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.

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