Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sheep for Sale

It's that time of year again. I'm cutting down the flock size and selling some very nice working sheep. They're nicely dogged and appropriate for most levels of training, and definitely not soured. It's always hard to choose who has to go! Buyers from previous years have been very happy. Contact me if you're interested.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Circle BR SDT

We're home from the last trial for awhile. Memorial Day weekend always finds us at the Circle BR SDT, at the home of Dr Ben and Emily Ousley. This year was extra special as it was the 25th Annual trial - 25 continuous years! I was really touched by the speeches and dedications at the Handlers Meetings and the remembrances of trials and handlers from years past at the dinners. Ben and Emily are special folks and i feel lucky to have been at their trial for the last 14-15 years.

The trial kicked off friday afternoon with a Nursery class. The sheep were set about 2/3s of the way up the terraced field, about 200 yards out I'd guess. The drive was very long, the full course to be used for the Open on saturday. Sheep were katahdin ewes, pulled off their lambs just before the class started, and run in groups of five. Since the outrun wasn't too terribly long, i decided to run Bill and i'm glad i did. He ran very well, handling the sheep with ease, keeping a nice pace on the fetch and drive. I sent him to the left, which isn't his stronger side, but he ran out nicely, kicking as he'd crest each terrace and landing correctly behind his sheep. He didn't seem to be thinking as much about busting the sheep up after lifting as he'd been on the Ky trip. I'd worked on it some in the couple of days we had before the trial and it seemed to have stuck with him. I tried just steadying him instead of downing and that worked better, probably since he could feel less like he was giving up control from the stop. When the class ended, Bill had finished on top handily, gaining his second top 20% finish (with two 1st place finishes) and qualifying for the 2009 Nursery Finals. Yay Billy!

Jet ran early on Saturday morning. Other than some trouble with pulling up short on her outrun and needing 3 redirects, her run was just beautiful. It was nice enough that even with the outrun problems and losing 9 points right off the top for that, she ended up in 5th place at the end of the day. Zac ran later in the day and had a terrific run going right up to the driveaway panels, when for some reason the ewes just bolted and starting running. I'm still not sure what caused it - Zac seemed to have a really good hold on them up to that point. We didn't get them settled back down again until we'd missed both drive panels. Since i knew we were out of contention at that point, i just kind of schooled on Zac a bit on the return leg and shed and pen, in preparation for the next day's competition.

Sunday morning, Zac was the first dog on the field. Since the entry was fairly small at about 50 dogs, with plenty of time for running them, we were going to be doing a marked shed, pen and then single. Zac had a really gorgeous run around the course. When we got to the marked shed, we had a leader with a collar on (we were to take 2 of the 3 unmarked sheep) who gave us fits. She kept leading out and made it really hard to get the shed set up since she kept trying to leave the ring. After what seemed like forever, we finally did get it set up and Zac had a perfect shed. Off to the pen where that ewe again gave us fits, costing us 5 points. At least i thought our single of a collared sheep would be easy! Unfortunately, time ran out just as we got back to the ring, darn it. Final score was an 84 out of a possible 110, which kept us at the top of the leader board for a good part of the day. The scores jumped a bunch late in the afternoon though, and we ended up 10th, one out of the placings. Getting the single would sure have been nice. Zac ran well and we were finally working well together again. It's too bad it's come right at the end of the trial season but it was awfully nice to have my boy back to his old self. Jet ran towards the end of the day and had a decent run going but ended up having some problems on her drive and didn't get a very good score, knocking her out of contention for a top 3 combined finish and the chance to do the double lift.

Today was the novice dogs' day at the trial and i had Billy entered in Nursery and ProNovice again. Nursery was first and Bill was off to a great start on the course when he got confused. About half way down the fetch, i gave him a stop and he turned right around like he was looking back up the field. It looked like he thought he'd left some sheep, or something like that. It was really strange looking though - he'd take the down but turn his back to me. It took a couple of minutes before i figured out what was happening. There were swallows skimming along the grass, grabbing at bugs that Bill and the sheep were kicking up, and Bill was feeling pretty disturbed by them. I don't know if he thought they were dive-bombing him, or someone was throwing something or what, but he sure was confused by it and wanted to keep an eye on whatever was going on behind him! Needless to say, his fetch and drive were pretty "interesting", especially in combination with having drawn a group of sheep that wanted to tear around the field like deer. I decided to retire with him before the pen. Later on, he ran in the Pronovice class and had a very pretty run. I decided to send him to the right (he'd gone left the 2 times before) and he ran out very well, to the same setout point as for the Nursery class. Lift, fetch and drive were very clean (breakdown was 18-10-19-26 if i remember correctly). Unfortunately, the sheep didn't want to go right into the pen, needing some convincing, and time ran out, so no pen points. Final score was a 73, which held up at the top of the class until nearly the end of the 17 dogs. He ended up in 2nd place when the dust settled.

