Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Watercress SDT

 View from the top end of the field, looking down field and over the campers. 
(Photos by Julie Poudrier)
Click on a picture to enlarge it.
 Jan's home and the view
The trial field, again from the top end.

Along the fall trial circuit we go, this time landing at Jan Thompson's Watercress SDT in Limestone, TN. This is one of the prettiest, if not THE prettiest trial locations we go to all year. Jan's perfectly maintained farm sits among the mountains and the view is beautiful, with the leaves changing colors all around. The trial is set on a large hayfield with little rolls and dips. Lots of folks pitch in to keep the trial running smoothly all 3 days, and the handlers dinner on Saturday evening is to die for, gourmet all the way featuring lamb raised right there on the farm. Setout was very capably handled (as usual!) by Julie Poudrier and this year's judge Scott Glen was imported from the faraway land of Alberta, Canada. The sheep were very fit and fat katahdin ewes and their lambs from this past spring, and the weather was perfect with cold nights and bright, sunny days in the 60s.

The trial began on Friday with the novice classes. We began the day with Nursery 1 and a reasonably sized (smallish) course for so early in the Nursery season. The dogs seemed to all handle it pretty well. Zeke ran very well, winning the class and securing his second qualifying leg for next year's Nursery Finals. Next up was Open Ranch 1, on the same course, won by Sally Glei with Lena. ProNovice followed, won by Chuck Dimit and Chad. Then came a course change that left those waiting to run Nursery 2 and Open Ranch 2 (running together) feeling a tad nervous. The setout and all panels were moved back to the spots they'd be for the first Open trial the next day, and it was a huge course for the youngsters. Actually, it was a pretty darned long drive even for the Open dogs! It was a fun challenge for the young dogs and made for interesting spectating as we watched the different dogs trying to master it. Zeke was the first dog up on the course and i was very happy with his performance. He had a little trouble with the outrun but his fetch and drive (the longest he's ever attempted) were very good and the pen quick and easy. His score held up at the top of the long list of Nursery and Ranch dogs running until right at the end when Chuck Dimit and Chad came along and laid down a beautiful run to win both Ranch and Nursery.

Saturday morning dawned cold but clear and Bill was my first dog up in the Open. He had a decent enough run but not his best by a long shot. Not sure what was up but he just seemed a little distracted. At the end of the day he finished just out of the placings. Zac was up mid-afternoon and had a great run going, with only a couple of points gone as we approached the shedding ring. Unfortunately he lost his patience with the sluggish pace of the sheep and decided a good goosing was in order to speed things up, resulting in a grip call and DQ. I was less than happy with the rotten beast giving away a potential win! Saturday's winner was Victoria Wilcox with a beautiful run with her Pat dog.  Sunday went quite a lot better for my guys. Zac was up very early, at a time when the sheep were acting pretty touchy, but managed a pretty nice run that held for a 10th place finish. After a very long day of waiting, Bill was the last dog of the day to run. The sheep had gotten very good at the end of the first day, so i was anxious to see what we'd get. As i'd hoped, the sheep got pretty sweet at the end and Bill had a smoker of a run. He'd hardly lost a point up to the crossdrive panel, where i carefully drove the sheep high and around the panel, grrrrr. It was a difficult one to see for sure. With a clean finish, about the only points Bill lost were on the crossdrive. But that was enough with the good running to put us 3rd for the day behind Chuck Dimit and Bob Washer. All in all, i was very happy with all 3 dogs. Especially gratifying were the 2 perfect sheds by Bill after having trouble at some of the trials this fall. I think i finally puzzled out the problem and hopefully the bit of quick training we did last week was the thing that helped.

So that's the play by play for this week's trial. Now we're home for our first weekend since August, and then we'll be off again to the Broken Back Ranch SDT the first weekend in November.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lexington SDT

So on we go to the 3rd trial of the week, again set in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains, at Broadview Ranch in Lexington, VA. Hosted by the most gracious of hosts, David Clark and Cheryl Branibar, this is a fun and very welcoming event. The field contains lots of cross country horse jumps, making for an interesting and challenging course. The Open outrun looked to be about 350-400 yards to me and the sheep are David and Cheryl's Montadale flock, trucked in to the ranch for the trial. Our judge this year was the inimitable Tommy Wilson and the setout crew par excellence was made up of Debbie Crowder in the sorting pens with Julie Poudrier holding the packets of sheep for every run of the 3 day event. It doesn't get any better in all respects there! The socializing was top notch as well, with handlers gathering each evening in the ranch cabin (very, very old with a wonderful fireplace) for food and merriment.

The sheep were very good at this trial, very cooperative around the course if handled well by the dogs and making them pay if not handled well. I thought they were a bit more challenge for the at hand tasks of shedding and penning in general, though there were plenty of sheds and pens for everyone, even if they weren't all trouble free. The Montadales seem to react a little differently to the dogs up close and weren't very reactive to the handlers. It was fun for me trying to figure them out anyway. The course both days ended with a split and pen of the 4 sheep.

I was lucky enough to be able to run all 3 dogs in the Open, as well as 2 runs in the Nursery with Zeke. Zeke was first up for me in the Open on the first day and i was very pleased with him. He was calm, cool and collected all the way around. We ran into trouble on the shed as i was trying to figure out the sheep. They didn't seem to want to string out for us and it took a minute for me to figure that out, as they flipped back and forth repeatedly. Knowing Zeke would blow into even a tiny gap, i finally just leaned in to show him where i wanted him to come, and he blasted in for a beautiful split with no gap at all. It sure is fun shedding with him! On to the pen where i began a day of penning woes. One ewe decided she'd just go under me instead of into the pen, and that pretty much became my pen theme of the day as i never did get a decent pen in 4 runs. Zac and Bill both ran very well around the course and through the shed, but i was just cursed at the pen for the day. Bill ended up 5th and Zac was out of the placings. The first Nursery class ran at the end of Open and Zeke had a nice run but the darned pen knocked us into 2nd place. Bob Washer won the Open for the day after a very, very close run off with Barb Levinson and Cy Peterson. Carla King and Sage won the Nursery.

Day two went a bit better for my guys but the competition was really stiff as one bobble here or there would knock you out of contention for the placings. Zac and Bill both had winning runs going up to the at hand work, but a missed attempt on the shed by Bill and a ewe skimming the outside of the pen on Zac knocked them down to 5th and 7th place, respectively. Zeke was laying down a smoker of a run when a quick overflank at the crossdrive panel got things out of whack and it took several points worth of effort to get back on track, knocking him out of contention. He was really on for his second Nursery class at the end of the day though, and won it handily, getting his first qualifying leg. Mike Hanley won the Open for the day. Bob Washer ended up overall champ for the 2 days, with Bill and me reserve champs.

Sunday brought out the novice dogs and i stayed around to watch most of the day. Wow, are there some good teams coming along there. Lots of good runs and nice dog work.

It was another fun few days at a wonderful trial, with gorgeous weather and nice people. The ranch is a lovely place with a lot going on. I enjoyed seeing the big chicken tractor and the pastured hogs, and even brought home a big bag of farm raised meats, yum. And now we're packing and preparing to head to TN for Jan Thompson's Watercress SDT this coming weekend.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Quiet Acres SDT

We followed up Edgeworth with a Tuesday-Wednesday trial in Grottoes, VA, at the Quiet Acres SDT. This first trial hosted by Dan and Sylvia King at their lovely farm was really great. The setting was gorgeous with the leaves starting to change in the Blue Ridge mountains (photo by Christine Koval). The rolling field made for a tricky outrun, the course was plenty challenging, the sheep fit and happy. The trial was a benefit for the Bluegrass and Belle Grove SDTs and drew a nice crowd. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly and i had a great time. And the handler's dinner prepared by Jim Winecoff was wonderful.

