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Ropin', ridin' and hangin' on for dear life

Hannah Arvik throws her rope at a calf in a round pen Western Heritage exercise. Riders have 60 seconds after entering the pen to rope a calf. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
Austin Arvik aims his throw to loop around both calves he's pursuing. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

It takes a lifetime to master the art of calf wrangling, said the mother of two 4-H'ers learning the ropes.

Weekend classes have been taking place under the tutelage of Keith Swanson, who's been teaching riding and roping skills for nine years.

The classes he teaches 4-H kids in his Western Heritage program mainly revolve around patience and repetition - doing the same thing over and over until you get it right.

It's no different than the kid shooting basket after basket nights in his driveway.

The hand-eye skills required are just one component of the sport.

For 14-year-old Hannah Arvik, it started with her horse Buddi. She began training the colt two years ago.

Now she's training her to handle cattle, how to behave around other horses and how to behave when she's mastering the art of throwing a lasso.

"The horse learns to be gently around the cattle, not to nudge them," Swenson said as Hannah and Buddi walked patiently behind two calves in a round pen.

In round pen roping, riders have 60 second to rope one of two calves let loose.

Western Heritage events are broken into two age groups, Swenson explained.

There's team roping, breakaway calf roping, goat tying, the round pen roping and pen to pen sorting, in which two contestants, working as a team, must move cattle in numbered sequence from one pen to another.

Easy as 1, 2, 3?

Ever watched cattle in groups?

The Western Heritage events are a statewide program. Swanson is the northwest regional director of the state's four regions and one of 10 certified instructors in Minnesota.

But he said the sequential sequestering tends to attract riders that struggle at the other events.

"Some kids have a problem roping, controlling their horse," he said. "This way they can still compete."

He stands in the center of the pen giving instructions.

"Make your loop bigger," he said to 9-uyear-old Austin Arvik, who is repeatedly throwing a large circled rope over two calves during a persistent drizzle.

Austin is concentrating so hard he doesn't realize he's drenched.

Swanson said his program is one of two safety courses required to compete at regionals or state. Local 4-H kids have placed high at both competitions, he said.

"Some cattle can tolerate a rope," Swanson narrates as Austin throws his loop around both calves, not just one.

"With other cattle it can be a safety hazard for the horse and rider," Swenson said.

Austin and Hannah take turns in the pen as the rain continues. It doesn't dampen their spirits.

"Good job Hannah!" Swanson says as the teen skillfully reins in her calf.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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