It was a nice trial and good finish to the spring trial season. The dogs have all run pretty well and Bill's had a terrific start to his trial career. Now it's time to put some attention into the farm and sheep for a little while. We may go to a local trial at the end of June, but otherwise there's not much on the trial calendar for a bit.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bluegrass 2009, Day Four

On to our last day of competition at the Bluegrass - bet you thought we'd never get here, didn't you?

Bill was up first dog, first thing in the morning, on the Nursery course. I was determined to get a handle on him at the top end so we didn't have a munchity-munch repeat of his DQ the day before. I'd been looking forward to running him on those fresh sheep for ages, and an outrun-lift-grip doesn't afford much of a crack at it. I sent him to the right, and as he started down the backside of a small hill, i saw his feet and tail up over his head - he'd hit a hole or something, and did a complete somersault! He got up, shook his head, and went on. Before he'd gotten much further though, the sheep broke away from the setout person and ended up to the left side of the setout spot. I heard the judge yell "Pick them up and I'll judge from that spot". It didn't really matter that much, as i was going to be screaming my guts out trying to stop Billy the freight train once he lifted. Outrun and lift were 20-10, fetch was 7 (!). Seriously, i was doing some major yelling trying to keep Bill out of the sheep after the lift. Somehow, they got within the range where i have good control on Bill and we quieted down to the usual soft peeps on the whistle, but the fetch was very offline. It started out that way and we'd have needed to dogleg it to hit the panels, which were very close to the setout as it was. My goal was to get to run the course and avoiding the scatter and grip was essential, so i wasn't too concerned about the line anyway. From that point on, it was quite the gorgeous run. Driveaway and crossdrive were perfect. As we turned at the crossdrive panel, i looked at my watch and we only had 30 seconds left, yikes! So we rushed the return leg, making it a little offline, and Bill put them straightaway in the pen, with the clock going off as i closed the gate, whew! I didn't think it was all that great a run, with that fetch, but Bill handled the sheep very well. Late in the day, i walked back to the novice field just out of curiousity, to see if maybe we'd pick up a Nursery qualifying leg, and was surprised to find out we were leading the class with only a handful of dogs left to run. Apparently the sheep were pretty cranky on the novice field too. When the class was over, Bill's lead had held up and he won the class, getting his first qualifying leg on the Nursery finals as well.

On to our last run at the BG, Zac on the Open field, mid-afternoon in the heat of the day. He ran out and lifted pretty nicely for 17.75-8.5. Sheep started down the field but started stalling out. I couldn't see really well what was happening but i think Zac was shutting them down a bit and they were happy to stop, then started grazing and Zac just had trouble keeping them moving from then on. In hindsight, i wish i'd been more proactive on the whistle, but it looked like he was moving forward and trying to work it out, and i was leaving him alone (too much). As the sheep realized they could stand and eat, they got harder and harder to move. After what seemed like forever, Zac busted in, probably biting one of the sheep, and they finally came down the field but only 3.5 fetch points were left. Because so much time had elapsed, i rushed the sheep around the drive and we got 17 for that. Shed was okay for 7 points, then time ran out before the pen, total was 53.75 points. It was disappointing but Zac did his best.

It was overall a very good Bluegrass for the Shoofly dogs. I was really pleased with Bill's performance all week. He far exceeded my expectations and was growing and learning with every run. I expect next year, when he's still running those Nursery classes, to be a blast with a whole year under his belt. Jet and Zac ran really well, in the first round especially. Time of day was a big issue this year at the BG, and 3 of our 4 runs were in the late afternoon heat, not a very good time to run. But that's the luck of the draw and plenty of teams did well then too. In the first round, over 50% of the teams didn't manage a score, and in the second round, 30% didn't. I feel good that my dogs did get around all 4 times we ran. The biggest problem with the Bluegrass is that now i have to wait a whole year to go back! Huge kudos to everyone involved in putting on such a stellar trial. It's an amazing undertaking and the best trial all year.

Bluegrass 2009, Day Three

Okay, i'll try to keep this a little shorter than the last couple of posts. Sorry, day two was a full one!

Day three was less than stellar for the Shoofly team. Bill's stop at the far end of the field had pretty much worn out by his Nursery run. The outrun really was a little long for him with as little experience as he has, both on strange fields and at longer distances. I sent him left and he stopped very short, at about 10:00, very unlike him. I think he was feeling the difference in the sheep, since the nicely broke flock from the first 2 days had been replaced by the sheep from the Open field, barely dog broke and in some cases not at all. I gave him a redirect and he took it very well, ending up with a 16-8. I got him stopped just as the sheep lifted, but he got up and didn't take the next stop, pushing into the sheep too hard and scattering them, then grabbing one to end the run with a DQ. It's a small problem Bill has right now and it showed up at Hanley's and on this day - he can push in too hard and unsettle sheep after the lift, sometimes scattering them, which makes him want to grab one. He's working through it and pretty reliable at the shorter distances, such as in his PN runs, but the Nursery distance is still a bit too far out for him to control himself. If i could stop him, i could handle him through it and he'd settle down and be okay, but the down was getting harder to get all week long at the top end of the Nursery course. I guess he was due a bad run after all those good ones.

