by Anna Ferraro
The Ranch Sorting National Championship (RSNC) goes on year after year, with competitors accumulating their points throughout a 12-month period. But this year, Jacksonville boasted a champion in the master’s division of age 55+ – Phil Price, accompanied to his competitions by his wife Stacy, a regular and accomplished competitor as well.
They met via friends in a Jacksonville bar. While horseback riding wasn’t the initial thing that attracted them to each other, it has everything to do with their lives together now. Phil, a retired prison guard, shares that his uncle gave him his first horse when he was just five years old. Phil chuckled, “I’ve had one ever since.” Living right across from the Prairieland Heritage Museum, Phil’s boyhood years were filled with cattle, horses, and all the goodness of an agricultural community. Stacy didn’t have the same equine-filled upbringing, she shared, “Aside from some girlfriend’s ponies that I rode on the weekends, I never had my own until we started riding in these competitions as a married couple.”
They’ve been trying their hands, and their horses, at ranch sorting competitions for the past 15-20 years now, and they love every bit of it. Phil shared that the RSNC does an excellent job laying out the standards, handicaps, and divisions for ranch sorting so that all ages of riders and their breeds get a fair try at the contest. A program that is nationally sanctioned, the RSNC is a fast-growing and awesome group of cowboys and cowgirls doing the things they love – on the backs of their four-footed steeds.
“It was just friends that got us doing these competitions together,” said Phil. After years of competing, his recent championship title came as a surprise to him and his wife. Like any good cowboy, he was humble and quiet about it, saying, “I was fortunate to win.”
How does it work? Stacy described the contest as follows: “In the usual rounds, there are two riders, and you have about 60 seconds, depending on whatever ‘handicap’ the competition board prescribes to you. … You have two 60-foot round pens that are set up, with a 12-foot gate opening. There are ten numbered cattle that are given, with two ‘blanks.’ When the time starts, the judge calls out the number that you have to start sorting your cattle by the order he calls. All the while, you can’t let the blank cattle come through.”
The fun part about the contest is the two-man team aspect. Stacy shared, “Team members can switch their roles. It’s a little bit of chaos.” At home, the Price’s practice for their weekend contests. Phil said, “We have a couple cows around here, and we keep our horses sharp on the cattle. Their professionally trained cutting horses do a great job too, leading Stacy to add, “My horse that I recently bought, you can put him with a cow, and he’ll just cut, and you’ll just sit there and ride along. They just know their job and they just do it. Sometimes, all you do is just sit and know what the number is. They’re just amazing athletes.”
Through the year, they compete at least once a month, sometimes more in the summer during the county fairs. And do they compete as a team? The gave a resounding no (with a good-humored chuckle). Stacy explained, “It’s not a thing for husbands and wives to compete in together. We can ride together, but we just don’t. It makes the truck ride home better when we haven’t ridden together in the contest.”
And since they can never critique each other as partners, the sorting competitions are always enjoyable, Stacy shared enthusiastically. She continued, “Every show, something happens. We’ve met so many nice people. Tons of friends – where we show all the time, and it’s just like a little family reunion. Everybody’s fun, and we have a good time all weekend.”
Now living a mile west of Woodson, Phil and Stacy have started accumulating points for the 2018 competitions saying, “We got a couple cows that we work, so we have them here. We have four traveling horses and one back-up.”
At the end of the day, it’s more about the experience for them than it is about the titles or awards. But along the way, if you’re going to compete, you might as well win a little. And so, Phil did.