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!