Jet ran very late in the day, 5th from last. It was hot and the sheep were feeling very cranky. I sent Jet left again and she slowed up well before getting to the sheep to eye them. I gave her a redirect, which she took, but had to do it once or twice more to get her close to balance, and she still walked in short. The sheep started off nicely on the lift, though crooked as Jet was overworking the draw. Outrun and lift were 14.5 and 7.5. On the fetch, the sheep didn't fight Jet quite as hard as in the first round and weren't trying quite so hard to run over her to get back to the setout, but they started running and just wouldn't settle down. Jet was pretty hot on their heels on the fetch though, which didn't help and we missed the panels. To top if off, at the end of the fetch the darned sheep flipped hard to my right and because Jet was so far back, i couldn't get them around the post the right way. I think we managed to get them around the wrong direction twice even. The drive was sloppy. Fetch and drive ended up 6.5 and 17.5. The sheep had all become very good friends racing around the course by the time they entered the shedding ring and we couldn't get them to split for anything. After a missed attempt, i finally ran one off the front for a 3 point shed. With only a few seconds left, we had one good try at the pen but ran out of time. Final score was 49. I was really disappointed, as i just knew Jet was going to get through to the final round after that good score in the first round. She's been running so good and would have done a great job moving the 20 sheep around in the final. I hope she's still fit and sound next year so we can try again. Spottie ran last year at 10 years old so i'm hoping Jet will still be going strong next year at 9.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bluegrass 2009, Day Two

Day 2 of the Bluegrass, the busiest day we'll have, with 4 runs - one each for Jet and Zac, and 2 for Bill. Jet ran in the morning, 5th on the Open field. The sheep seemed to be a little more reasonable at this time of day but were still testing the dogs pretty hard at the top. Because Jet pulls up short on her outrun and the sheep wanted to bolt to the left, i sent her left. She did pull up, but it worked out okay considering the sheep. Outrun-lift were good for 17-8.5 (can't remember, i may have given her a redirect on the fly to keep her out). The sheep started their efforts to escape after the lift, bolting left, bolting right, splitting up, but Jet handled them perfectly and mastered them. I'd worried she might blow into them, but she was on the defense and holding tight. No one was getting away from her, by god. 50 yards left, 50 yards right, there was Jet, holding and turning the group and bringing them on. I really didn't try to handle her at all and let her figure out where to be, no flanks from me to interfere, just a few good hard steady whistles to keep up contact with her and keep her eased off the gas at least a hair. Our goal was to get the sheep down the field and down the field they came! We missed the fetch gate but the fetch was relatively straight after getting the sheep mastered, good for 10 points with the miss. We hit both drive gates but the lines were wobbly, 17 points. On to the shed, my particular nemesis at the Bluegrass (along with the crossdrive gates, though that seems to be mostly resolved now). I have always had a devil of a time shedding the sheep there, i think because i don't see sheep like that very often. Last year, i had a pretty nice run with Spottie right into the shedding ring, where we floundered for 4 or 5 minutes, never getting it done. I've been picking the brains of some folks (Pat Shanahan, Vergil, others) the last few months in preparation for seeing them and spent a good part of the first day of the trial watching sheds. I had my plan in place as the sheep came in the ring. If i didn't get a clean, on-the-head opportunity, i was going to run one off the front. I'd seen it done that way several times already and knew it wasn't being hit particulary hard by the judges, and i wanted to get to the pen after the shed and not give up that other 10 points. So we started manuevering around in the ring, trying to get a gap, and oh my, Jet was on fire. She loves shedding, particularly the setting up part of shedding, and every once in a while gets into this cutting horse "zone" - it's hard to even describe but there's pure joy and excitement over there on the opposite side of the sheep from me, and ain't no sheep getting away from that dog. Cut left, cut right, zip, zoom, aye yi yi. It's fun and exciting but the adrenaline is over the top. So, i decided to run one off the front rather than keep angling for the on-the-head single. Jet would have come through the slightest of gaps and could have had the most spectacular of singles, i'm sure, with the attitude she was showing. But i knew we had a decent run going and wasn't risking a disqualifying grip on the hold, not with all that adrenaline screaming in Jet's ears! So, seeing a nice gap open up, i called Jet through and held onto her with my voice to make sure she didn't put a toothy stamp on the shed - 7 points. On to the pen and one of my favorite moments of the whole trip. These 5 month old lambs were not about to walk into that pen without some convincing and Jet was spectacular. Actually, we both were pretty sharp there and it felt like we were in some kind of mind-meld, working so closely together. It was quite a high to close the gate on the lambs, good for 9.5 points. Total score was 69, which held up all day for a 14th place finish, my first placing in Open at the BG (finally!). Jet's been working so well and so sharp this spring and she was wonderful for this run.