I decided to drive up to the trial on Tuesday morning rather than trying to take the camper or stay over in a hotel, trying to preserve my dwindling vacation time. I really wanted to support Dan and Sylvia with their first trial, they're such great people and have been very supportive of our Whistle for a Cure trials. I rolled in about 2 runs before my first run with Bill. A few quick questions to figure out the course and off we went to the post. We had a fairly decent run up to the split (it was split-pen after the drive). I couldn't seem to get any sort of gap at all with the 4 hair sheep. No fault of Bill's this time around, it just didn't happen, and we ran out of time staring at one solid wall of 4 sheep. Zac was up second to last and he really had it down cold with the sheep, hardly putting a foot wrong. I love it when he runs like that! In the end, he'd scored a 92 and won the class for his first ever Open win. Hard to believe that it's taken this long but it's true. I think he's probably had 8 or 10 second places but never taken home a blue ribbon. Yay for Zac! I ran Zeke non-compete at the end of the day and was very happy with him. His outrun was very nice, fetch good. He was putting too much pressure on the sheep on the drive and making them turn around to look at him, which he didn't like. Things would stall out a little and he'd poke into the sheep to get them going. Not pretty but effective. Just young dog stuff as he figures out how to work the different types of sheep we run into.

It started pouring rain overnight Tuesday night. Sylvia had very graciously offered to let me crash in her RV for the night. Unfortunately, a small leak overhead turned into a bigger leak overnight, and it was kind of a drippy night in bed! I snuggled around a pot in the bed catching drips for a few hours but eventually it ran me off into the house and onto the couch. Pretty funny and now i have a good story to rib Dan and Sylvia with.

Wednesday morning was nasty and rainy and icky. I was up first so chose to run Zeke for the experience. He ran quite well again and i was happy to see he'd sorted out in his mind about moving the sheep, and things smoothed right out. He had a very nice shed but we timed out on the pen. I was feeling tired and creaky with the chilly rain so decided to sit the rest of the day out, and jumped in my warm, dry truck for the trip home. I hated to miss running Zac and Bill but it sure was nice with the heat cranked up, and we would be on our way to the next trial in only a couple of days.

It was a great inaugural trial at Quiet Acres, and i definitely plan to be back next year!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Edgeworth SDT

This past weekend was our annual fall trip to the Edgeworth Open SDT in Gordonsville, VA, hosted by Tom and Florence Wilson. I love this trial, it's right at the top of my "must attend" list every year. The field is big and beautiful and it's a great challenge. This year our judge was Alasdair Lyttle and i thought he did a nice job of it. The field had a lot of very thick grass on it and it seemed to give the dogs and sheep some trouble as scores were generally lower than usual. There were lots of good parts to the runs, but no one seemed to lay down a really stellar run from start to finish.

I had 2 Open spots in the trial and my plan was to run Zac and Bill in the first round, then if Zac wasn't staying sound i'd perhaps sub Zeke in for him in the second round. Truthfully, i was just itching to give it a shot with Zeke to see what he'd do with that 600 yard outrun, one of the most difficult we'll ever run into at a trial. Given that I don't have a turnback on Zeke and only the sketchiest of redirects, i was trying to be sensible and not throw him in the mix but i sure wanted to try it. He's got a good head so i felt that even if he wasn't successful, it wouldn't cause any harm to his training. But i resisted for the first round and stuck to just running the 2 experienced dogs. Zac was my first up and had a pretty decent run around the course. I missed the crossdrive gates and thought the run was sloppy enough to keep us out of contention but in the end, Zac ended up placing 13th out of the 67 dogs. Bill had a very good run but troubles at the pen cost us several points and he finished 9th.

So you know what's coming, right? Of course, i put Zeke in for the second round! It was one of those years where lots of dogs were crossing over or not finding the sheep, but i just couldn't stand it so put him in as my 3rd dog. He was definitely seeing the sheep at the top, and left my feet nice and wide. I thought he was on a really correct path but gave him a little verbal "out" reminder just after he left, just for insurance, and out and out he sailed for a perfect outrun. I was dying to do a little happy dance standing at the post! He landed nicely, lifted a bit hard, and the sheep broke hard to the right down the hill, as they'd been doing all weekend. Zeke didn't quite know what to do about that and got them about half way to me before i managed to get him around to stop them. Back online and around the course, a little too pushy but not horrible, off to the pen, where the sheep decided they wanted nothing to do with being trapped in that small space. A bit of round and round but we did get them in, then off to the shedding ring where they were stuck together as if glued. No time to finish the shed but all in all, a great first time out at Edgeworth for young Zeke. What a good boy!

Zac was my next one up and again had what i thought was just an okay run around the course. I couldn't get anything close to a shed as the sheep were feeling very friendly with each other, stuck in a clump, and Zac couldn't get within 15 yards without them bolting around me. So with no shed i thought we were out of luck, but in the end we had held onto a 3rd place, Zac's highest ever finish at Edgeworth. He was really working well, especially with having been laid up with the injury. Bill ran towards the end of the round and was good around the course but for some reason decided he just wasn't going to shed and wouldn't come through for me. That was unfortunate as he had a high placing run up to that point.

So another Edgeworth is done, another great weekend passed on that beautiful field. The picture above of the field was taken last year, looking through Zeke's ears. I'd only had him a few weeks and he had the best time watching the trial and being around all the people and dogs. If you've met Zeke, you know he's a real "life is good!" kind of dog, all the time. He was just starting his sheepdog education then. I think it's pretty cool that he got up that field just a short year later. I'm just a little proud of him! :-)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Montpelier SDT

The trial at the Montpelier Fall Fiber Festival was a great success this year in my opinion. It was mostly new folks running the event for the VBCA and they did a terrific job. The sheep were commercial polypays rather than the usual dead broke hair sheep and great fun to work. The course was short but the challenge surely wasn't.

I was happy with the performances of both of my dogs. Bill seems to have really picked up a lot of knowledge and confidence from his experience on the western trip. I could feel the confidence in his work as he muscled the stroppy sheep around the field. The first day was especially fun for both of us as he had a ewe that kept trying to break off to the exhaust while leaving her friends behind. It made for a nice puzzle for us to work out. He ended up in 2nd place both days and was the overall Champ for the weekend. I ran Zeke since it was a small course and i'm still resting Zac, and he did very well himself. The first day he had a good enough run that he'd surely have placed well, but i just could not get the sheep to part on the shed. It was no fault of Zeke's, other than perhaps he'd muscled them around a bit hard and made them not want to separate. Not accomplishing the shed also cost the pen points. He ran very well the second day as well, finishing just out of the placings.

Montpelier is a special trial for me in many ways. The first trial i ever witnessed was at Montpelier, with my first little BC puppy Bailey when she was just a couple of months old. My mom and dad attended the trial once, camping with me there. I have many memories of attending the trial with Joan over the years. It's bittersweet to remember traveling to the trial together last year, with her passing only short time after. This year a new memory was added. I always see Pat and Steve at this trial, the people who i placed my first real Open dog Ben with many years ago, to help with their goat herd (they exhibit at the fiber festival). This year, Pat told me that Steve had passed away earlier in the year, and she told me a goosebump-worthy story. A few days before he died, she found Steve with a peaceful look on his face and he told Pat that he was sitting in a field with Ben, that Ben was happy and healthy and it was beautiful. One of their guard dogs was there too but he was so happy to see his Ben again. Of course we just bawled all over each other but wow, what a wonderful thing. Pat's always said i gave them the greatest gift, but i think truly i was the one given the gift, of knowing how happy they all were together. Isn't it amazing where these little black and white dogs can take you and who you meet? (photo of Ben at the Bluegrass by Denise Wall)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pipedream Farm SDT

The dogs and i went to a new trial this past weekend, hosted by good friends Mark and Renee Billadeau, in Middletown, MD. I've been trying to get to the Billadeau's "new" farm for almost 2 years and finally managed it. What a lovely place. With their 200 year old farm house in the background (see picture), the field was beautiful and covered in lush green grass, the sheep were fit, and the company excellent. The trial field wasn't very large (150 yard outruns) but it was a good challenge for the dogs with the sheep sorting out the dogs as well as a long and difficult drive to attempt. Tidy lines and tight turns were hard to come by. There was a great group of folks present to compete, with lots of good cheer and good attitudes all around. I really enjoyed it and our host characterized it as "hosting a big party" afterwards, a good sign for sure. Everywhere i looked, people were pitching in and offering help, always a welcome sight.

