Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Watercress SDT

 View from the top end of the field, looking down field and over the campers. 
(Photos by Julie Poudrier)
Click on a picture to enlarge it.
 Jan's home and the view
The trial field, again from the top end.

Along the fall trial circuit we go, this time landing at Jan Thompson's Watercress SDT in Limestone, TN. This is one of the prettiest, if not THE prettiest trial locations we go to all year. Jan's perfectly maintained farm sits among the mountains and the view is beautiful, with the leaves changing colors all around. The trial is set on a large hayfield with little rolls and dips. Lots of folks pitch in to keep the trial running smoothly all 3 days, and the handlers dinner on Saturday evening is to die for, gourmet all the way featuring lamb raised right there on the farm. Setout was very capably handled (as usual!) by Julie Poudrier and this year's judge Scott Glen was imported from the faraway land of Alberta, Canada. The sheep were very fit and fat katahdin ewes and their lambs from this past spring, and the weather was perfect with cold nights and bright, sunny days in the 60s.

The trial began on Friday with the novice classes. We began the day with Nursery 1 and a reasonably sized (smallish) course for so early in the Nursery season. The dogs seemed to all handle it pretty well. Zeke ran very well, winning the class and securing his second qualifying leg for next year's Nursery Finals. Next up was Open Ranch 1, on the same course, won by Sally Glei with Lena. ProNovice followed, won by Chuck Dimit and Chad. Then came a course change that left those waiting to run Nursery 2 and Open Ranch 2 (running together) feeling a tad nervous. The setout and all panels were moved back to the spots they'd be for the first Open trial the next day, and it was a huge course for the youngsters. Actually, it was a pretty darned long drive even for the Open dogs! It was a fun challenge for the young dogs and made for interesting spectating as we watched the different dogs trying to master it. Zeke was the first dog up on the course and i was very happy with his performance. He had a little trouble with the outrun but his fetch and drive (the longest he's ever attempted) were very good and the pen quick and easy. His score held up at the top of the long list of Nursery and Ranch dogs running until right at the end when Chuck Dimit and Chad came along and laid down a beautiful run to win both Ranch and Nursery.

Saturday morning dawned cold but clear and Bill was my first dog up in the Open. He had a decent enough run but not his best by a long shot. Not sure what was up but he just seemed a little distracted. At the end of the day he finished just out of the placings. Zac was up mid-afternoon and had a great run going, with only a couple of points gone as we approached the shedding ring. Unfortunately he lost his patience with the sluggish pace of the sheep and decided a good goosing was in order to speed things up, resulting in a grip call and DQ. I was less than happy with the rotten beast giving away a potential win! Saturday's winner was Victoria Wilcox with a beautiful run with her Pat dog.  Sunday went quite a lot better for my guys. Zac was up very early, at a time when the sheep were acting pretty touchy, but managed a pretty nice run that held for a 10th place finish. After a very long day of waiting, Bill was the last dog of the day to run. The sheep had gotten very good at the end of the first day, so i was anxious to see what we'd get. As i'd hoped, the sheep got pretty sweet at the end and Bill had a smoker of a run. He'd hardly lost a point up to the crossdrive panel, where i carefully drove the sheep high and around the panel, grrrrr. It was a difficult one to see for sure. With a clean finish, about the only points Bill lost were on the crossdrive. But that was enough with the good running to put us 3rd for the day behind Chuck Dimit and Bob Washer. All in all, i was very happy with all 3 dogs. Especially gratifying were the 2 perfect sheds by Bill after having trouble at some of the trials this fall. I think i finally puzzled out the problem and hopefully the bit of quick training we did last week was the thing that helped.

So that's the play by play for this week's trial. Now we're home for our first weekend since August, and then we'll be off again to the Broken Back Ranch SDT the first weekend in November.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lexington SDT

So on we go to the 3rd trial of the week, again set in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains, at Broadview Ranch in Lexington, VA. Hosted by the most gracious of hosts, David Clark and Cheryl Branibar, this is a fun and very welcoming event. The field contains lots of cross country horse jumps, making for an interesting and challenging course. The Open outrun looked to be about 350-400 yards to me and the sheep are David and Cheryl's Montadale flock, trucked in to the ranch for the trial. Our judge this year was the inimitable Tommy Wilson and the setout crew par excellence was made up of Debbie Crowder in the sorting pens with Julie Poudrier holding the packets of sheep for every run of the 3 day event. It doesn't get any better in all respects there! The socializing was top notch as well, with handlers gathering each evening in the ranch cabin (very, very old with a wonderful fireplace) for food and merriment.