Next up was Bill, on the novice field for his second Nursery run. I decided to send him left since he'd gone right 3 times the day before, and also we'd worked on the lefthand side at Vergil's. He was bit flat on the top, for an 18-8, but not bad considering how flat he'd like to be on that side. He was really listening well and the fetch and drive were well controlled and sweet, for 18.5 and 27 points. He continued to be a penning master with a full 10 point pen. Final score 81.5 (of 90) and a 10th place out of 42 dogs, up from 12th the first run.

Since Bill and Zac were to be up at about the same time on both fields, i ran Bill a little earlier in the PN class than we were scheduled for. I think we were both a little bit distracted, me by the looming Open run and Bill by having already run so many times with little time for hanging out and playing, getting some stress relief (the rain had set in the evening before). Still, it was another good run, just not quite as clean as the first PN run. Outrun to the right was perfect with a good lift for a 20-10. Fetch was straight but a tiny bit of offline just before the post for an 18. Driveaway was good but Bill got distracted by a smell at the drive panels and stopped for a quick sniff, resulting in a wide turn and wiggly return leg, so 23 points on the drive. Another perfect 10 point pen and final score was 81, good for 3rd place in the class and Reserve PN Champion in the combined standings, 2 points behind Scott Glen and Whiskey. I was a little concerned about the sniffing but he is a 21 month old intact male, so it's not all that surprising. Bill certainly doesn't lack for keenness, that's for sure. At this point he'd run 7 times in 4 days, an awful lot for one so young. I planned to give him lots of time playing with his friend Meg for the evening so he could relax and have some fun.

On to the Open field and Zac's late afternoon run. The sheep had gotten extremely cranky at this point. It was hot and they just weren't enjoying this game at all. I was pretty concerned about how Zac would do. He can get so into "defense" mode that he stops making much forward progress, or at least he had in the past at this trial. My plan was to just keep the sheep coming forward as much as i could and not worry about the line until the fetch panel. There's a dip behind the panels that i'd been calling "the valley of death" for two days - lots of dogs would work their tails off to get the sheep that far, and then one wrong flank or overflank, and they'd be back up the field like their butts were on fire. I wanted to get past that point before messing around too much with Zac. I set him up to send left and he kept looking at the exhaust sheep to that side. I still wanted to send him that way, thinking he'd be okay as he's a good sheep spotter. He sailed past the exhaust but for some reason, halfway up the field he hit the brakes, spun around, and looked back to the exhaust. Two lookback whistles and a flank later, he was on his way again but 8 points got slashed right there. Lift was pretty good for 8.5 points. Then the rodeo started and Zac did a really good job. The sheep were breaking left and right like they did on Jet (and everyone else), but Zac held them much closer to online than a lot of dogs, which surprised me. I was just hitting the walk up whistle, keeping him forward, and he did a good job bringing them. We missed the gates and had 11.5 for the fetch. Looking at the posted scores, this was one of the better fetch scores of the round and it was with a missed gate. Good boy Zac! I thought the drive was quite good. We hit everything and it was pretty smooth. I was a little surprised to only get 19.5 for it, but again, comparatively speaking, it scored pretty well. We had a devil of a time shedding, with a group that didn't want to split up at all. Finally i got one off the front and Zac came through for 5.5 points. We didn't have enough time left to make a decent attempt at the pen, so nothing there. Total was 57, which was disappointing as it felt like a decent enough run. But losing those 8 on the outrun and not having a pen killed us. With those back, it would have been a 75 and 7th place. All in all, it was a good run, better than i was expecting with the time of day and the way the sheep were running then. I think it ended up being the highest or second highest score of the afternoon. I was really, really happy with Zac and it was a good end to a good day.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bluegrass 2009, Day One

(Part 2 of the trip blog - see below for the first section on Chinquapinwood SDT) Okay, so we're at the Bluegrass finally. When we left home, i still had Zac on the waiting list to get into the trial, but as of Monday morning, he was in. Neither of my Open dogs ran the first day, Wednesday, so it was all Billy's day. And a good day it ended up being. He was to run Nursery and ProNovice, with Nursery first up. The sheep were set about 275 yards out, with the field rising and falling all the way out. I sent Bill to the right since that's his naturally better side. As he was running out, i gave him a little whistle to keep him out. It would have been nice if i hadn't messed up and given the come bye whistle by mistake, but he took my intent and stayed out nicely. Lift and fetch were decent, as was the drive, and the pen was perfect (Billy is becoming a pen specialist!). Breakdown was 16-8-16-20-10 for a total of 70 and a 12th place finish out of 42 dogs. I was pleased with this considering his grip off in the second run at Hanley's, and also considering he's my Nursery dog for *next* year. The work at Vergil's had stuck, as Bill was listening nicely.