Saturday began about noon and was for a Ranch class (same course as Open would run on Sunday, minus the shed). I was manning the judge's chair for the day and enjoyed it very much. The clerks were excellent and the competitors tried really hard. There were a couple of really good runs, but most folks found the course a challenge with the light sheep. Still, they hung in there and made the best of it, getting good experience in for themselves and dogs. The drive was the undoing for many but most managed to get it done and go on to try the pen. Carla King with Sage ended up winning, followed by Janey Harvey with Tony.

Saturday evening featured a delicious handler's dinner, hosted by Peggy Simpson and Todd Layfield, in their fabulous house. There's so much history in the area and the house has seen most of it in one form or another, being nearly 200 years old. Todd and Peggy have been working on the house for 8 years, reclaiming it from a state of disrepair and i thoroughly enjoyed walking around looking at all they've done.

Sunday brought out the Open dogs, who for the most part handled the sheep a bit better. They were getting a bit cranky but still held up and worked well. I ran Zeke early and he was still in "western" mode, pushing in on the sheep and causing lots of breaking and bolting. I was pleased that he was listening pretty well and maintaining his composure for the most part, but not too happy to see him slashing his righthand flanks on me - more work to be done there. Bill ran later in the day and drew up a nice group of sheep that were willing to settle and walk around the course for us. I mucked up the pen by letting the sheep bolt out of the opening when i had them 99% in but the run was good enough to get the blue ribbon. Karen Karkow's run with Jade (1st run of the day) was really nice and controlled, and she ended up 2nd.

All in all, it was a great little trial and i hope it becomes an annual one. It made for a nice start to the local trial season. Next up is the Montpelier SDT in Orange, VA this coming weekend.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Wild West Trip

Sorry to be slow about posting on the trip. I had planned to post updates as it went on but very sketchy and limited internet access made that impossible unfortunately. It was a wonderful trip and very good for both my and the dogs' educations, to say the least.

Soldier Hollow is an amazing feat of organization and promotion, even more impressive this year with the ringmaster of it all having gone through several back surgeries in the 2-3 weeks prior to the trial. Mark Peterson is amazing. We got to pitch in and help a little with the promotion when Mark asked if i'd take a dog along to help with a morning news segment. Zac was a very good boy and you can see how it went here -- Connect2Utah segment
My heart was certainly in my throat when that sheep broke on Zac but it made for good tv!

Soldier Hollow was rough on me and the dogs as we finally came face to face with the real deal western sheep. I've heard that the sheep at SH are the toughest you'll face at any dog trial and i have to say, we sure had a tough time figuring them out. Zac ran first for me and though his score was very low, i was proud of him for sticking in there and figuring out how to move the sheep, even though they were alternately stalling out and then coming out after him. It certainly scared him when they'd go on the fight, but he showed his big heart staying in there and working it out. Bill seemed to have things figured out on his run but on the crossdrive started heading the sheep and finally shut them down, to the point where he just didn't know what to do to get them going again. I'd been trying to hold him back from it but not being insistent enough about it and it caught up to us. Bill didn't know what to do with sheep just ignoring him and finally we retired. On Zac's second run, he started bumping into the sheep at the top of the fetch to get them going and was called off for a grip. I was pretty surprised to get called at that distance since i sure couldn't see well enough to call it a DQ but that's what was called. Bill had a smoker of a run going for his second run when the sheep stalled out on him again. He did figure out to give them a quick nip to get them moving but so much time slipped by that i retired him instead of continuing to fight it. Overall it was a pretty poor showing but it sure taught me some handling lessons and i felt like the dogs learned some things too, especially Bill. I really enjoyed getting to watch all of the dogs run and Soldier Hollow is quite the show.

On Tuesday, we traveled to Meeker, where i had some practice time set up for the dogs before the trial started. Unfortunately, after a good workout Wednesday it became apparent that Zac had gotten hurt somehow, either at SH or practicing at Meeker. I got him some chiropractic care and started laser treatments in hope he'd be okay to run on Friday. On Thursday, Bill and I stepped to the post to meet the famous "Meeker sheep". I was very pleased with how Bill handled the sheep, and made some fairly drastic changes in how i ran him to accommodate the western sheep. It worked out pretty well, and even without a pen we managed a good enough score to get into the Saturday semifinals. Zac ran on Friday and handled the sheep nicely but i played it safe because of his injury, sending him the less rough way on his outrun to protect him. It cost several points as it was the more difficult direction and i had to redirect him a couple of times to get to the top without crossing over. That was enough to knock him out of contention for the semis. Bill ran very well in the semifinals but my inexperience on the western sheep again cost us dearly. We got around the course in pretty good fashion but things came to a screeching halt at the pen with a ewe that kept breaking out. Those western sheep react so differently from any we've worked before, and this was my first chance to even touch a pen rope with them on the trip. So we timed out at the pen and Bill ended up in 21st place for our first Meeker. I really enjoyed the Meeker trial a lot. It's a big undertaking but everyone is so nice and it went so well, while still having that "dog trial" feel to it. I hope to go again.

So on we go to the USBCHA National Finals in Carbondale, CO. It was a beautiful setting for a trial with Mt Sopris in the background. The sheep were amazingly even and a good test of the dogs, the trial field beautiful and green. Bill ran on Wednesday and had a very nice run, finally showing that he really had sorted out the western sheep in his mind. I was able to let him go and run him more like normal rather than the flank-flank-flank method i'd adopted at Meeker after SH. It sure felt nice to have my normal Bill out in front of me again. His score ended up 21st in the 1st round so we were through to the semifinals on Saturday. Zac ran on Thursday in a downpour and just didn't run well at all. His outrun was short and he shoved the sheep off to my left for the whole fetch. The drive started out fine though i was letting him move the sheep at a pretty good clip and then for some reason he busted into them after turning onto the crossdrive. I don't think he actually gripped but we were called off on a DQ. It certainly wasn't a very good run regardless. Bill drew up 6th in the semifinals for Saturday and really laid down a heck of a good run. We had a little wiggle going around the post and i managed to drive the crossdrive panels a smidge high, but it was a high scoring run even so. We got our split, managed to pen the western sheep (after i spent a few days studying how others were getting it done!) and had 20 seconds left coming out of the pen to get a single. I rushed into the shedding ring hoping maybe a collared ewe would bust off and we could have a quick call in, and heard the dreaded "thank you" from the judges. We were called for a grip though i still don't know where or how it happened. Someone said Bill bumped the sheep on the way to the ring but i didn't see it. It was absolutely heart breaking as our score without the single was a 145, good enough for a top 10 placement and a spot in the Finals. I hope to see video of it when the Finals DVD comes out because it must have been pretty minor and it certainly is out of character for Bill to do anything other than a polite "get moving" pinch of a bite at the rear of the sheep. I guess that's how it goes sometimes in dog trialing but i was sorely disappointed. It seemed Bill was peaking just right and our shot was suddenly gone. All in all though, it was a terrific Finals and the committee did an amazing job with such a huge undertaking. Here's a little video report from the Denver Post about the trial --
Denver Post report

And now we're home, missing the big open spaces and the incredible sheep out west. It was an exceptional learning experience for both myself and my trial team. The hospitality at all 3 trials was second to none and i'm so glad i was able to go on my great Western Adventure!

(1st pic by Maureen Robinson, 2nd by Mindy Bower)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Beginning of the Trip

It's been a long few days getting here - the camping area at Soldier Hollow:

We left midday on Friday and drove about 7-8 hours, then finished up the short hop on to Indiana to see some old friends. It was great fun! We went to a small art festival to see a couple of friends play on the gazebo stage - Jenn Rose and Christy.

Then we went to camp out at Deam Lake in Borden, IN, site of many good times when i lived in Louisville. It was fun catching up with my dear old friend Jenny and a few other folks. We grilled and had many margaritas and lots of laughs. Good stuff.

