Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Big Show

(photo by Michelle Dobbs)
The 2013 National Sheepdog Finals have come and gone, and what a memorable Finals it was. Sweet and bittersweet, highs and more highs, no real lows, even with copious amounts of rain and mud trying to dampen our spirits. Maybe everything we owned was dampened, but I think most everyone in attendance was happy and having a good time. The local Finals committee was stupendous, absolutely phenomenal, and even with the major hiccups tossed their way by the weather, pulled off a tremendously successful Finals from the viewpoint of those of us running in it.

On our way up to the Finals, the dogs and I stopped off at the Montpelier SDT, a perennial favorite of mine. I have so many special memories from this trial over the years. It's a small course but always fun. This year, relatively fresh katahdin yearlings were brought in for the weekend. They proved to be very even and manageable. I was running Bill and Zac (Zeke is still injured). Both did well in the first round, placing 3rd and 5th. In the second round, I had some trouble getting the shed with Zac, and Bill decided to bite a ewe that was trying to stall out on him on the first leg of the drive. I didn't actually mind that, was glad to see him wanting to make sheep move, with the Finals sheep waiting on us.

(photo by Michelle Dobbs)
We arrived at Belle Grove plantation Sunday evening, carrying along a nice collection of stinkbugs in the camper from Montpelier. The forecast was for torrential rain on Monday while we set up the Open and Nursery courses, then perfect fall weather for the rest of the week. I remember thinking that wouldn't be so bad, one day of rain in exchange for a stretch of good days. It did indeed pour Monday morning, but cleared off in the afternoon and we had good weather on Tuesday. I ran Wednesday morning with Bill and it was starting to rain then. And it never really stopped again. I don't know how many inches fell, but the inches of mud were easy enough to measure - up above our ankles in most areas. It was so bad that I never even saw the stinkbugs that I'd brought along wake up.

(photo by Michelle Dobbs)
While the weather was really terrible, I don't think it ended up defining this Finals. The organizing committee did just an amazing job. The sheep were very good, a wily bunch that tested and sorted the dogs very effectively. The field was nice, good for viewing, with testing features of its own such as the ditch that would be crossed on both the fetch and drive. And the quality of dog work and handling was just plain outstanding this year. There was little room for error if you wanted to move on to the semifinals and finals, you were out of the running just like that.

Bill was my first dog up, early on Wednesday morning. We drew up a cooperative group of sheep and Bill laid down a beautiful run, marching them around like they were old friends. I mucked up our single at the end, calling Bill in on one I shouldn't have for a miss, but that was the only low spot. Final score was 187 (out of 220), good for 6th place in the first  round of 150 dogs. (Thank you to Lora Withnell of Sheepdog Training Courses for video of my guys, so grateful to have these!)

Zac ran early on Friday morning, and did a fantastic job with a tricky draw. He ran as well as he's ever run before, and it was hard to even tell he had a difficult ewe in his group before we got to the pen. The run came to a screeching halt at the pen, as we tried to oh-so-carefully convince that ewe she should go in with her friends. I could see Zac getting more and more frustrated with her, so handled him very carefully there, trying to not let the sheep bolt out of the mouth of the pen, and also keeping Zac from taking a bite and earning us the disqualification. Finally, finally, after what seemed like an eternity, they marched in and I closed the gate - about 2 seconds too late, with time called and no pen points. I'd actually found myself tearing up a bit when Zac and I walked onto the field before his run, as I realized this would be his last Finals. But it was nothing compared to the waterworks a few minutes after we left the field and his score was posted. 150 with no pen and no single, still good enough to qualify for the semifinals, in 36th place.

(video courtesy of Lora Withnell of Sheepdog Training Courses, thanks Lora!)