Next up was ProNovice and Bill ran early in the class. I was feeling pretty confident with the small course and Bill and i worked together very well for this run. It was very sharp and smooth, with beautiful lines. Bill left my feet a little too square and ducked around the pen, costing a couple of points right off the top, but otherwise, there wasn't much to pick on. He lost one on his lift, one on the fetch, one on the drive and nothing on the pen, for a total of 5 points off and a 75 out of 80. At the end of the day, we were tied with Scott Glen and Whiskey (a dog i nearly bought 2 years ago as a half grown pup, who would have taken Bill's "spot" before he was even born - funny how things work out!) and ended up in a run off. Judge Bruce Fogt asked for a silent gather to break the tie. It was just a short outrun and judging stopped when the sheep reached your feet. Scott went first and Whiskey ran out well but got a little confused at his very quiet handler. The sheep leaned offline to the right side of the course and ended up at the exhaust, and then jumped the fence, ending the run. Next up was Bill and i was feeling a bit powerless to stop him from his inclination to bust in after the lift. But he ran out well, lifted nicely, started the sheep straight to me, then wondered why i was being so quiet and slipped left off the pressure, allowing the sheep to start towards that exhaust pen to my right. Feeling them slip away, he made a dramatic flank over to cover and brought the sheep dead to my feet, winning the day! I know the silent gather isn't popular with many people, but i have to admit it was very interesting. It was a big first day for Bill and a very good start for the week.

KY Trip & Chinquapinwood SDT

Wow, where to start? The dogs and i packed up and headed east to KY on May 7th, a thursday. The trip was long but mostly uneventful, always a good thing when hauling a travel trailer and a van full of dogs. The last few minutes of the trip were a bit harrowing. I'd been warned repeatedly about a bridge and hairpin turn if you missed turning into Mike and Laura Hanley's road. Trying to negotiate it is futile and results in needing to call a huge wrecker to rescue you. For a change, the GPS actually saved my butt rather than getting me all turned around and messed up. It was fussing at me to "turn, turn, TURN NOW!" into what looked for all the world like a driveway rather than a road. Thankfully there was room to pull off and call Laura, and for a change i managed to make the right decision. Someone had stolen the road sign that very day and i'd been one bad decision away from a very bad evening! The Hanley's farm is picturesque and the camping area very nice, with lots of room for dog walking, and wooded trails leading down to streams and a river. I got us all snuggled into a campsite at a tree line for the first few days of our trial trip.

Friday morning i ran over to Vergil Holland's for lessons with the dogs and some practice working on bigger outruns, since i haven't been getting to do much longer stuff with the dogs. Vergil has a terrific field for training on, about 400 yards long and rolling. First we worked on Bill, getting him to open up a bit and also working on the stop at a distance. If he didn't open out on his outrun, i was to just stop him and give him a voice correction. That worked well on him. Next up was Zac, who has been using too much eye as he goes out, locking onto the sheep and winding in too tight. Because he's an experienced, trained dog, we used different tactics with him, sometimes calling him back, sometimes just hitting him with a voice correction on the fly. Finally, we worked some on Jet, who pulls up short on her outrun even though she runs out properly. I'd send her, give a voice correction if she was locking in, and then flank her all the way around the sheep, making her let go of the hard contact. After a couple of times, she was finishing properly and got to fetch for a reward and to show her she was doing it right. It was a good day and very enjoyable. I'd highly recommend Vergil for lessons. I've been going to him every once in a while since i first started training dogs. I remember calling him up because i was in KY for Christmas and taking my baby 6 month old Belle to him for her first lesson. I knew absolutely nothing about all this herding stuff but sure got hooked quickly. Vergil has a good eye and can break things down well. Good stuff.

Saturday was the first day of the Chinquapinwood SDT. I ran Jet first and was really pleased with her. She ran out beautifully (thank you Vergil!) for a 20-10. The fetch was very straight but as we went to turn the post, one of the sheep broke very unexpectedly, hard to my right (away from the exhaust, which was to the left behind me). She just bolted like her tail was on fire. Jet did a nice job scooping her back up, and handled her well on the drive, but she was trouble all the way around the course, breaking and bolting and generally eating up drive points. We got back to the pen and she continued her cranky ways, breaking around it repeatedly. Final score was 64, well out of the placings. I was pleased with how Jet worked and sometimes the luck of the draw just gets you. For the most part, the sheep were really very even. It probably didn't help that an Army helicopter came over when we were starting the drive, and hovered over my head to watch for a bit. Jet couldn't hear a thing and the sheep sure didn't like it! Zac finished up with a 78 on his run. It was a pretty decent run though Zac wasn't really running in top form. He was a little stiff on his flanking for some reason, perhaps from the corrections the day before at the lessons. His shedding was really off as well - he'd help me get a nice hole, start into it, and then not finish it off for some reason. He usually eats up shedding, so it was a little weird.