Sunday morning we were up early and reluctantly on the road again. I'd have liked another day to visit and catch up. But on we went, driving about 11 hours and ending up at a McDonald's parking lot in Stuart, IA. Yep, McDonald's. They had nice camper parking so there we stayed. Monday we were up really early and pounded lots of pavement, again hitting about 11 hours, getting a good start on crossing the continental divide, passing the highest point on I80 and landing at a Walmart in Laramie, WY. Tuesday morning we got a very early start and made our first trial destination of Soldier Hollow about 2:00. It was a little confusing figuring out where to park since i was the first one there! But with a little guidance (and one quick change of parking places after stepping on a yellow jacket nest in my first spot!), the camper was set up and the dogs and i were off to the practice field.

The Soldier Hollow folks have kindly provided a place to get the dogs out on some sheep, very welcome after so many days on the road. It's not a huge place, maybe 250 yards long, but the sheep are good and it's nice for getting the dogs out. All 3 dogs popped out of the truck and acted like they'd never left home, not missing a beat. That was nice to see.

(the practice field)

I was asked to help out with a spot on a local news channel promoting the trial this morning, so up early yet again. I decided to use Zac since he's been working really nicely. We were asked to take some sheep across a hotel parking lot to a very nice courtyard area at the front entrance. While Mark Peterson, the Soldier Hollow organizer, spoke to the reporter, i was to move the sheep around the turnabout in the back ground. Simple enough until one of the sheep bolted and Zac had to pull one of his crazy moves stopping her. In a parking lot, on pavement, with a crowd. And did i mention LIVE TV?! It ended up okay, and you can see the spot here --

After another session at the practice field, this afternoon i hooked up and hauled the camper into Heber City to repair the strap that broke under my freshwater holding tank back in WV. I'm sure glad to have that off my mind, kept waiting for it to fall out from under the camper. While there i got a nifty little shelf welded on the back to hold my generator. No more dogs peeing on it at trials, yay. Tomorrow i have a free day after practice time in the morning. I'm hoping to do a little sightseeing. Then friday Zac runs at Soldier Hollow, woo hoo!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

And we're off! (again)

Some might say I'm off all the time, off my rocker that is, LOL! It's the eve of the big western swing and i'm almost ready to go. One last busy, busy day to get through, then a short work day tomorrow, hook up and go! Today i need to drop Joe off with Laura, where he'll get to hang out with her dogs while i'm gone. I'm sure he'll have a lot more fun with her than being crammed in a crate so much with me, but i'll miss his happy pointy little face.

So tomorrow, Bill, Zac, Zeke and i head west. I plan to drive a few hours tomorrow and overnight at the very cool Tamarack in Beckley, WV. Saturday we'll be up and rolling bright and early towards Deam Lake in Borden, IN, where i'm meeting up with my old friend Jenny for some camping and reminiscing. We had some wild times at Deam Lake many moons ago. I'm hoping this campout won't involve having to run through the campground wrapped only in a shower curtain (yes, that happened, much beer involved and sneaky, sneaky friends). I suspect i'm safe on that count. Sunday i'm hoping to put in a longish day of driving and end up at Cabelas in La Vista, NE to spend the night. Monday morning, after some shopping (Cabelas, yay!), i'll pull out and head across NE into WY. I'm thinking i'll pull off at the Laramie, WY Walmart and overnight, then Tuesday morning finish the trek into Heber, UT for Soldier Hollow. The trial doesn't start until Friday, but i want the dogs to have some time to get used to the thinner air, and i have practice time scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I'm planning to put in a good bit of time at the practice fields with all 3 dogs, at least at the first 2 trials, for the sake of the experience on range ewes, which are being brought in for just that. It'll be especially good for Zeke and Zac I think. My first trial run will be next friday with Zac and Bill gets his shot on Saturday, then both run again on Sunday.

So that's the current itinerary for the drive out. I'm hoping it goes smoothly and i get to see lots of good scenery. I really enjoyed the south to north drive along US85 in WY on my last trip, and am hoping this east to west trip across WY will be just as stunning.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Canada Trip

Time for another catchup post. The dogs and i made it up to Kingston Ontario for the second and third days of the 80 Acres trial at Amanda Miliken's place. We missed the first round of Open since i didn't want to take the extra day off of work. Bill ran very well and sat near the top of the pack most of the day but some higher scores at the end knocked him down to 7th out of 98 dogs. Zac ran pretty well too and i thought might have placed but the judge saw things differently than i did, so nothing there. The real excitement of 80 Acres (other than the most amazing handler dinner ever, with fresh lobsters for all!) was running Zeke in the monday classes. He has so little trial experience that i really wanted this trip to tell me where he is in readiness. First up was the Nursery, a very small 5 dog class since it was the first day of qualifying for the 2012 points year. The outrun was probably 300-350 yards and i sent Zeke to his left - his weaker side naturally but the one i've spent the most time working on. I gave him a couple of encouraging shouts of "stay out" but he ran out really pretty well. The top and lift were nice and he was taking the lie down easily (yay! not being a bully where he has before at the start of the fetch). The fetch was very nice, with him taking little soft flanks from me to adjust the line. The drive was generally in the correct directions and straight but we turned short of both panels as Zeke overshot the flanks. Nice to the pen but the sheep went around, so i took the opportunity to train a bit on keeping him out on his flanks as time ran down. All in all, i was very pleased. Zeke wasn't done though, he was up at the beginning of a very large ProNovice Class soon after the Nursery run, and laid down a really nice run on a shortened course (200 yard or so outrun, shorter drive and crossdrive). This time i sent him right to see how that would go, and he went well. Good lines, hit all the panels, marched them right in the pen. After a long wait for the end of the class, Zeke won it. Yay, Zeke!

So on to the Grass Creek trial. I'd entered Zeke in the Open on the chance he might be ready, and since he'd done decent at 80 Acres, i decided to run him, so i was running 3 Open dogs again. First up was Bill, during a time when it was mostly yearlings that wanted to turn around and fight coming out. He handled them well enough but it ate up a lot of time and we didn't have enough to finish the pen and single. Zeke was next up and his gather was pretty good, with him listening nicely again. The drive was generally in the right direction but wiggly and very slow as i couldn't get him to come off the pressure where the sheep were really wanting to bolt. Not a surprising problem with a youngster who doesn't want to lose his sheep but it made for a lot of lost time, and we timed out coming into the shedding ring. Zac had a pretty decent go but ran when it was quite warm out. I had to keep things slow to keep him from getting too hot and i didn't manage the time well, and we timed out at the pen. So the dogs worked well enough but no placements in the first round and Bill and Zac would need stellar runs in the second go to get to the double lift.

Zeke was first up for me in the second round and his gather was again pretty good. The drive was better as he was freer flanking but this time he was overshooting the flanks a bit and again we missed both panels. The finish to the course was a single followed by the pen and Zeke did a fantastic job on the single, it was just beautiful. We ran out of time just as we got to the pen. His score was very low again but i was so happy with his composure over the 2 trials. I think i'll go ahead and plan to run him at the Nursery Finals next month, for the experience if nothing else. Zac was my second dog up and again ran in the heat. I kept him pretty steady around the course to save him for the finish and he had a great go, right up until the single. I couldn't be as careful as i wanted since they were hard to shed, and called Zac in on a single that was maybe a little too exciting for him. He came in beautifully but gripped on the hold. Too bad as he'd have easily placed well and been in the DL. Bill was my last dog and worked well around the course. I missed the crossdrive gates low unfortunately and that knocked us out of contention for a placement or the DL.

The trials were great as usual and it was a blast hanging out and socializing around the camping area. The dogs ran pretty well and i got a good idea what i need to spend some time on before we hit the road again in a couple of weeks. We certainly haven't peaked too soon at least! (All Zeke photos courtesy of Christine Koval - thanks Christine!)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Joe at 6 Months

I got a little video of Joe (Zac x Rhyme) today. He's about 6.5 months old and has been on sheep 4 or 5 times.