Bill and I drew up first for the Saturday semifinals. I hate having to run first, it's just never been a very good draw for me. For some reason, Bill stopped on his outrun before he'd even gone halfway out and had to be given a whistle to go on. Maybe he heard something? He landed a bit short at the top end but the sheep came off pretty good, and we got around the course pretty nicely, with good lines and turns.
(photo by Michelle Dobbs)
We were to do a marked shed (3 plain, 2 collars), pulling off 2 unmarked sheep. The split came pretty easily but Bill let one of the sheep go. I think I needed to be more firm about it, in hindsight. Unfortunately, it was our undoing. It took a bit of time to get the split set up again but we got it fine with me being more positive about my instructions. Moved on to the pen and the sheep marched straight in on Bill's direction. But a short time limit on the run meant we did not have enough time to get the sheep out and get the single. Final score was 155, landing Bill in 24th position with 17 dogs going on to the Final (cut off was 160). Zac ran in the 32nd spot, and run he did. He worked even better than he had in the first round, doing every little thing I asked and mastering the sheep like the old pro he is. He was tight on his outrun, more so than I'd have liked. Over the last year, he's starting giving me an "old dog outrun", not wasting any energy by bending out and giving the sheep plenty of room at the top. That hurt our score but what really knocked us out was my own big error - I managed to pull the sheep back through the first drive gates, only by a few feet and then corrected, but still, that did it for our score. Otherwise, around the course was very pretty. The in bye work was fantastic, Zac was just wonderful there. I haven't seen the breakdown yet, but I'd be very surprised if a single point was lost on the marked split/pen/single. It was as smooth as could be with Zac being calm and cool and in charge. Final score was 158, good for 21st place.

So that was our Finals for this year. As I sat and watched the 30 minute double lift runs on Sunday, I realized it was just as well that Zac didn't make it through to the Final. I could see at the end of his semifinal run that his mind and heart would never let him do less than 120%, and his body still isn't completely recovered from his whatever-it-was scare at the beginning of September. I couldn't help but think that he might have hurt himself trying because he'd sure never give up. It was a bittersweet end to our Finals trip, but I couldn't be any more proud of the job my guys did.

Now we rest up for a few days, scrape the mud out of the camper, and head off next week to the Quiet Acres SDT and then on to the Edgeworth Open. After that, the young guns get my attention for the rest of the fall and winter, with some fun training opportunities coming up. And...puppies on the way. Plans are in the works for Zac to sire a couple of litters very soon. That'll be very fun and exciting (contact me for more info if you're interested in one). I'd sure like to have another little Zac running around!
(photo by Debra Deis)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Okay, I know I'm not very good at keeping the blog updated, especially seeing that i haven't posted since July!  Quick catchup - went to the trials in Kingston in August. The dogs ran pretty well, all 3 placed at least once. Had some unfortunate luck in the first round at Kingston with both Bill and Zac so only mediocre scores to go along with nice ones in the second round, and no double lift for either of them. We also went to the Fetch Gate Farm trials in NY in July, our first trip to that one. I ran Bill and Zeke there and both ran very well. Bill ended up 3rd in the first round and Zeke came oh-so-close to placing 3rd in the second round. He had a beautiful run but it was during a stretch where no one was getting the shed, including us. We had one quick shot at it but just couldn't get it. It was unfortunate especially since I was trying to get him qualified for the Finals and that one shed cost us that. Funny how often it can come down to one tiny thing like that. Zac wasn't able to run because he was recovering from a neck injury that he suffered in early June - it ended up being a bulging disk in his neck, but was pretty mysterious to pin down. He did run in Kingston and seemed fine there and after.

Since returning from the Canada trip, it seems like I've been just trying to hold the dogs together. Devin has been recovering nicely from his July 1st OCD surgery, and hopefully will be ready to resume his training after the Finals. Zeke injured himself in mid-August training at the farm. It appears to be a bad muscle strain but it's still not healed up, so we're working on figuring out what is going on with him. It doesn't look like he's going to be able to run this fall at all. Bill is nursing an old injury to a rear leg, and as of yesterday Spot is now gimpy on a front toe. In late August, Zac came up weak and wobbly in his rear end suddenly. After trying every diagnostic available (MRI, spinal tap, etc., etc.), we have no concrete answers on what it is/was. It's possible it was an FCE, but we have no way of knowing for sure. He's mostly recovered though still has an odd gait in the rear at a walk, which hopefully will go away with more time. It was horribly scary and i was really afraid i was going to lose him or he'd never walk again. But Zac's just kept going - I swear he'd drag himself around the sheep field with just his front legs rather than give up. I can hardly express my admiration for the heart he's shown during this (and always has shown).

