It seems like every time i post i'm "catching up", but here goes again. Life stays pretty busy, just the way i like it, and i'm tending to just do quick posts on Facebook rather than be good about the blog. So, if you'd like more up-to-date posts, you'll probably have to join FB and keep up there. There are also many pictures on there from trips and trials to new and old dogs. I will try to keep the blog updated during the upcoming fall trial season. I laid out the calendar the other day and from the beginning of the Finals in mid-September to Thanksgiving, there is a fairly local trial every weekend but one. I don't think we'll hit every single one of those, but probably will make most of them. The dogs are running so well, i hate to miss anything!
So, back to catching up. I left on July 15th for a nearly monthlong trip of training and trialing. First i went to Joni Swanke's in Bowman, ND for almost 2 weeks of training and working the dogs. It was amazing, wide open spaces with wonderful sheep all around. I can't even begin to describe it all but it was great fun and i feel very fortunate to have been able to do it. New friends, new experiences, new training methods and things to think on, it was more than i could have hoped for.
After leaving ND, we went to the Upper Midwest Stockdog Challenge trial in Jordan, MN. Bill ran especially well, having gained a lot of experience and confidence from his ND days. Zac was a little off his game on the outrun, i think as he was adjusting to some things i was doing differently, and ran out a bit tight both days. But both dogs did very well. Bill won his 1st Open trial on the 1st go (and gaining enough points to qualify for the USBCHA Open Finals on the last day of qualifying), and was 4th the second. Zac was 4th on the first go. While on the trip, i'd started thinking it was time to look for a good retirement home for Jet, and an excellent home came up, so i let her go. It was terribly difficult to get in the truck and leave, but i know she's in good hands and is happy to be working again.
From MN, we traveled on to the Kingston SDT at Grass Creek Park in Kingston, Ontario. It's a wonderful trial that i'd attended several years ago, and had been trying to return to since. It's not a huge course but it's tricky and the sheep can be quite difficult. I was thrilled with how both dogs ran again, full of confidence and poise, and listening like champs. In the first round, i ran both dogs very near the beginning of the order (i had entered Jet and she would have been at the end had i run her). That ended up being bad for me as i had a terrible time in the shedding ring with both dogs, not completing the shed or being able to attempt the pen. I think with more time to watch and take notes between my runs, that perhaps i could have done a better job with the later run, but that's how it goes sometimes. Both dogs ended up with scores of 60, quite good comparatively speaking, for just the outrun, lift, fetch, drive. I loved how both dogs felt to handle, smooth and easy. Both ran extremely well again in the second round. Bill ran very late in the day, at a time when the sheep simply were not penning, and still managed to pull out a 69 score with no pen or shed. Not enough to get to the Final round (top 15 combined scores) but really a stellar job on his part. Zac ran at a better time of day and laid down a nice run for a score of 85, good for 11th place and a spot in the Finals.
We ran 8th in the double lift final and i couldn't have been happier with or more proud of Zac. He ran out beautifully and his turnback was all i could have asked for, clean and sharp. Fetches were good, with him holding the second lot to their line, rather than letting them pull offline to the first group. The drive was just what i wanted - straight lines, tight turns, all 20 sheep through both panels, though with some wiggling about and fancy footwork to get them clean through the crossdrive panel. Gotta love a dog that throws his whole self into flanking! Now 4 years ago when i went to this trial, Jet got into the double lift and we struggled mightily with the international shed, never managing to get it done. But despite being quite hot and more than a little excited, Zac did a very nice job and we got it done pretty easily. I couldn't seem to get the shed sheep to leave very far though, so i had Zac push the last 2 upfield towards their friends near the setout. This was sticky for me, as i knew the 5 collared ones were wanting to run up over the hill behind the post and to the exhaust area, so i didn't get to push those 2 shed ones quite as far away as i'd have liked, but i thought they were still plenty far enough away. And this is where i made our big mistake. Zac was quite hot by this time, as he was running during the only really sunny part of the day. I'd been sending him to water during the shedding to try to keep him cooler, as well as taking our time as much as possible around the course, but he was still pretty warm and it was affecting his work. He moved the collared sheep handily to the mouth of the pen though, and they were kind of stalled out there. Having about a minute and a half left to go, i should have been more patient and waited it out, and i believe the sheep would have gone in. I saw it happen several times exactly that way in later runs, but didn't have it in my mind when i needed it. Zac and i both put just a hair of pressure on the sheep and one ewe exploded out and ran up the field towards those 2 darned sheep that wouldn't get on upfield and out of sight. Zac got confused when i tried to get him to go after her, and the time spent getting him convinced gave the ewe time to rejoin the 2, and we had to return to the shedding ring. I really think had he not been so hot, that Zac would have caught that ewe easily, as he loves that sort of thing. While he was regathering the 3 sheep upfield, the 4 other collared ones made their way up over the hill and to the exhaust. I had Zac take the 3 to the 4 and spent many long seconds waiting for all 7 to reappear, just hoping and praying nothing awful was happening back there that would result in a DQ after so much nice work. Fortunately, they did come out, finally, and we went back to the shedding ring with very little time left, and time ran out. Final score was 234 out of a possible 340 (60 points gone on the shed & pen). It was a good enough score to hold up for Reserve Champion at the end of the day! It was a great placement against wonderful competition.
So now we're back home and gearing up for the National Finals next month in Middletown, VA, where Zac will run in the Open and Bill in both Nursery and Open. I don't plan to do a lot of training on those two, as i like where they are right now. Mostly i'll just do a good bit of conditioning with them, and also get a good jump on my young dogs. Zac's son Tug is starting to really come along now, after a crash course of sheep work in ND and i'm quite excited about him. And i brought home a new dog from ND as well - Zeke, a half brother to Bill by way of their sire Lew. I'm feeling lucky to have those 2, as they are both eligible for the next 2 years of Nursery competition. They'll be the winter project at Shoofly.