I'm just letting him work as he wants for the most part. He prefers going to the right, and is much better to that direction, flanking freely and out far enough to get around the sheep and cover. He is willing to go left, but is tighter to that side so can't quite turn the sheep because he's always on their shoulders. That's why you'll see me whacking the flag on the ground to push him off just a bit as he goes past 10:00 or so. He seems to be figuring it out pretty quickly because he likes how it feels when he covers and the sheep turn to me. That's about the only thing i'd pick on right now and would want to fix early. I think he's going to be a bit of a lead sheep control freak like his father (I like it!). I like his feel for sheep and his cool head, and he's pretty comfortable going between the sheep and fence and also just walking into the sheep. Knowing so many dogs in his line, i'd have to say i like where he's at for a 6 month old puppy. They tend to be very keen dogs and there have been some hard grippers too, so i don't mind seeing him start out so sensible as i know he's going to just get more and more keen to work. I won't be doing much with him until the fall, even though he seems pretty mature for his age (we're just too busy traveling) but so far i'm pleased with what i see.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Our Next Adventure

It's just amazing how quickly this blog gets behind and out of date. Hard to believe it's been over a month since i posted but there ya go. Actually, not all that much has been happening around here anyway, so it was pretty easy to let it lie for awhile. I've been working the dogs as time and hot temperatures allow. I got Joe started a bit, just a few trips into the round pen and one or two in larger areas, and he's looking pretty nice. He seems fairly sensible and has a nice cast to his flanks, which hopefully will mean he's gotten his father's nice shaped flanks and sweepy outruns. So far i like him but of course it's a long way from round pen to Open dog, so we'll see. Zeke has been getting as much work as i can get on him, which isn't enough, but he's coming along. I got the chance to take him to a big new field last weekend and i was very happy with his outruns and attitude, but he's still a work in progress, with little holes here and there to fill in. Pretty typical for a young male dog. The next year will really tell with him. I've got him entered in some trials in the next few weeks so we'll see how he does. I haven't decided yet if i'll run him in the Nursery Finals in September, but for now he's entered. Bill and Zac looked pretty good on that big field last weekend. I've been mostly conditioning them with just a little work here and there.

We're kind of in a holding pattern at the moment as we wait out record breaking temps in the area. Next friday we'll leave for a Canadian sojourn. First we'll hit the second day of Open at the 80 Acres trial (decided to not take the extra vacation so will miss the first day), and then Zeke will run the following day in Nursery and PN, unless i decide he's not ready. Then on wednesday one of my favorite trials starts, Kingston at Grass Creek Park. 120-something Open dogs, running twice, each round over 2 days, with a double lift final on Sunday for the teams with the highest cumulative scores. It's not a big course but the sheep are pretty challenging. It's a really fun trial with a great atmosphere. I was really pleased with how my dogs did there last year and i'm hoping they'll do just as well this year, and that it'll be a nice warm up for the next western trip, which starts about August 27. I'll check in again with a report after the trial!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Slash J Day 2/ Trip Wrap Up

I should have written this post sooner as i'm having a devil of a time remembering my runs from the second day at the trial. Zac had a pretty decent run yet again and finished with a 79, good for 12th place and qualifying for a spot in the Top 15 Finals. Bill went into the second day with a good score to go on, but we had a terrible time in the shedding ring and fell 4 points short of making the Finals.

The Finals was great fun, probably more so for me since i ran first in the day, before the strong winds really got wound up. I'd have liked a run to watch before ours, but it was a good time to run. The first outrun ended up being a bit of a problem for several teams later in the day but Zac ran out pretty well. I thought he might be running deep enough to miss the sheep over a hill so i gave him a small call in whistle but i think he'd have landed fine without it. Fetch was a little wobbly but we hit the gates. Turn back was good but he ran very directly at the sheep and i couldn't get him to bend quite enough. He didn't cross but it wasn't very pretty since he was quite close to the sheep before seeing them and kicking out. Second fetch was pretty good and we hit the fetch gates. Turn around the post was good and our drive was very good, nice and clean with only a small bobble at the cross drive gates. We had plenty of time for the international shed but i couldn't seem to get the sheep to flow though i certainly tried. I'd get a few cut off and moved away, return to the ones i needed to work on, and the ones i'd shoved off kept coming back. I tried three different areas to park them and none were good enough as they wouldn't settle and eat. I didn't want to get too aggressive in the ring since Zac can get grippy there. So we ran out of time on the shed. All in all, it was a decent enough run though the second outrun cost a lot of points. I was really pleased with how nicely Zac moved the 16 sheep around and how soft and easy he was to handle, where he'd been running like a freight train. We ended up 6th.
So that's the end of the ND trials for us. It was an amazing experience and i'm so proud of my dogs. It was a thrill watching them learning so much and being so brave and so game for it. They both worked extremely well. Bill ended up with a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place over the trip, and Zac finished in the top 20% for HA points at 5 of the 8 trials, including all 4 ND trials. I'm pretty sure that had there been an award for high points across all 4 trials, he'd have won it (I can't find anyone who was higher). I really was looking at this trip as a learning experience for the dogs and myself as we'd never worked range sheep before, and jokingly remarked that we were coming out here to get our butts kicked while we learned some things. It seems Bill and Zac had other plans!

I've been enjoying clinics and lessons with Aled Owen here at Joni's place the last few days but tomorrow will be our last day here. We'll pull out first thing monday morning and i guess it'll be time to put away the winter coat and sweatshirts as we head east. I'm already looking forward to coming back next year.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Slash J Day 1

Another amazing venue for a trial, and very wily sheep added to the mix here. 500 yards out and up a gentle rise, to 3 undogged yearlings. Fetches were very "creative" to say the least, with almost none even close to online. The hearing on the fetch was very bad. We tried to blame it on the wind but then it got still the second day of running and still the dogs were not taking whistles. I think a few whistles and shouts were getting out to them, but for the most part, another silent gather.

Bill ran the first evening of the trial, in terrible wind. Outrun and lift were very nice but the fetch was terrible. I got dizzy i was whistling so hard, as my dog and sheep ended up 100 yards offline. Finally one of my flank whistles got through, and all that did was cause Bill to actually circle his sheep, something he's never, ever done. Upon deciding that all of our fetch points were gone, i just shut up and let Bill fetch them straight to me while i caught my breath and prepared for the drive. Our drive was pretty good considering the wind. Most dogs were not hearing well at the driveaway panel but it seemed Bill heard most of what i was giving. Shed was neat, and we finally managed our first pen in the Dakotas! Score was 70, which seemed pretty good with the conditions but i thought surely it wouldn't hold up. There were a couple of other nice runs in the evening, especially Jean Gellings with her Star (what a nice dog!) scoring a 69. When we woke up to a still morning, i thought the hearing would improve and scores skyrocket, but it didn't happen, and only Vergil Holland and Scott managed to knock us down with a similar "lousy fetch, good other parts" run. It was just plain tough out there. Zac had a pretty decent run as well, with a better fetch (relatively speaking - probably still lost most of our fetch points). It had gotten hot though and i was out of dog by the time we got to the shed. We did manage the shed and had time for the pen but i elected to not push it with such a hot dog, and possibly lose our sheep off course as so many had done already. Zac's score was a 58, which kept him in the top 20% for the third trial. I think he's probably sitting in pretty good shape for qualifying for the big double lift at the end of these trials. Each dog's top 3 scores out of the 4 are added together, and either 10 or 12 will run back on the final day. That should be big fun on these sheep and this field! Tomorrow is the last day of running the Open, so we'll know then. Bill still needs another decent run since he had a DQ and just has 2 scores right now. Very exciting here!

The Big One

Wow, what a spectacular trial. 900 yards up a North Dakota butte to 4 undogged yearlings. Incredible setting for a trial, sheep everywhere, wide wide wide open spaces. And talk about a silent gather - i'm sure it's nearly impossible for the dogs to hear at 900 yards anyway, but then add in winds that ranged from light to blow-you-over. It just amazes me what these dogs can do.