So, other than trying to keep everyone up and on their feet, and doing lots of doggy physical therapy, most of August and September has been about conditioning and training for the upcoming National Finals and the fall trial season.  Bill seems pretty fit right now. Zac could be more so, but at least he's going to be able to run i believe. It's still a day-to-day thing with him but he's been doing a good bit of work and ran well at the Longshot Farm trial that we went to this past weekend.  I'm tweaking some diet stuff with both competing dogs and just trying to hold everyone together for the big show next week at the Finals. We're heading out on Friday to compete at the Montpelier Fiber Festival trial. It's a small course and should be a nice relaxed kind of weekend. I want the dogs to rest their little bodies up so they're fresh for the Finals, and I think this little course won't be all that taxing on them. It'll be good for sharpening myself up a bit I hope. We'll move over to Belle Grove on Sunday night or Monday morning, and on Monday I get to help set up the course for the trials. I'm lucky enough to be on the Handler's Association trial committee again this year, a job I really enjoy. Bill will run on Wednesday morning, and Zac runs on Friday. I'm really looking forward to the whole week, seeing some great dogs run, visiting with lots of friends from far and wide, and seeing how my guys do on the big course. I feel like I've already won, just having the chance to be there and run my boys!

Here's another wonderful video production by Michelle Dobbs for the Finals -- 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

2013 National Finals Blog

This year, the National Finals Blog is asking handlers to write about "In the Beginning...". They asked me to write one, so here's my dose of humble pie to share.

Here is the link to the main Finals web page, with news and info on dogs sponsorships, etc.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Natural Balance Jerky Bark Review has asked me to review occasional products for them here on my blog. I was recently sent the first product to try out, and i quite liked it.  Natural Balance has a line of dog treats called Jerky Bark. I chose the fish and sweet potato formula and the dogs love it. It's all natural (Salmon, Sweet Potato, Cane Molasses, Natural Flavor, Salt, Mixed Tocopherols (preservative), Natural Hickory Smoke Flavor, Rosemary Extract, Zinc Propionate). It has a pretty fishy odor to it, which is a plus to the dogs i'm sure.

I've been tearing the bars into small pieces and using the jerky as a training treat and it's a real hit!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

VBCA Summer Trial at Big Bend Farm

After a very nice couple of days of lessons in Maryland with Vergil Holland the weekend before, the dogs and I loaded up and headed into the VA mountains this past weekend for the VBCA Summer Trial held at Big Bend Farm. The trial was a benefit trial for the 2013 USBCHA National Finals (to be held in VA in October) and was wildly successful, raising $7800! It was a huge undertaking for the organizers, with one field as the site for the Open classes, and two other fields for the novice classes, which ran twice each day. There were just a ton of runs over the two days. Barbara Ray very generously donated the use of her farm and sheep, and worked her tail off on the trial all weekend. There was a huge group effort to cover all of the jobs that needed doing, and i think everyone there helped out in some way or another. It was truly impressive to see just how many people were pitching in.

I wasn't able to spend as much time watching the novice runs as i would have liked, but i saw some nice work when i did manage to get back there and take the time to stop and watch. The Big Bend ewe flock was on the novice field and from what i saw, worked pretty nicely. The Open trials were run on weaned lambs and they were a challenge to handle, alternately racing away or getting very heavy and hard to move, and straight lines were very hard to come by.

