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.