Bill was my first dog up, running in the one evening when the wind was actually at our backs, helping the whistles get out to the dogs just a bit. His outrun and lift were spot on. You can't imagine the feeling when your dog disappears over a ridge 1/2 a mile away and you stand there waiting to see where (and if!) he'll reappear. Somehow, some way, he knew exactly where he was going as he popped over the ridge directly behind the sheep, very deep, and came on with authority. The fetch was pretty wobbly and ragged, as he was learning his way on yet another type of sheep he'd not encountered, and without my help and he wasn't hearing my whistles. Once within range, he popped them right back online but it was about 100 yards too late to hit the fetch gates. Turn and drive were wiggly and wobbly, shed good, ran out of time at the pen, score was a 50. Zac ran the next day and put his own twist on the outrun, running very directly at the sheep rather than casting out, for oh, 700 yards or so. But then he broke strongly sideways and cast around beautifully, landing very nicely. Lift was good, fetch a little offline but pretty straight considering he was flanking around like mad trying to figure out how to handle the sheep. Drive was pretty good, shed good and again we ran out of time at the pen, score 60. The running was very tough. At the end of the round, Zac's score held up and we finished 8th. I think Bill ended up 18th, so just out of the top 20%.

On to the second round - Bill was again my first dog. The course was the same as the first round. Bill again ran out and lifted perfectly. After the lift, it was apparent he'd figured out the sheep a bit, as the first half of his fetch was beautiful, very straight and even, without a single whistle from me. The sheep ducked around the fetch gates and the bottom half of the fetch was more wiggly. The drive was pretty wobbly as the sheep were fighting hard to get back to the exhaust, one in particular. She proved our undoing at the single. I pulled one off and she broke hard, and though Bill caught her and her friends handily near the judge's trailer, it was called off course. I was very disappointed as i'd not heard about that line in the sand and had taken a calculated risk on the shed, counting on my dog to do just what he did - catch them and calmly return them to me. But that's how it goes sometimes. Zac's run was again pretty good though it feels like Mr Toad's Wild Ride with him on these sheep. He's supercharged and very, very hard to hold. But supercharged or not, he ran well and placed in the top 20% again, finishing 11th.

The Big One truly is a BIG one, and i'm so thrilled to have been able to run in such a super trial. And so very proud of my two dogs for running so very well. I'm still just in awe of what they can do!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Time to Wait

No big news to report for the last couple of days. Just hanging out and enjoying good company and waiting on The Big One to start. The dogs are mostly resting up and stretching their legs when they can, on jogs with the ATV, after being crated so much the last couple of weeks. I know it feels good to them. I'm hoping to work Zeke a bit when we have the chance this week but that's hard to squeeze in with trial prep and such, not to mention the weather is pretty lousy right now with cold, wet and wind. He got a couple of minutes in yesterday in the small pen with a quickie reminder to behave himself a little better as he gets behind his sheep. I'm not too concerned about getting a lot done with him really. At his age, i don't mind waiting on him a bit. Off now for a ride to Dickinson to pick up our judge for this week. And hoping the weather cuts us a break for the trials!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

TableTop Wrap Up

So on to the rest of the trial. The 2nd Open trial had a bit shorter course and most of the dogs seemed glad of it. The weather was the kicker though. About 2 inches of hail fell and stuck around most of the day, as it was in the 30s with a strong wind right in our faces. Bill had a very nice run, finishing with an 86 and 3rd place. He'd certainly figured the sheep out and moved them smartly. The shedding ring was marked with white plastic bags with sand in them, and i couldn't tell where the shedding ring was as they blended in with the hail! Zac ran late in the day and the hail had finally melted away. Or perhaps it just blew away - the wind was strong enough to knock you backwards. Driving rain kept my glasses completely covered at the post during the run but Zac held everything together nicely and finished 5th. I was very pleased with how he was moving the sheep.

I didn't have anyone running on the Nursery/Ranch day (wednesday) but it was decided to begin the 3rd Open round late that evening. The outrun was long - i heard 600 and 700 yard estimates, so it was somewhere around that. The drive was fairly small but i thought the crossdrive was especially hard to see. The first 8 dogs to run either gripped off or retired, as the sheep were feeling very cranky. Unfortunately, Zac was one of those. He tried very hard to bring in his sheep and was handling one of them that was coming out and trying to hit him, but when a second joined in, he went on the attack with a hard hanging on grip and was DQ'ed. Fortunately, the sheep were a bit happier thursday morning. Bill had a pretty nice run, moving the sheep along nicely and giving them a good hock bite when they'd try to stall out. The crossdrive killed us as i had no clue where the line was. We hit everything and the rest of the course was nice though, and he ended up 9th.

Friday was the last round of Open and it was a double gather trial for everyone. Each dog would run out to the right about 500 yards, bring the group of four sheep through the fetch gates and drop them off, then turn back to the left about 450 yards for a second group of four. After the fetch gates and joining up the two groups, all eight sheep would go to the shedding ring, where they'd be split into 2 groups of four, and the four shed sheep would then be penned. It was quite a good challenge with many dogs having trouble getting the turn back done. The shed also brought several handlers to grief as the left behind sheep were happy to try to rejoin with the shed ones. Zac was my first dog to run and he had a nice first gather, though it was a bit slow with the sheep being quite heavy. The turn back was pretty good though the line to the second group was pretty direct. Lift was nice and he was getting them sorted out and moved down the field fairly well, when he finally lost his cool and again gripped off. It was unfortunate as he was having a decent run and seemed to have gotten the sheep figured out. Bill ran towards the end of the class and had a really nice run. His biggest problem was the first outrun, where he ran out as if he thought the sheep were well to the left of where they actually were. I had to give him a hard stop and redirect to avoid a crossover. Lift and fetch were good. He started anticipating the turn back before i gave it, looking around as he knew what was coming. I had to keep him tuned to the first group though, since we didn't have them quite far enough up field just yet. When i did give the turn back, he took it very nicely. I gave him a redirect on the fly just for safety's sake since i couldn't see him in a dip in the field but i don't think he actually needed it as he ran out a bit wide after getting it. Lift and fetch were good and we hit both fetch gates coming in. With the sheep nicely settled in the shedding ring and grazing, and about a minute and a half to go, i called Bill in and got a quick split cleanly, and we shoved them in the pen with one little break by one ewe. At the end of the day, hitting all the gates and being pretty clean around the course paid off as Bill was the winner. Second was Jeanine van der Merwe, with Linda Tesdahl and Alan Mills tied for 3rd/4th.

So that's the Tabletop SDT blow by blow. It's an excellent trial and i'd highly recommend it to anyone. The sheep were an absolute blast to work, being freshly shorn yearlings off the range, not worked by dogs before. They'd sure challenge the dogs and let you know what was in them, good or bad. I had a terrific time, even with the "challenging" weather. It was so much fun to see the dogs learning so much over the course of the week, with the sheep and also with four very different courses to run. I'm happy with Zac, as he hung in there and did his best. I think he'll figure these sheep out before we head home, and even if he doesn't, he's shown me his heart as he's never given up and never given in. And i'm over the moon with Bill's performance. He's really blown me away with his ability to calmly handle the challenge, and with his ability and courage. I can't wait until the next trial! For now, we're settled in at Joni Swanke's in Bowman, ND and waiting on the "The Big One" SDT, which will start Tuesday evening. 900 yard outrun, here we come!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bluegrass and TableTop Day 1

So i guess i should do some catching up. I'm sitting in the camper at the TableTop SDT near Colorado Springs with a cold blustery wind ripping away outside, so it seems a good time to do it!