Zeke was my first dog up and he had a difficult group of lambs. He worked them pretty well, with one trying to squirt off and two trying to lay back. He was very patient with them but on the cross drive, the runner took off again and got far enough away that we called it quits. Bill ran well and handled the lambs nicely, finishing up 8th. On day two, Bill again ran well but a missed gate and some trouble getting the shed knocked our score down. Zeke ran late in the day and had a gorgeous run. The lambs had gotten quite heavy and he just laid into them and marched them around. It was probably his best run yet in Open, as i was able to lay off my whistle and just let him handle the lines and pace. We missed the cross drive gate (i had a devil of a time seeing it - missed it all 4 runs), and Zeke looked at the wrong group when he came in on the shed (like a freaking freight train i might add). I still haven't seen the final placements but he did place pretty well.

So now we have a couple of weeks off before the next trial, which will be the Fetch Gate Farm trial in Cortland, NY. I've been trying to get to a trial there for years, and hopefully this will be the year i make it. Zac is injured so i'm trying to pick up some qualifying points for the Finals on Zeke, just in case Zac isn't able to run this fall. Coming up this weekend, Tommy Wilson will be back to do another clinic at the farm. I can't wait! Now what dog do i put in the clinic, hmmmm....?

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Spring Trials Wrap Up

Well, i didn't do a very good job of keeping the blog updated, now did i? I have an excuse for the Bluegrass at least, as i was hit by a fever about halfway though the week and could hardly lift my head for several days. Turns out it was Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever of all things. Thanks to the quick thinking of a good friend, i got on antibiotics quickly and all should be fine.

First stop was Dave and Debbie Fetterman's Borders on Paradise trial in Turbotville, PA. This is a lovely trial, with a not large field but challenging commercial wool sheep. I ran Bill and Zac the first day. Bill ran quite well around the course, keeping good lines and would have placed well but the shedding bugaboo showed up in force - he wasn't having anything to do with it. Zac ran like a pig. Granted, i haven't been doing a lot with him, but he was just a pig. He wanted to run straight up the field, and two stops and redirects hardly changed his path at all. Amazingly, the sheep didn't take off backwards to the setout. Then, after turning the post, one of the sheep put it's head down to graze. Zac moved up and got her going, but decided to grab her for emphasis. As you can guess, i was none too happy about that, and neither was the judge, DQ. It was just uncalled for, so Zac got fired for the rest of the trip and Zeke was subbed in. Day two, and Bill again ran beautifully up to the shed, where he refused to come in again. Not a good sign for the beginning of the trial trip. Zeke ran even better than i'd hoped. I was a little conservative on our shedding and we ran out of time before completing it. Even so, he managed a placement and a couple of points towards the Finals.

Off we went to KY, for a couple of days of working dogs and training with Vergil Holland. I got in some good training on Spot, and Vergil gave me some very helpful advice on Bill's shedding, thankfully. It proved to be just the ticket, as we had no trouble shedding at the Bluegrass, where i've had fits shedding in the past, even with dogs that were enthusiastic shedding dogs.  I ran Zeke again in Zac's spot, and was very happy with him. His outruns could have been better, but i was generally happy with him. He finished both runs in the top 1/3 and would have done even better had i been a little more aggressive in my handling in bye. But we're getting used to each other on the trial field and gaining experience.  Bill was his usual steady self and had 2 good runs, finishing 14th in one round and just out of the placings in the other. His combined score was good enough to make the Top 20 Finals, the first time in all these years i would get a crack at the Bluegrass double lift. Unfortunately, a little bug was brewing. I started feeling lousy saturday morning before Bill's second run. He seemed somewhat off as well, just acted tired and was eating grass like crazy. We got through the run and had a decent score, but then crashed in our room.  Sunday morning of the double lift, i could hardly lift my head. I finally drug myself to the field about 11:00, just in time for the Handler parade. We didn't run until 16th, so a long wait later, we stepped to the post. I was feeling pretty good about the run, wasn't sure how the international shed would go, but knew Bill could move the 20 sheep even though they were getting very heavy in the heat, and he's very reliable on turnbacks. I was excited as he took off for the first lot. Good outrun, good lift, offline on the diagonal fetch (i've got to get better at seeing that line!) but moving the sheep very well, made the gates, set up the turnback, gave the whistle. Bill released the first group, no problem. And then he just froze. It was very weird. He seemed to see something in the crowd outside the field, but it wasn't like he was seeing something he thought was sheep out there, i could tell that. He just froze up. I finally got him to come part way back to me, thinking i could unfreeze him enough to get him to go out, but he was just not right and wouldn't go. After several minutes of struggling, i retired. I swear i felt like we'd hit a brick wall, never in a million years would have predicted that to happen. I mean, he's turned back in a ton of different fields, at huge distances and out of sight, with no trouble. So strange. Strange enough that i started him on doxycycline afterwards since weird behavioral stuff is a good indicator for tick troubles in the working dogs. Anyway, it was a disappointing end to the BG, but i drug myself and the dogs home in a feverish haze the next day. Talk about a bitch of a drive home, whew. But now i'm better and Bill seemed immediately more chipper on the doxy, so maybe he did have something going on.

