Events

Doubling Gap Ranch Rodearing

Now what does this event have to do with TDJ, you might ask?

At first glance, this event looks like an equine event, similar to a rodeo. And while it does include horses, (the name Rodear means “to move cows with horses”) it also includes dogs. In fact, according to what we saw and experienced, the dogs are arguably the most important part of this activity.

Written By: The Dog Journal 

Tag along as we visit Doubling Gap Ranch, in the hills of Western PA, on Friday, June 16th, to witness this event sanctioned by Rodear America.

This trip started with myself and two friends traveling from our home in Lancaster, PA to the hills of Franklin County, PA, arriving at the beautiful, spacious ranch amid a downpour of rain. Staff at the ranch told us that the event has been postponed until 11:00, which made us promptly think about finding a nice warm place to grab a bite to eat.

Driving into the town of Newville proved to be a wise idea, as we found this little country style diner called Theo’s Diner, where it seemed like “everybody knew everybody.” I would encourage anyone visiting that area to stop there for some great food, and I’m telling you, the custom omelet and pancakes are over the top!

With a good breakfast and some coffee under our belt we headed back to the ranch, and by this time, the rain had stopped and the cloud cover was breaking. As we got there I wondered “maybe this is the wrong type of event to cover in The Dog Journal,” as it seemed like all we saw were horses. It didn’t take us long, though, to start seeing some dogs, and I think with maybe the exception of one or two, they were all Border Collies. 

Speaking of the dogs, according to David Henry, a cowboy from Virginia who travels all Event over the country training and working dogs, these dogs start their training around eight months of age, and continue throughout their life. Training takes a lot of dedication, but keep in mind that on a working ranch, a well-trained dog can actually replace up to three good cowboys on horses. And after watching this competition, I can definitely see why. These dogs are nimble, obedient, and know what they’re doing. The general idea in this competition is for the dogs and the horses to be used, not just one or the other. The two must work together, and the cowboy or cowgirl must watch the cattle, and control the horse and dog all at the same time.

This year is the first year that a Rodearing event was held at this facility. Doubling Gap ranch hosted a prior workshop event done by David Henry, and has embraced the concept of Rodearing for a few years already.

 They got to the point where they wanted to hold a trial, so David Henry and a few other guys got together and decided to make it happen. According to him “Everything’s going fairly smoothly. The cattle are tough, nobody got a perfect score, which makes it interesting and exciting.”

So how does it work? Well, this all goes down in a big arena with obstacles set up to mimic work on a ranch. Gates, holding pens, chutes, and even an actual livestock trailer are used. The obstacles are set up so that both the rider and the dog are needed, and they all had extra openings etc. to make that more difficult. At some places the dog needed to do the pushing and the rider the holding, or vice versa. Each obstacle has escape holes worth different points, and the object is to maneuver all cattle through the highest point hole.

Each cowboy or girl and their dog gets five minutes to sort three cows out of a herd of 15, and pushes them into a holding pen. Once the arena is clear, they proceed to ride to the front of the chute and open the gate. After the three cows have entered the arena and the gate has been shut, time begins. Entering and exiting the first obstacle was always challenging, as the cows were a bit spooked and everyone was settling in. Some cowboys whistled commands, and some yelled, but either way, watching these dogs working perfectly in sync with horse and rider was pretty amazing. After moving the cows through two mazes of gates, they then needed to be corralled, and as the dog guarded the entrance to keep them from escaping, the rider needed to open a gate, and release the cows one by one. This one was tricky, as the cows wanted to hang together and often tried to escape all at once. Once out of the corral, they then needed to be herded over to a squeeze chute, and pushed through that into a livestock trailer. From there, out the back gate to pasture.

Now this might seem simple, but these teams only had 8 minutes to complete this whole ordeal. Five minutes for sorting out the cattle they want to take through the course doesn’t give them much time to be picky, so if you’ve got a cow that likes challenging the dog, that can make for a harrowing time. 

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Each cow responds differently to dogs, so different levels of pressure are needed depending on the cows. The key is to maintain steady pressure, enough to keep them moving and working, but not enough to get them excited or split up. Every rider gets points on each obstacle, and the better they perform, the more they score. For example, if only two cows go through a given obstacle, then only those will be scored.

This event in particular hosted different classes based on different experience levels, and all told, ran around thirty teams spread out over 3 days. Our friend David Henry won the Open class, which is the one for more experienced handlers. His son rode in the Stockman Class, a class for beginner handlers. David Henry ran three different dogs during the course of one day, and then his son ran one of those more experienced dogs in his class. Over $10,000.00 in prize money was awarded at the event, so the stakes were high.

Like David said “Our goal is to reward good horsemanship and good stockmanship, as well as the dogs working and taking their commands.” Everybody was friendly and just out to have a good time, and the event in general was very family friendly. Everything was held outdoors, and the staff at Doubling Gap did a great job at hosting. I look forward to hopefully seeing this one again!

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