The Bluegrass was well run and well organized as usual but it just wasn't my week there. I was very pleased with the dogs, and felt like Zeke and Bill both learned a good deal from the sheep but we were well out of the placings with every run. Bill had never run at the BG before and never been on that sort of sheep, and i was pleased with the huge improvement from his first to his second run. By the end of his first run, his eyes were all lit up and i could see he was having a ball working the difficult lambs. On his second run he really mastered them quite well but with 2 lambs breaking different directions, a high score just wasn't meant to be. Zac ran quite well. His first lot of sheep had a real rotten one in it and i was very proud of the job he did with it. Unfortunately containing it meant we were short on time so no shed or pen. Even without, he was in the running for the double lift with a 63. His second run was at the very end of the day in difficult light, and he had trouble with the sheep stalling out on the fetch due to their empty bellies and some poor handling on my part, so the DL was not meant to be. Zeke was quite full of himself on the novice field but was running out very well and showing good confidence on his driving. We have much work still to do on his fetch as he was bullying the sheep at the top end of it. It probably was a bit soon for him to be running really, as i feel he needs to be a little further along in his training. I may hold off on running him again until we can get home and get him evened out, perhaps by the fall.

We bugged out of the BG late morning on Saturday and started pounding pavement west. After 22 hours of driving and one nasty thunderstorm spent overnighting in a Walmart parking lot, we pulled in here at the TableTop SDT. It's a big, beautiful field with Pike's Peak in the background, with fresh range sheep. There are 4 Open trials across the week with 4 different courses. The weather has been interesting to say the least. The first day started nice but by the end of the day we'd seen about all the types of weather you could think of. Well, until the next morning when we awoke to rain followed by about 2 inches of hail! And the wind, wow. This morning is blustery but the sun is peaking out.

On Monday Zac was quite perplexed by the range sheep, which were more than happy to come out of their neat group of five and smash into a dog that didn't show authority. The outrun was about 500 yards and he ran out reasonably well and lifted the sheep, but lost his confidence and blasted through the group for a DQ. I think he just didn't know what do to move them, and when he ran out of options, he lost his head. Bill was quite spectacular on these range sheep though. I could see that the lessons he'd picked up at the Bluegrass would hold. Outrun and lift were perfect. When he arrived at the top end, the sheep were split and he just neatly tucked the single into the group and motored them right on down the field. Fetch was straight with a narrow miss on the fetch gates. When these sheep would get up on the ridges running through the field, they'd spin around and test the dogs, feeling confidence from being higher than the dogs. This happened not too far from the handlers post and Bill showed great poise in working his way through it. The turn around the post was difficult as the sheep would stall out and fight, not wanting to go downhill on the first leg of the drive. With 3 big sheep facing him off, Bill kept his cool and turned them down the field. First leg was good with a little stall on a ridge but about half way across the crossdrive the sheep stalled out badly. They weren't fighting any more but put their heads down in a green patch of grass and just refused to move. It took a long time but Bill finally took a good bite and got them moving but unfortunately all the stalling ate up our time and we timed out just before entering the shedding ring. Unfortunate since we didn't get our drive points and would have placed. The going was very tough on the first day.

I'll post something about Day 2 later on….

Sunday, May 15, 2011

And we're off!

We're all set and ready to roll! Camper is packed to the gills, truck hitched up, just got to wait until the morning and we'll be gone. I have the dogs about where i want them in terms of their work. Of course it would be nice to have a little more experience on Zeke, but that's what the trip is for. I feel like all 3 boys are working well, and Zac and Bill and were even ready a bit early, so we've been in a holding pattern this last week or two. It's all been light work, just a little tuning here and there. I do wish i'd done a better job conditioning them. Unfortunately my big plans for that never really materialized. There just aren't enough hours in the day for everything. I'm also wishing i hadn't scratched Moon from the Bluegrass. She's working well and it would have been fun to see how she did. Joe has gone on an adventure of his own - he's staying with his breeders for the month. I suspect he'll be quite spoiled by the time i get home and wishing i'd stay gone!

So part 1 of the big adventure starts tomorrow. I'm hoping the weather cuts us some slack. It's been really rainy in Kentucky this spring and i hear it's rained most of the last two days. Sure would be nice if it would clear up for the trials.

I'll try to post here as well as on Facebook with how things are going. If you want more regular updates and pictures of the scoreboards, "friend" me on Facebook.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Belle Grove SDT

A couple of weeks ago, the dogs and i went to the first Belle Grove SDT at the site of last year's Finals. It was a terrific trial, hosted by David Clark and Cheryl Branibar. The field was different than the field used for the Finals but plenty challenging. The sheep were David and Cheryl's home flock of Montadales and were very fit and up to the challenge of 3 days of Open runs. The novice and nursery classes were held on yet another field, which was quite "interesting" - steep hills on the left and right, with a narrow valley between, where the sheep were set and the fetch was to be. The sheep were Barbara Ray's dorper/katahdin crosses. It wasn't a long course but the terrain sure bamboozled some of the young dogs.

I was very happy with the dogs' performances. Bill and Zac both ran very well both times out. I think i was more rusty than either of them! In spite of me, they both placed well. Bill was 3rd the first day and 4th the second. Zac was 7th the first day, and i think he was just out of the placings on the second (haven't seen the final results yet). He had a rough group the second go and i was thrilled with how well he handled them. It was a chore just keeping them on the field, much less getting around as well as he did.

Zeke started off well with a reasonably good run in Nursery, just out of the qualifying spots. Next he ran in PN and i felt like he was stiffening up on his flanks and getting a bit sticky. So in his next Nursery run, i got after him a bit to get him listening better and especially getting on him for not taking his stops. At this stage of his training, i think it's way more important to get good experience and training in than it is to worry about placing. We had the chance to try a 3rd Nursery run and i was happy to see the training paying off, as Zeke was pretty good. I also ran Moon in her first ever trial and she did pretty well! I was mostly happy with her PN run. It wasn't stellar but she got out nice enough to her sheep and kept her head, and finished the course. Since she'd done pretty okay, i put her in that 3rd Nursery class and i was just thrilled with her. She had a decent outrun and a very nice fetch (few and far between on that course), and was listening pretty well. She had a really lousy draw of sheep and at the turn around the post they started splitting and breaking back on her towards the exhaust. She didn't have a clue how to handle it but trusted me to help her as much as i could, and kept her head really well. I fiddled with it a little bit for the sake of getting some training in with her, and when i felt she'd had enough, we walked off. But i was just so pleased with her. I still think i'll be selling her if i find the right fit, but she's coming along.

So that's the quick trial report. Life is crazy hectic with trying to get ready to leave next week. I hope to have lots of good news to report from the Bluegrass. Zac and Bill will be running in the Open (Bill's first time there) and Zeke is entered in the PN and Nursery. It'll be a busy week!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Countdown Begins

Six weeks. Six weeks from today, the dogs and i leave on our big spring trip. It feels like it's racing up on me! We'll leave May 17 and head to KY for the Bluegrass, then go from there to Colorado Springs, CO for the Tabletop trial May 23-27. After that, we head to Bowman, ND for the Big One and Slash J trials from June 1-7. And from June 8-12 we'll attend and help out at lessons and clinics with Aled Owen at Joni Swanke's place in Bowman. June 13 we start the long trek home and should arrive here June 15th. Probably on our hands and knees after all of that travel!

There is so much to be done and so many things to fret over with such an extended trip looming. I've always felt like us sheepdog handlers are nearly as obsessive-compulsive as our border collies, and a big trip sure brings it out in me. I try to remember that the dogs are the biggest thing i need to concentrate on though, and to that end conditioning and training are foremost in my mind at the moment. I'd have liked to have started running them more for fitness a bit sooner, but our weather was just lousy last week so i've started this week. Last night was our first serious fitness run, a solid 30 minutes behind the ATV, up and down hills, at a good constant jog. Zac, Zeke and Moon all flit along, bouncing and racing and having a grand time on these runs, but they're more that type of dog and tend to keep pretty fit for shorter bursts like this with just their approaches to life in general. Bill on the other hand, is Mr Steady and very conservative with his energy in general, so he settles in to a pace and jogs right beside me. I'll have to work harder to condition him but he'll also make up for it on the trial field where he controls himself and doesn't waste a lot of energy. The other three are more likely to "hit the wall" so i'll have to work on stamina with them, and that'll come as i extend run times.

I'm searching out larger fields for the dogs to work on, as well as just different fields for the youngsters, small or large. That's part 2 of the dog prep. Part 3 will be nutrition but i haven't quite decided what i'll be doing along those lines just yet. All 3 dogs are healthy and young, so hopefully it won't be as big of an issue as when running an older dog.