After a few days of rest and antibiotics, i thought i'd go on ahead to the Circle BR SDT, hosted by Ben and Emily Ousley and very capably managed by Beth Chuck. It's only a short drive from home and the forecast was for a lovely cool weekend, so it sounded kind of relaxing (and it was). This would be Zeke's first time on the terraced field, which gives many dogs fits on their outruns. He managed the outrun well but did land a bit tight both days. The first day, he had a very difficult draw of sheep but handled them well. The second day, his sheep were a bit sweeter but he was a little too western for these very eastern katahdins. He's still learning to handle this kind of sheep and i'm still trying to get used to handling a dog that sheep feel as much as they do Zeke.  Bill ran very well both days. The first day he ended up just out of the placings as i misjudged the time and the clock went off as we were penning. The second day he ended up 8th with a gorgeous run around the course. I messed up the shed and had a missed attempt when i didn't follow Vergil's suggestion (still trying to get it to be a new habit). But Bill came right in on the second attempt, when i got it right. Pen was easy, then off to the single. I thought i had it clean but the judge saw something he really didn't like, hitting us 7. The 7 killed us, but it was one of those runs where you just think you did it about as well as you were going to. I so love running that dog. The mistakes are always mine with him, he's just so reliable.  It was a lovely, lovely weekend, with lots of happy faces and good runs all around. Next year will be the 30th anniversary of this trial and i hope to be there.

So that's the spring trip wrap up. We're off for lessons this weekend, then on to the VBCA Summer trial next weekend, then another clinic with Tommy Wilson at the farm the following weekend. It's a busy time of year!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

And Away We go!

Trial season begins this week, yeah! The dogs and I start our little journey by heading north on Thursday to the Borders on Paradise SDT in Turbotville, PA.  Open runs Friday and Saturday, and right now I'm planning to run Bill and Zac, with Zeke possibly subbing in for Zac on the second run. I had intended to slot Zeke into the second dog spot on my team but the old man (Zac turned 9 yesterday!) is working really well so he's back in. Zeke will be waiting eagerly on the sidelines for missteps on Zac's part, hoping to jump in. It's a hard decision really, since both of the Z boys are working well. I had the chance to train recently with a good friend, spending the day rotating through 6 different fields with 6 different and difficult outruns, and Zeke really nailed the outruns. But i feel Zac is more flexible around the course still, so he's in the lineup.

After the BonP trial, we head over to KY for a little visiting and then the Bluegrass Classic SDT starts on Wednesday.  I'm hoping to get some sheep time in for the pups before and during the BG. Devin has been with Vergil Holland for a couple of weeks, to get a little start on him, while I've been starting Spot. I like both of them a lot, so am hoping to do a little training with them while we're on the road. I've really been enjoying Spot and am looking forward to seeing Devin and putting time into him myself. Both look promising so far.

I'll try to post updates on the trials here as we go along, as well as posting scoreboard pics on Facebook. Since I'll be staying in hotels and not the camper, i expect to have wi-fi.