Day 2 was a little better. Zac ran quite a bit better, more responsive. He overshot his outrun a little and ended up with a 19-9. Fetch was straight for 18 points. Drive was really good until i turned right smack in front of the crossdrive panels, so a 20. Split-pen-single was all a little sloppy, so 7-6-8. Total score 87, well out of the placings, but i was getting my dog back at least. We'd been out of sync at this trial and Shaker Village as well. Jet ran extremely well. As i sent her, i looked up the field and realized the sheep had split up, with 3 on the left and 1 on the right, all settled and eating peacefully but well apart. In hindsight, if i'd seen the split before sending her, i guess i could have asked for the sheep to be put together, but i didn't see it and it was too late. I really thought they'd rejoin before she got there anyway. But the single one was hungry and perfectly happy by himself. Jet ran out well, going out to the right, passing the single and covering the three who were standing at the left side. She tapped the three to get them facing me, then flanked back over to the single. Mr. Hungry still didn't go join his friends and Jet had to tap them all back together. It was pretty to watch but the clock was running. Outrun and lift were good for 19-9, nice straight fetch, tucking in the hungry one, for 18. I thought the drive was quite good but the lagging hungry sheep kept causing us to have to flank a bit to tuck him in, and cost a few line points. I kind of thought the drive score would be a little higher but in hindsight, those wobbles probably knocked us down to the 23 we got. The finish was good but i got a little foolish on the single. Time was almost up so i grabbed a quick one just as we entered the ring. Unfortunately it was out of the ring before Jet got total control and that cost us 2, so the finish was 10-9-8, total score 96 out of 110 and a couple points out of placing. The Open competition was extremely competitive with the top 4 scores being 107, 107 (run off), 106, 106. Yikes!

Monday was Billy's day to run at the trial, in the Nursery, which was run as part of the "Stockdog" class - a combination of Nursery, Ranch and PN, sort of. It was the full Open course with no shed. This wasn't a very big course but it sure was tricky. You couldn't see your dog on a good part of the outrun, the dog couldn't see the sheep on part of the outrun, the crossdrive was wicked. On his first run, i sent Bill right and he went about half way up the field and started coming in to cross over, so i stopped him and he redirected nicely, running on out and finishing the outrun well (I don't have his breakdown). Lift was nice but then Bill started barreling into the sheep so i had to scream at him to stop him, and the fetch was very offline until the end. The drive was beautiful and for the first time all weekend i think i actually had the line right - it was extremely hard to see it. Pen was clean and the score ended up a 69, finishing about in the middle of the 20 Nursery dogs. The second run, Bill ran out very well with no problems, lifted nicely and then poked the sheep, causing them to split up, and he gripped one that was taking off to the side. Because of the way the field rolls, i couldn't see him to handle that spot, which is where he'll still blow into sheep. I'm sure he'll outgrow this but it's his biggest "hole" right now. I suppose it's allowed given he's only 22 months old still!

After the trial, i packed everyone and everything and we moved over to Masterson Station Park to get set up for the Bluegrass. Being so early to arrive, i had a nice choice of camping spots and ended up just where i was hoping to be, and under a shade tree to boot. I was having some trouble with the batteries on the camper not recharging, so i popped those off and took them to an auto parts store, to recharge and test. They read as still being good and the recharge seemed to do the trick. I think i just let them get too low because they were fine the rest of the trip and recharged like they were supposed to.

Tuesday morning i went back over to Vergil's with a friend and got some more help with outruns and shedding, and worked all 3 dogs a fair amount. Then back to the park and the Handlers Meeting that evening. It's always fun to go to the BG Handler's Meeting because you see people you haven't seen in a year and get the chance to catch up and say hey. It always feels more like a social event to me.

I'll split this up since it's getting very long. Next up....the Bluegrass!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My Bags are Packed and I'm Ready to Go...

(Ben at the Bluegrass in 2003, picture by Denise Wall)

I don't know the rest of the song that those lyrics come from, but it's sure been running through my head on a non-stop loop this week. It's been a busy few days, trying to get all packed and the camper ready to go, out on its first trip of the year. I'm keeping fingers crossed that everything is working okay and stays that way. Since i'll be gone for up to 12 days, it feels like i've pretty much moved everything i own from the house to the camper.

