It was definitely an up and down week at the Bluegrass for the Shoofly Gang. I didn't even know for sure who i was going to run in the Open, right up to the evening before the trial started. I'd entered Spottie and Zac but had Jet waiting in the wings. Spottie had seemed to be slowing down, perhaps showing her age a bit, and i was concerned that she might have trouble keeping up with the fresh Texas lambs. Jet tends to pull up short on her outrun, which kills us at trials, plus she also will use her teeth on sheep that try to push her around at all, as the lambs would. And Zac, my top dog, was occasionally hopping around on 3 legs, having re-injured the iliopsoas muscle that kept him out of trials most of the late summer and fall. At least Moss was happy and sound, though i was concerned about his very limited trial experience, especially as he'd be running on those Texas lambs in the Nursery on friday and saturday.
Fortunately, i'd arranged a visit with Vergil and Anne Marie Holland on the monday before the trial began, to work the dogs a bit. I decided i'd let Zac work some, for the first time since we returned from the Shaker Village trial, and make my final decisions afterwards. I also started Spottie on rimadyl to see if she'd be more comfortable. And I worked the heck out of Jet there in case she'd need to sub in, so she'd be prepared. Zac seemed a little off his game, and had built up a bit more eye from the lay off than i wanted to go into the Bluegrass with. But, his leg didn't seem any worse after the workout, so i decided to go ahead and run him in the trial. Final decision was to stick to my original entry of Zac and Spottie. I would have liked to see Jet on those sheep since she handled the Edgeworth sheep so handily in the fall season but next year will have to be her year. Moss worked well at Vergil and Anne Marie's, on sheep that were pretty similar to the ones he'd run into in ProNovice. His outruns were looking good and it was good prep for the trial, especially since he's worked in very few fields.
On to the trial! Moss would be my first dog up, running 10th in ProNovice on wednesday. He was so good! He ran out like a little champ, listened well, just did a really nice job on the suffolk cross "novice" sheep (the same sheep run at the Shaker Village trial). He ended up with a 68, tied for 5th and ended up 6th after the outwork tie break. His second PN run was pretty nice as well but not quite as clean and he ended up 14th. Those were good placements in a class with nearly 50 dogs. On Friday, the Texas sheep from the first round of Open came over to the novice field. Whew, what a difference a day makes! The suffolks were their own challenge - 27 of the 47 PN dogs on wednesday were not able to complete the course and post a score, with many of the sheep jumping the fences into the exhaust. The Texas lambs gave the young dogs something new to think about though - they'd actually slow down and look at the dogs the first day and i think this surprised many of the younger Nursery dogs. There was quite a range of experience among the dogs in Nursery, all the way from dogs like Moss running their first trials, to dogs that had done well in the 2007 Nursery Finals and were competing their second year of Nursery. Anyway, Moss ran really well on the sheep on friday, settling them down nicely and getting around the course, then timing out at the pen. His run was a little sloppy on lines and such but i didn't want to handle him too much and wanted him to get a feel for this type of sheep. He really did a lovely job with them, was calm and confident, and they seemed to relax a bit with him. Saturday's Nursery run was something of a disaster, with the sheep running here and there and everywhere but i think they were fed up and had had enough of dog trialing. Moss didn't lose his cool but was pretty wound up. Early in the week i was happy to note that he seemed to be enjoying the trial atmosphere and by Saturday i was thinking he was enjoying it too much! Overall, it was a good week for Moss and he did well.
Zac was my first dog up in the Open, running 37th on wednesday. As i sent him on his outrun, i looked up field to see our sheep running all over the place. They were more or less near the set out point when Zac got there but were clearly wound up. They broke hard right but Zac caught them and started downfield. I left him alone and let him work it out with the sheep since they were pretty upset, giving up a little on the fetch line in exchange for him getting a "hold" on them. It worked out pretty well and he had a very nice run around the course, happy sheep and good lines with a close miss on the crossdrive panel (my nemesis at the BG!). Unfortunately things fell apart in the shedding ring. We had plenty of time but i just couldn't get a hole of any sort and Zac finally got fed up and grabbed a breaking sheep, and we got the "Thank you!" call from the judge. We drew up late in the day on friday for the second round, and when i saw the sun break out after rain all day, i thought we might be in trouble. The sheep got very heavy and started grazing at any release of pressure from the dog - bad news for Zac as he'd built up that extra eye and this type of sheep gives him trouble anyway. He ran out well and lifted nicely, then one sheep started trying to break away from him while the other 2 stuck their heads down to eat. He went into defense mode, catching and tucking the renegade in repeatedly, which was really nice. Unfortunately this also tended to shut the group down and the fetch was terribly slooooooooow. Six minutes of the allotted eleven were burned up getting to the post. I got him to hustle the sheep around the drive, though they were stodgy again on the return leg, but we did get to the shedding ring. The sheep had gotten the best of Zac though and he was frustrated, and finally he just nailed one, resulting in another DQ. I was disappointed but that's the way it goes sometimes, and we'll just work to do better next year.
And then there was good old Spottie, who continues to amaze me. Ten and a half years old and she ran like a million bucks at the trial. On thursday afternoon the sheep were running rough and getting the best of many dogs, and she just ran out there, lifted them nicely and calmly walked them right up to me, marched them around the course (missed one panel) and on into the shedding ring. Time was short at that point and we worked really hard to get a shed (boy was she sharp working in the ring), and time ran out just after we got to the pen. I was especially proud of her work in the sunday morning second round run. One of the lambs was really balky and tried to break off to the exhaust the entire fetch, and then broke hard over and over during the first leg of the drive (in the direction of the exhaust). Spottie and i worked hard controlling that lamb and it was great fun with such a wonderful and willing partner. She marched the three on around the course, with nice lines, hitting all the panels. A wide turn at the crossdrive hurt us pretty badly on points, and we just never could get an opportunity to make the shed. That really hurt since she was in the running for the double lift, having ended up in the 31st spot going into the second round. Final tally for the 2 rounds was 60.5 + 58.5, so 119, about 16 points shy of the cut. I worried about her age and even considered running Jet in her place this year since it's a big course with tough sheep but she looked terrific out there, spry and in total control. And she looked gorgeous flying out on those 2 outruns, just perfect. I couldn't have asked for her to have done even one little thing differently, there wasn't a single second that i felt she'd let me down even the tiniest bit on the course, and not getting to the final round rests on me this year - the shedding was just so difficult with so little experience on that type of sheep. It'll come with time i know, but it makes me sad that it'll probably be another dog that benefits from it, and not good little Spottie. She's been a real gem for me.
So that's the report on the dogs and their runs. They mostly performed very well and i was happy with them. I feel like i have some things to work on myself (that darned shed when you can't get anywhere near the sheep for one thing!) and a few things on the dogs. The week was fun but soggy, which made studying the runs of the other teams a little less fun. I saw some good, some very good, some bad and some very bad. Lots to ponder on. It was great to see friends and their dogs doing well (congrats to Christine and Rook, and Renee and Bette, and Lauren and Mac!). It was fun to spend time with folks i don't get to spend enough time with (hi Joan!). Hanging out in the camper with the dogs and friends was fun (fighting the broken down YET AGAIN generator was frustrating -thanks Mark & Renee for the "charge"). Seeing Moss' breeder so happy and proud after his first PN run was great (hi Denise!). And getting to take part in such a terrific event is always a thrill and an honor (THANK YOU BLUEGRASS PEOPLE!!!).
Now it's time to start plotting and planning ahead for next year!