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The Royal Flush: Team Penning in Tunica


Article & photos by Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

The weekend of August 4-6, 2017 brought the USTPA Regionals to the Expo Center in Tunica, Mississippi. Around 1,000 to 1,100 riders came to compete in “The Royal Flush,” with $20,000 added money and a #9 Truck sort shootout qualifier. All classes were pick 3/draw 1, except the Open classes, which were pick 2/draw 2. There were high payback guarantees in most classes. In addition to cash payouts, winners also received saddle pads.

This event was a qualifier for the USTPA 2017 Schaefer World Championship Finals, to be held in Fort Worth, Texas, November 7-12, 2017. Riders must qualify by Sept. 30, 2017. Find more information on the United States Team Penning Association USTPA Facebook page. Jared Lesh, from Texas, and Tom Jurgens, from South Dakota, were organizers of this event. Find more information at Jared Lesh Cowhorses: and on Facebook at: Jared Lesh.
Some of the weekend’s winners were:

The #9 JL Super Sort winners, out of 65 teams, were Shawna Thomas and Jordan Lesh, earning $1,394.

The Open HC Penning winners, out of 37 teams, were Wade Adams and Travis Roberson, taking home $681.

Pro/Am/Novice Shootout HC Penning winners, out of 39 teams, were Keith Tanner, Andrew Zito, and Thomas Jurgens, earning $1,248.

The #13 Penning Average winners, out of 51 teams, were Erin Baker, David Rainey, and Jake Baker, with $747 in earnings.

The #11 Penning Average winners, out of 73 teams, were Lisa McCormick, Erin Baker, and Shawna Thomas, earning $854.

The #9 Penning Average winners, out of 95 teams, were LeeAn Johnson, Lisa Bell, and Niki Saggione, taking home $1,176.

The #7 Penning Average winners, out of 87 teams, were JT Powell, Daniel Farris, and Michael Evans, with $961 in earnings.

There were five teams in the Youth Penning, with Allie West, Kassie Zemek, and Heath Hendrix taking the win and $60 in earnings.

The #5 Penning Average winners, out of 38 teams, were JT Powell, Keely “Reba” Pemberton, and Della Nielson, earning $523.

In the Open HC Sorting, out of 42 teams, Cali Brookshire and Dustin Johnson were the winners, earning $829.

The #9 Truck Sorting winners, out of 191 teams, were Kyler Haselip and Weston Raub, for $955.

There were 21 teams in Youth Sorting, with Sopie Evans and Kassie Zemek the winners, earning $126.

The #6 Sorting win went to Bo Wells and Matt Foreman, earning $833.

The #3 Sorting win went to Suzanne Lindsey and Mark Allen, taking home $393.

About Team Penning: The United States Team Penning Association (USTPA) is the national governing body for team penning and ranch sorting. Team penning is now an arena sport that evolved from the common ranch work of separating cattle into pens for branding, doctoring, or transport.

In this sport, a team of three riders has from 60 to 90 seconds (depending on the class) to separate three identified cattle from a herd of 30 and put them into a 16-foot x 24-foot pen through a ten-foot opening at the opposite end of the arena.
Numbers 0-9 are affixed to each cow’s back (typically yearling beef cattle). Timing starts once the line judge has dropped his flag as the lead rider’s horse crosses the foul line. At that time, the announcer identifies the cattle to be separated by calling out a randomly drawn number. The riders must cut out the three head that have been nominated, take them to the opposite end of the arena, pen them, and call for time.

USTPA has a rating system for riders ranging from N, meaning non-rated, a true beginner, to #7 an exceptional rider with exceptional cattle skills. Mid-range classifications include #3, a rider with reasonable horsemanship and cattle skills; #4, a rider with average horsemanship and cattle skills; and #5, an experience rider with above average horsemanship and cattle skills.

USTPA sanctioned Team Pennings may include any or all of the following classes; Quick Draw, Open, #13, #11, #11 Masters, #9, #7, #5, and Pro/N Draw. Youth Team Penning classes are open to Junior members 12 years and under. Senior Youth classes are open to members 16 years and under.

Teamwork is the key, with all three riders working in harmony to cut out the correct cattle and drive them to the pen while keeping the rest of the herd back. It’s a fast-paced sport that requires an agile, responsive cow horse. And, by the way, shouting at the cattle is allowed. Find more information at the USTPA website:

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