We leave first thing tomorrow morning, heading to Mike and Laura Hanley's Chinquapinwood Farm in Lexington, Ky. I'll set up camp tomorrow evening. Friday morning, the dogs and i are heading to Vergil and Anne Marie Holland's place for some extra dog work. I want to get the dogs on a bigger field for some outrun practice, something that's been sorely lacking from our trial prep this year. Saturday through Monday, Jet, Zac and Bill will be running in the Chinquapinwood trial, and then Monday afternoon, we'll pack up and head to Masterson Station Park to set up for the Bluegrass. I always get a kick out of driving past the soccer fields as we drive into the park - i played a lot of soccer games there when i lived in Lexington for grad school, and even lived on the "in town" end of the same road the park is on. Tuesday, we'll head back over to Vergil's for a little more tuning up, then the Bluegrass starts on Wednesday. Right now, i have only one Open dog in the trial, with the second on the waiting list. My plan is to run Jet rather than Zac, as she's working really well and the sheep will suit her, and she them. Hopefully, by the time the trial starts, i'll have my second dog in but i'm not counting on it. We're still 7th on the waiting list with a week to go. Bill will get lots of miles in on this trip. He'll run twice at Hanley's and he's entered in 6 classes at the BG - two Pronovice and all four Nursery classes. That'll be a lot of fun. The first 2 days on the novice field will have the nice sheep we just ran on at the Shaker Village trial. The second two will be run on sheep coming over from the Open field - fresh Texas wethers and a real challenge for some of the young dogs. I'm excited to see how Bill handles them.

I doubt i'll have a lot of internet access while camping, but i'll try to update the blog if i can. Here we go!!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Shaker Village Wrap up

Yesterday was another dreary weather day at the dog trial but the running continued to be very good for the most part. Kudos to the trial organizers and sheep provider - it really was another nice trial this year, with a great field and good, workable sheep.

I ran Zac about 15th and decided he was getting up the field in a proper fashion rather than that straight up the middle business. He left my feet well but locked in and i saw him leaning the wrong way so stopped him and gave him a good voice correction. About halfway up the field he seemed to be doing it again so i repeated the stop and correction. I wasn't trusting him to kick out on his own this time since he never had on saturday, and we have lots more trials coming up. He got around well, lifted well, had a drop dead gorgeous fetch, very nice clean drive. We blew one attempt at the shed. I wasn't quite in tune with Zac after him being sort of a jerk the day before and managed to not get out of his way when i called him in on the shed. We had a second attempt but i didn't trust him to not grip on the dicy hold i was asking for and it fell apart again. He ended up with a 69 and i ended up with some homework to get done on Zac before we hit the road again this week.

Jet ran 37th and had another sweet run. She pulled up quite short again and this time it really wasn't necessary so the sheep lifted a bit crooked. But the fetch and drive were very good, and shed and pen clean, i thought. I had a hard time understanding where Jet and I lost points on the shed and pen this weekend and never did put my finger on it. It's unfortunate as i thought we were pretty clean both days on our inbye work and yet the points off kept us out of the double lift yesterday afternoon. Jet finished with an 87, good for 8th place for the day. We were one spot out of the double lift, by 2 points.

It was a really good weekend overall. I thought Jet ran spectacularly well and it was a very good growing experience for Billy. Zac had a few rough spots but for the most part ran quite well too. Now we have a couple of days to recover from the long drive home last night and to plan and pack before leaving again thursday.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Shaker Village Day 1 Open

Today started out rainy and cold. The rain stopped mid-morning but it stayed pretty chilly all day. Jet ran 26th and i was thrilled with how well she ran. She was listening so well and the pace and attitude of the whole run was just sweet. I sent her right and the sheep were moving towards her as she crested the hill. Seeing them, she slowed up to keep them from taking off. With a bit of eye, she turned them around downfield, then slid into place for a perfectly straight lift. The fetch was dead straight at a quiet pace. Turn at the post, first leg of the drive, and turn at the driveaway panels were perfect. Crossdrive was a bit low, turn at the panels tight. I thought the return leg was good but in hindsight it may have been a bit offline. Shed and pen were nice and clean. I was a little disappointed in the score (84) but it was a sweet, sweet run. I couldn't have asked her to run any better than she did.

Zac ran 59th and was definitely rusty - the extra work in new fields when he was hurt would have really helped going into these trials. For some reason, he decided to run straight up the field on his outrun. I kept thinking he'd kick out but he didn't until he was almost on top of the sheep. They held on the spot for some reason, and the fetch was good, with him listening well and lining the sheep out nicely. The drive was really very good right up to the crossdrive panels, when Zac decided to "help" hold the pressure above the line - and tipped them just below the panels with this help. Shed and pen were perfect and he finished with an 81. I'd have thought there would be a lot more than 3 points between his and Jet's runs. Christine Henry won with her Mr. Reliable, Rook, with a 94. Connie Brannen was 2nd, Scott Glen 3rd, and Vergil Holland 4th and 5th. There were some really pretty runs today and the sheep were very good.

