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!