Monday, September 14, 2009

Catching Up, 20th Occasional Highland SDT, part 1

It's only been a week today since i last posted but it seems like a lot longer. A lot has been happening. The puppies are now 6 weeks old and about ready to move to new homes. Turns out there won't be a whole lot of moving since Julie is keeping Ranger and i get to keep the other two! I've been pestering Darci since very early on to let me buy ZJ so i could have both him and Moon to raise up and train, and she finally agreed to it (THANK YOU, DARCI!) at the last minute. ZJ and Chris were scheduled to leave this past Friday, hitching a ride out west with Finals bound folks, but Wednesday afternoon we canceled ZJ's ride. Chris is on her way out there right now, where Darci is anxiously awaiting her arrival. I know that's going to be a very happy reunion on both parts. I'll get the pups this saturday when i go over to Julie's to do the monthly group lessons. Now i'm trying to come up with a new name for ZJ and having a tough time with it. Early on, i thought he looked like a Turk. Right now i'm tossing around Zeke and Creed. I'll have to spend some time with him to see what fits. Who knows, maybe he'll just stay ZJ.

This past weekend i loaded up the camper and the new truck, and the dogs and i headed into the Blue Ridge mountains for the 20th Annual Occasional Sheepdog trial at Don McCaig's near Williamsville, VA. The trial was a benefit for the 2010 National Finals, to be held in Middletown, VA. Donald has taken out some fencing and opened up a new trial field and it's very, very nice. The outrun is about 450-500 yards, flat 90% of the way out and ending in a steep little hill, where the sheep were set for the Open class. For the Ranch and Nursery classes, the sheep were brought to the bottom of the little hill, making the outrun probably 400-450 yards or so. The sheep for the trial were rented from a local commercial flock of polpays and not used to being worked in small groups.

The sheep were quite a challenge for the dogs. Open ran first on saturday and in the morning, it was pretty difficult to get the sheep off the top end and started down the field. Several dogs retired quickly, unable to shift the sheep. Jet ran 8th and when we were walking to the post, i felt pretty sure she'd move the sheep, but some good dogs had had some big trouble already. Jet's outrun was terrible, one of the worst outruns i've ever seen her do. She went right up the middle and wouldn't redirect for anything, eying the sheep the whole time. We managed to lose 16 of our 20 outrun points without even a crossover. I told someone afterwards that i was sure the judge must only be taking 1/2 a point for redirects as i was certain i'd blown 32 of them! Anyway, the sheep finally shifted and Jet got behind them, taking them well offline for the first half of the fetch. The second half of the fetch was good and then we hit the place where so many good Open dogs on Saturday met the end of their runs - the beginning of the drive. Group after group would stall out in this area and either fight the dogs or just simply refuse to budge. Clean grips were being allowed though nasty ones would earn you a DQ. Jet actually didn't have all that much trouble shifting the sheep here, though they did test her some. She's got a ton of power and used it well to her advantage, not needing to bite to convince the ewes to move along. It's so nice to have a dog with that "under the hood" when you need it. The drive was pretty good, and the split, pen and single also decent, though Jet felt she should peek back at the left group on the sheds. With all the difficulties on the first day, she ended up finishing 8th, even with the horrible outrun. I can't be too upset with her, she's been laid up with an injury and just came back to work. All i'd really done was a bit of driving last week to make sure her leg was holding up okay. I guess she decided she liked just driving around and not having to run out!

Zac ran later in the order and i was a little nervous about him with those sheep. He has a different kind of eye than Jet, not more but a stickier kind of eye, and can sometimes have trouble shifting sheep as he doesn't have the same raw power to back it up that Jet does. He ran out beautifully though he landed short - there were trees behind the set out point and he was drawn in to them. He lifted well but did have a little trouble getting them moving freely down the field, flanking defensively to cover the draw to the setout and stopping the forward progress of the sheep. But he managed to work it out in fairly short order and had a beautiful straight fetch. Many dogs were pushing the sheep well offline to the left, either not hearing their handlers commands or overworking the draw (as Jet had done), but Zac handled very well, taking every command i gave. I had planned to take the sheep quickly around the turn at the post and very tight, in hopes they'd not stall out, but a lagging ewe ruined my plan. Her 3 mates went right past the post while she held back and i had to put Zac on her. Meanwhile the 3 leading ewes got very deep behind the post, forcing an even worse version of the stalling out confrontation i'd been hoping to avoid or at least lessen. Zac was very good here, actually much better than i might have expected. He kept on coming forward and his eye didn't catch him up at all. The ewes just wouldn't move off and finally he started gripping. At first it was okay, pretty decent grips but one ewe tried to go over him and he grabbed hold of her neck and held on, while she went crashing into the fence and the judge called out "thank you!" to end the run. All in all, i was quite pleased with Zac's performance. It'll be nice to run him this fall - he's been injured the past 2 fall seasons. He got a little frustrated there at the end but my dogs don't see this kind of sheep all that often. He learned something.

Bill was next up in the Nursery. I was nervous about him meeting up with this kind of sheep for the first time so far out from me, where i couldn't be on top of how it went and back him up if he needed it. He ran out pretty well though i gave him a couple of quick call in whistles to keep him from getting around some trees that would kick him too far out. He landed really well behind the sheep and lifted with nice authority. He came on too strong after the lift as he likes to do, bringing the sheep too hard, which made the sheep pretty unhappy. Three took off strongly while one split off and stopped. I thought that would probably be the end of the run but after many long seconds, Billy somehow calmly convinced her to rejoin the others, now something like 100 yards away. I was pretty impressed with him there. The fetch was decent but the sheep stalled going around the post and Billy couldn't quite figure it out. He came calmly forward but didn't have quite enough confidence and ended up gripping and being called off. After his run, i took the opportunity to exhaust the next few runs with Bill to let him figure out the sheep. They were pretty hard to get off the field and it mimicked the problems at the turn around the post very well. Bill very quickly learned to walk strongly forward to get the sheep moving and his confidence grew a ton in just moments. He was practically grinning he was enjoying it so much after exhausting only three runs.

A bit later I ran Bill in the Open Ranch class and he was wonderful. Nice outrun, lift, much better treatment of the sheep on the fetch so it was pretty straight and calm. The turn and first leg of the drive were wobbly but not too bad, especially comparatively speaking. Crossdrive and return leg were good and the pen clean. It was just a nice, smooth run and ended up winning the class. I was surely happy with the little man!

Since this has gotten so long, i'll do a part 2 later on. Sunday was even better for the Shoofly dogs and Billy made his Open debut!

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