Nursery was run after the Open finished and i ran Bill again. He was wonderful! I sent him right and he set off wide but ran out really appropriately for the field, just beautiful. He was looking and thinking all the way to the top. I gave him a little "stay back" reminder as he came around the top but i think he'd have been fine without it. Lift was soft and sweet. Fetch was good though we missed the fetch panels when Bill wasn't quite wanting to flank and stay over to the right side. I'd decided to go at this as a training run rather than a competitive one, and was more concerned with getting the work right than hitting the panels, so wasn't trying real hard to get them. Turn and first leg of the drive were nice, with Bill really starting to enjoy pushing into these sheep and taking little flanks to adjust the line. Crossdrive was especially nice and Bill was flanking well there. We hit the crossdrive panel and Bill took the big flank to turn well enough that the sheep came back through the panels. That was okay though, he was happy and working well and i didn't want to fool with him too much to try to save it. I left the return leg and pen to him, just shutting up and letting him handle it all, and it was perfect. He's such a good boy (and laying here on the bed in the hotel room right now, all proud of himself). I don't know where he finished in the class but he sure made me happy. I've noticed that he really prefers the whistles to be quiet and sweet, and that he works much harder to do right then. Also today i went to voice command a lot quicker and more frequently, and that seemed to help him a lot. He really looked good out there today, very competent and not a bit over his head. This weekend has been extremely good for him.

Tomorrow is supposed to be very rainy and both dogs run fairly early. I doubt i'll be putting up another report for a few days - big drive home tomorrow instead of an evening chilling in the room with the pups. You can tell who did well today by looking around the room right now - Jet and Bill are sprawled out on the bed instead of out in the van with the others!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Shaker Village Novice Day

What a good day Billy boy had! He ended up 7th out of about 23 dogs in PN with a pretty sweet run. The sheep were set about 200 yards out and I sent him left, his weaker side. He's run 3 times at a trial and i've sent him right each time, so it was time to mix it up. We'd worked a bit on that side in the last week, and it looked to me like he could end up pretty wide to the right on this field. He set off nicely, wide and opening up as he ran uphill. I thought he was maybe a little flat across the top but didn't fiddle with it as i wasn't completely sure - no need to fuss at him when he might be right and he was trying so hard to be good. Lift was nice and pretty straight. Due to handler error (oops), the sheep missed the fetch panel - i flanked him too far and couldn't get him back over in time to catch it. He was pacing pretty nicely and taking my stops and steadies, but a little hard to flank (true all day). I was a little concerned about the drive before the run as Bill is still not completely confident if the sheep are stopping or if they're running hard. These 3 sheep would go downhill and then sharply uphill to the panels, so they might stall out in the low spot or take off as they hit the panel area. I decided to let Bill have his head and push them along a bit fast and he had a very good drive out. Unfortunately he was hesitant to flank around once the sheep were through the panel and they got a good ways deep before i got him on around to bring them back. I'm not sure if he wasn't hearing me or perhaps a little confused. Return leg was nice and the pen clean and handled well by Bill. He likes penning apparently as he's totally got the idea - practically looks up at me and says "relax, i got this".

Since he'd been listening well on his fetch, i decided to go ahead and run him in the Nursery. I was very nervous about it as i felt the potential to teach him some bad things was high. I felt pretty certain he'd run out well enough but was concerned with the possibility of him running away with the sheep and learning he could get away with it being so far out (sheep set at about 350 yards). Fortunately, i was forgetting that this was *Bill* i was running and he was a very good boy again. He's really such a serious, settled dog that i needn't have worried. I decided to go right this time, to his better side. I screwed up and sent him when he was set up too wide (he reset himself while i was fooling with my new timer and i didn't catch it before sending him off). I called his name to pull him back in a little and he ran out pretty well from that point. I gave a couple of little redirects to help him find his way up the hill but i think he'd have made it fine even without the help. He ran deep and lifted well again, and had a beautiful fetch, taking small flanks and pacing down nicely as i'd ask. The drive was quite nice though the lines a tad wiggly. The return leg was very sweet, as i let Bill have his sheep and left it to him to work them as he wanted, with just some easy "time now" comments from me to maintain contact. His head was down and he was practically grinning he enjoyed that so much. Or perhaps it was just him looking forward to the pen again, since he again set that up nicely on his own and penned with little input from me. He finished in 7th place out of 16-17 dogs. The outrun cost 6 points and the rest was pretty clean and nice. I couldn't have been happier with him.

At the end of the classes, the trial organizers decided to offer "fun runs" - six minutes for a PN outrun/course. I decided to run Bill again just to get the lefthand outrun in again. He ran out well but pulled up a little short and was being pretty stiff on his flanks so i got to train a bit on that. I didn't keep him out there the full 6 minutes, just wanted to get a couple of little things done. It was a very good day with lots of good stuff! And now i have a good idea of the things to give some attention. Bill ran out well but i'll need to watch that top end, watch the pulling up short. And i need to free up his flanks, the big ones anyway. He seems fine with small flanks but doesn't want to let the sheep go to take the bigger ones. Not so bad having a dog that wants to keep control. All in all, it was a good day! Even the weather cooperated with the forecast rain holding off. On to the Open (and another Nursery) tomorrow!