So, other than obsessing about the more mundane things (ever tried to pack for a month on the road?!), that's the big focus right now. Dogs, dogs, dogs. I'm going to try to keep a conditioning and training log and will post it here maybe once a week or so if it seems interesting at all.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Long Shot SDT

(photos by Michelle Dobbs)
I decided last week to pack up the dogs and head to the Long Shot SDT in Church Hill, MD this past weekend. It had been about 7 years since i'd gone to this trial, hosted by Sherry and David Smith, assisted by Sandy Hornung. I always enjoy the people who trial in the NorthEast, though getting there is a pain in the neck, having to drive through DC. Once there, the people are just lovely, very welcoming and generally enjoyable to be around. This trial was no exception to that general statement. The field was in nice shape and the sheep were fat and happy, bred ewes in very good condition. We stayed in a hotel since i still have the camper winterized, and it was one of the best ones i've stayed at (clean!) with a fabulous seafood restaurant across the street, all set on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Crab cakes to die for, yum!

Since we drove up early friday morning for the Novice day, I missed running Zeke in the first Nursery class. We did make it in time for the 1st ProNovice class though, and he had a very nice run. I sent him to the right, which is his favored side right now. He was a little tighter than i'd like, but not too bad. He kind of poked into the sheep after the lift but from that point it was all very clean and nice. Final score was a 72 (out of 80), good for second place. The second PN class was immediately after the first, and Zeke was back up again very quickly. The second run was pretty bad - i sent left to see if he'd widen a bit but he was really tight and not willing to stop or redirect at all. Fetch was good but he was overflanking on the drive really badly and the sheep kept doubling back on him, so i retired rather than fighting over it. The second Nursery class ran at the end of the Open on saturday, and i debated whether to run Zeke since his outruns had been bad in PN. I went ahead and ran him, hoping that the extra space and length would encourage him to widen a bit, and also so that he could do a much longer drive and hopefully get into more of a rhythm on it of pushing the sheep along. Fortunately, both of those happened. I sent him right and he bent out nicely as he made contact with his sheep. He was still a little tight on the back side, but his attitude was more correct. The fetch was pretty good and the driving was lovely except for when i very carefully steered high above the crossdrive panels. Pen was clean and final score was 79 (out of 90) for third place. If not for my poor steering, Zeke would have had his first Nursery leg in his first Nursery run ever. I was very pleased with my youngster! It was a pretty good place for running the young dogs and i wished i'd entered Moon in the PN. They were too full to add any extra dogs though, so she had to make do with some good socializing and learning to hang out and relax at dog trials. Joe had a ball charming every person and dog he could reach. He's quite the social butterfly.

Saturday brought out the big dogs for the Open. Zac was my first up and ran out fast and tight, not his usual outrun. He overshot the top end a bit but flanked back when asked, and then overworked the draw to the right by pushing the sheep well offline to the left. I don't know if he was in a dead spot on the field or it was just the adrenaline of a dog trial after a layoff rushing in his ears, but i couldn't get control of him at all until the fetch panels, even though i was yelling my guts out. From that point on it was a nice, controlled run but it sure started like a wreck. Bill's run later in the day was very nice but i just couldn't get the shed, no matter what i tried. The sheep in this flock can be awfully hard to separate and we just had a group that knew how to keep from splitting. It was unfortunate as we would have had a high placing score.

Zac was my first up again Sunday and did something i've never seen him do - going out to the right, he pulled up at 3 o'clock and walked in to the sheep directly from there. He was between the sheep and the setout pen and i guess he decided to hit that pressure point and hold it. I couldn't get him to flank at all either. Very strange. Afterwards it occurred to me that perhaps all those people who've run at this trial a hundred times knew what they were doing when they were sending left! I got him down just after the sheep lifted and got them online pretty quickly, and then went to schooling on him since i knew we were out of any kind of score at that point. I thought i'd get some training in since we were there and it wasn't a jam packed entry. The rest of the run was actually really pretty though i'm sure it sounded terrible with me growling at him and making him really listen. He probably wasn't too far out of the placings in the end. Bill's run was quite good though he pulled up a hair short at the top, lifting slightly offline and fighting me when i was trying to get the sheep back online for the first half of the fetch. They weren't far offline and he was determined to bring them straight, but i needed to move them over a bit. The rest of the run was very clean. I left before the trial was over but i heard he ended up placing about 5th.

So that was our weekend adventure. I'm very glad we went as this gives me a good idea what i need to be doing with the dogs before the next trial, in 4 weeks. It looks like outruns and long fetches are in order, as well as establishing some flexibility again. Our big KY/CO/ND trip starts 6 weeks from tomorrow so we'll be working hard on conditioning as well, starting today.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Trials and Dogs

Catching up, yet again. It's been a busy late winter/early spring so far. There's the new Shoofly dog, Joe (formerly known as Hawk) and he's keeping the big dogs and i on our toes. He's very sweet and friendly, and oh-so-Zac-energetic. Moon and Zeke are tag team trying to keep him entertained. They're both very good with him in different ways. Moon is somewhat mother like with him, playing and teaching him games, and setting rules - he's not allowed to chew on her. Zeke is more like a brother and they wrestle and tumble and Joe chews on Zeke's neck mercilessly, having to get way overboard before Zeke will correct him. Zac ignores Joe and Bill keeps him at arm's length. It's always interesting watching the pack dynamics when they change like this. Gael was always a good puppy nanny and i'm glad Moon has decided to step up with her out of the house.

Last weekend was the 4th trial at the farm, held again to raise funds towards ovarian cancer research at Duke. It was bittersweet after losing Joan in January. I couldn't quite bring myself to call it Whistle For a Cure with her gone, but most of the trial proceeds will go to the usual fund (you can still contribute here). It was a lovely weekend weather wise and a big success. Even more people than usual pitched in and it all went off very well.

My young dogs, Moon and Zeke, are coming along really well these days and i'm quite excited about both of them. They're still very young at 19 months old, but looking pretty good and getting pretty trained up. They couldn't be any different. Zeke is very steady and natural, while Moon is my pocket rocket and needs a good bit of handling to keep things under control. They're going to keep me on my toes for sure! While very different, i think they both have a lot of potential. I've come very close to selling Moon several times but i think she's going to be a good one, though that may still be a little more time away. She's certainly exciting anyway. Zeke is a good guy, somewhat like Bill was to train. He's just my guy all the way and a real partner. They're both trying really hard in their own ways. Both are nearly ready to run Nursery, at least on good sheep. Moon probably isn't ready for big trial excitement on sheep that try to run away with her, not just yet anyway. Zeke is probably a little more ready to handle that just because of his nature but i'm not sure about longer outruns with him just yet. I think they're both ready for ProNovice though, and have Zeke entered in both PN and Nursery at the trial we're going to next weekend. I may run Moon if it seems like a good situation for her.

The Open dogs are finally getting out for a little tuning up and conditioning. They're both a little rusty but not too bad. Zac is a little wild for something to do and both are a little out of shape but we'll be working on that. We're heading to Sherry Smith's Longshot trial this coming weekend and it'll be fun to see how they run and to shake some of the cobwebs off of my handling as well! I'll report on the trial when we get back.

Monday, March 7, 2011


I got a little video of Moon this evening and thought i'd share. She's coming along nicely now though she's still pushy pushy pushy. There's a ton of come forward there and she's the most amazing athlete i've ever had. There's plenty she's still doing wrong but the bigger things (like sometimes not "seeing" all the sheep or letting one or two break off) are just young dog things that i'm sure she'll grow out of. In this video she's needing more than one stop command, which i hate, but she'd already been working for awhile and had been taking them nicely. She was getting a little brain-tired plus i had the camera keeping me from moving around or being quite as insistent as i might be without it. Just this evening she finally started giving me pace on the drive. You'll hear an embarassing number of "time!" commands but she's a really forward little dog and needs lots of reminders to hold her back out of the sheep. I was really thrilled with her today and can't wait to see how she does tomorrow!