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)