Cowboys and cowgirls saddle up for two-day ranch sorting competition and rodeos

Posted July 14, 2013, at 1:36 p.m.
Last modified July 14, 2013, at 6:09 p.m.

CHARLESTON, Maine — The family of Corinth rider Abby Crawford basically took up an entire corner of the corral at the Country Girl Rodeo Company’s rodeo Saturday night at Maple Lane Farm.

“I have lots of cousins, my brother and my boyfriend who are competing,” the 15-year-old said astride Daisy, her Palomino-Windsor mix horse, just before the two entered the ring for the junior poles and barrels events.

Watching the competition were her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, a sister and more cousins.

The rodeo took over the corral on Saturday night after the first day of Central Maine Team Penning’s two-day Ranch Sorting National Association-sanctioned team penning competition.

Team penning pits teams of three cowboys and cowgirls against the clock as they race to separate three cows from their herd and get them into a gated pen at the other end of the arena.

“Four years ago, Central Maine Team Penning lost their promoter and they were looking for somebody with cattle,” said Maple Lane Farm owner Barry Higgins, who took a break from cutting up the pig roast Saturday night to answer a few questions.

Since Higgins already was selling the group hay, it was an easy move to become a promoter and just another way to diversify his old dairy farm, he said. The five-generation farm has moved from just selling milk to running a state-certified slaughterhouse and a highly successful hay, grain, composting and beef business.

“I supply them with 150 cattle during the summer schedule,” he said of Central Maine Team Penning. “They have seven or eight weekend events, and we haul the cattle to three fairs — Skowhegan, Windsor and Farmington.”

The lifelong farmer said he believes the yearling steers enjoy being in the ring.

“I think our athletes love it,” he said. “I call it agri-athletics.”

He also said he believes they “muscle up better” and that he would argue the point with anyone.

Higgins built a new penning complex, complete with arena, beef holding pens, a concession stand and camping areas, in 2011, and the first rodeo was held last year.

“It went over big so we decided to do five of them this year,” he said. “This has turned into a real spectator sport.”

Three equestrian friends, Deb Gould of Sangerville, and Kenduskeag residents Laura Gardner and Sarah Manning, pulled together last year’s rodeo and since have created County Girl Rodeo Company.

“We all ride and we all have horses and we all love the Western lifestyle,” Gould said. “Rodeo has always been a part of who we are and what we are.”

Saturday’s rodeo, which attracted riders from as far away as New Hampshire and Canada, was the third this year, with others planned for Aug. 3 and Sept. 21. The Aug. 3 rodeo will be held after the first day of the two-day Central Maine Team Penning Association’s third annual Northeast Challenge.

Proceeds above operating costs from all the rodeos go toward Project Cowboy Charity, and the last rodeo of the year — the Sept. 21 all-day rodeo — will benefit Rabekah’s Rainbow Fund for children with terminal cancer.

“See all these people working? We don’t get paid,” Gould said as the rodeo went on behind her. “This is all new, so we’re still learning. But we’re starting to get much more organized, and the word is spreading like wildfire.”

She said there are places in the area for dressage and English-style riding, but until now there hasn’t been a place for “backyard riders” of all ages to show off their cowboy and cowgirl skills. Country Girl Rodeo Company also is starting to offer junior rodeo camps, Gould said.

The rodeos include poles, barrels, a flag race and a two-team pony express, broken into pee wee, junior and adult categories. Roping demos also took place along with the popular mutton busting for children under 55 pounds, and junior and adult bull riding.

“We put some helmets and vests on kids and put them on sheep,” Sammie Brown, 15, of Sangerville said, describing mutton busting.

The youth who hangs on the longest wins, she said.

Crawford said she tried bull riding at the June 29 rodeo, but was sticking to poles and barrels at Saturday’s rodeo after her mother, Jennifer Mitchell, put her foot down.

“I held on for three seconds,” the teenager said of her bull-riding experience, with a smile on her face. “I fell on my butt and stained my pants. Now my mom won’t let me do it.”

Her boyfriend, Keith Knight of Bradford, did a little better, as did her brother, Aaron Partridge, 23.

“I got six out of eight seconds,” Knight said proudly.

Mitchell was leaning against the corral’s fencing with a pink camera in one hand as she watched the rodeo and would occasionally take a picture or yell encouragement to a participating family member. She said the rodeos are a great place for riders to show off their skills and their horses in a competitive arena and to bring relatives together.

“We do it as a family,” Mitchell said, indicating all the people around her watching the rodeo were family members.

Central Maine Team Penning Association has two more two-day ranch sorting events at Maple Lane Farm on Aug. 3-4 and Sept. 28-29, with RSNC-sanctioned team penning on Aug. 4 and Sept. 29. The group also will head to the Skowhegan Fair on Aug. 17, the Windsor Fair on Aug. 30, and the Farmington Fair on Sept. 15.