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)