chore into a sport.
It came to Australia only in recent years through Tamworth and has since spread to Canowindra, where we have a committee of four and 10 expert riders headed by our local butcher, Toby Newcombe.
It’s a dignified arena sport that’s all about skill, not brute force. Its strict rules ban whips, ropes, touching of the animals by riders and even bumping them with the horse.
The events involve teams of three riders – their ages ranging incredibly from as young as five years old to senior professional cattlemen and women – who have just two minutes to carefully separate three bulls with sashes of a particular colour from 30 at one end of the arena and get them down to the other end and pen them.
The riders are disqualified if they run out of time, or if a bull with another colour gets over the centre line.
The leading rider, the sorter, approaches the mob as the two others hang back, acting as blockers.
And that’s when the entire herd in pens behind the mob erupts into loud bellowing and roaring. Are they scared? Are they suffering because of the spectacle?
No, I was told, “They’re calling to their mates that are competing out there. They’re cheering them on.”
Well, it certainly looked like that to me, and you can judge for yourself by contacting Toby Newcombe at his butchery in Gaskill Street to find out when the next exciting penning trials are to be held.