Once again Ponca City proves that a city of 25,000 has more things going on over a weekend that any one person can keep up with. Last weekend my wife and I attended the Octoberfest at Marland Mansion and enjoyed eating German pastries, listening to outdoor music, a looking at home crafted jewelry but this weekend we have already had an indoor rodeo, a new exhibition and reception at the Soldani Mansion Art Center, a showing of Buston Keaton's masterpeice, "The General," at the Poncan Theatre with live music by musician Dennis James - and there are more activities on Saturday Night and on Sunday.
I have driven past the "Play Pen Arena" hundreds of times. The "Play Pen" is located on Highway 60 in Osage County about a mile east of the bridge that crosses the Arkansas River - it is right across the highway from the new "Osage Casino." On Thursday I read in the "Ponca City News" that there was going to be a four day indoor rodeo at the "Play Pen," that was open to the public so I decided to go and see was going on.
I have attended the annual Cherokee Strip rodeo before but I have never really enjoyed it too much because all the action seemed to take place so far away. The indoor rodeo competition was totally different, easy to understand, and very engaging. The competition that I watched for several hours on Friday morning was called "Ranch Sorting."
In Ranch Sorting the activities all take place indoors and the spectators are seated right next to the pens so you have a terrific view of all the action. There are two pens that are fifty feet long with a twelve foot opening between them. At the beginning, there are eleven calves bunched up at the end of one of the pens with numbers on their sides for identification. The judge raises the flag and when the riders cross the gap between the two pens the clock starts and the competition begins. The team of two riders have to move the cattle one at a time from one pen to the other in numerical order, starting with a random number that the judge yells out. The fastest time to get the eleven calves from one pen to the other wins. If a calf gets from one pen to the other out of order, then the team is disqualified.
The level of horsemanship and the level of teamwork between the two horseman is really extraordinary. There were over one hundred teams competing but the action is fast because the competitive range for winning is about sixty seconds. There are two sets of pens set up in parallel so that when the competition on one side ends, another team on the other side starts almost immediately. All in all, I had a great time watching ranch sorting for a few hours and will probably take my wife and go out this afternoon for another few hours.
Here are a series of photos from one competition.
Interestingly enough I posted a story on Slashdot just last week about how Virtual Fence Could Modernize the Old West: For more than a century, ranchers in the West have kept cattle in place with fences of barbed wire, split wood and, more recently, electrified wires. Now animal science researchers with the Department of Agriculture, is working on a system that will allow cowboys to herd their cattle remotely via radio by singing commands and whispering into their ears and tracking movements by satellite and computer. Dean Anderson, a researcher at the USDA's Jornada Experimental Range at Las Cruces, NM., has built radios that attach to an animal's head that allow a person at the other end to issue a range of commands — gentle singing, sharp commands, or a buzz like a bee or snake — to get the cattle to move where one wants them to. Anderson says it would cost $900 today to put a radio device on one head of cattle, but he says costs will fall and the entire herd wouldn't have to be outfitted, just the "leaders." Much of the research has focused on how cattlemen can identify which cattle in their herds are the ones that the others follow.
This evening there is a movie at the Poncan Theatre of the 1947 movie "Where the Red Fern Grows" that was filmed in Oklahoma and Sunday there is an organ concert at the First Methodist Church we may go to.