The sheep were very good at this trial, very cooperative around the course if handled well by the dogs and making them pay if not handled well. I thought they were a bit more challenge for the at hand tasks of shedding and penning in general, though there were plenty of sheds and pens for everyone, even if they weren't all trouble free. The Montadales seem to react a little differently to the dogs up close and weren't very reactive to the handlers. It was fun for me trying to figure them out anyway. The course both days ended with a split and pen of the 4 sheep.

I was lucky enough to be able to run all 3 dogs in the Open, as well as 2 runs in the Nursery with Zeke. Zeke was first up for me in the Open on the first day and i was very pleased with him. He was calm, cool and collected all the way around. We ran into trouble on the shed as i was trying to figure out the sheep. They didn't seem to want to string out for us and it took a minute for me to figure that out, as they flipped back and forth repeatedly. Knowing Zeke would blow into even a tiny gap, i finally just leaned in to show him where i wanted him to come, and he blasted in for a beautiful split with no gap at all. It sure is fun shedding with him! On to the pen where i began a day of penning woes. One ewe decided she'd just go under me instead of into the pen, and that pretty much became my pen theme of the day as i never did get a decent pen in 4 runs. Zac and Bill both ran very well around the course and through the shed, but i was just cursed at the pen for the day. Bill ended up 5th and Zac was out of the placings. The first Nursery class ran at the end of Open and Zeke had a nice run but the darned pen knocked us into 2nd place. Bob Washer won the Open for the day after a very, very close run off with Barb Levinson and Cy Peterson. Carla King and Sage won the Nursery.

Day two went a bit better for my guys but the competition was really stiff as one bobble here or there would knock you out of contention for the placings. Zac and Bill both had winning runs going up to the at hand work, but a missed attempt on the shed by Bill and a ewe skimming the outside of the pen on Zac knocked them down to 5th and 7th place, respectively. Zeke was laying down a smoker of a run when a quick overflank at the crossdrive panel got things out of whack and it took several points worth of effort to get back on track, knocking him out of contention. He was really on for his second Nursery class at the end of the day though, and won it handily, getting his first qualifying leg. Mike Hanley won the Open for the day. Bob Washer ended up overall champ for the 2 days, with Bill and me reserve champs.

Sunday brought out the novice dogs and i stayed around to watch most of the day. Wow, are there some good teams coming along there. Lots of good runs and nice dog work.

It was another fun few days at a wonderful trial, with gorgeous weather and nice people. The ranch is a lovely place with a lot going on. I enjoyed seeing the big chicken tractor and the pastured hogs, and even brought home a big bag of farm raised meats, yum. And now we're packing and preparing to head to TN for Jan Thompson's Watercress SDT this coming weekend.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Quiet Acres SDT

We followed up Edgeworth with a Tuesday-Wednesday trial in Grottoes, VA, at the Quiet Acres SDT. This first trial hosted by Dan and Sylvia King at their lovely farm was really great. The setting was gorgeous with the leaves starting to change in the Blue Ridge mountains (photo by Christine Koval). The rolling field made for a tricky outrun, the course was plenty challenging, the sheep fit and happy. The trial was a benefit for the Bluegrass and Belle Grove SDTs and drew a nice crowd. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly and i had a great time. And the handler's dinner prepared by Jim Winecoff was wonderful.

I decided to drive up to the trial on Tuesday morning rather than trying to take the camper or stay over in a hotel, trying to preserve my dwindling vacation time. I really wanted to support Dan and Sylvia with their first trial, they're such great people and have been very supportive of our Whistle for a Cure trials. I rolled in about 2 runs before my first run with Bill. A few quick questions to figure out the course and off we went to the post. We had a fairly decent run up to the split (it was split-pen after the drive). I couldn't seem to get any sort of gap at all with the 4 hair sheep. No fault of Bill's this time around, it just didn't happen, and we ran out of time staring at one solid wall of 4 sheep. Zac was up second to last and he really had it down cold with the sheep, hardly putting a foot wrong. I love it when he runs like that! In the end, he'd scored a 92 and won the class for his first ever Open win. Hard to believe that it's taken this long but it's true. I think he's probably had 8 or 10 second places but never taken home a blue ribbon. Yay for Zac! I ran Zeke non-compete at the end of the day and was very happy with him. His outrun was very nice, fetch good. He was putting too much pressure on the sheep on the drive and making them turn around to look at him, which he didn't like. Things would stall out a little and he'd poke into the sheep to get them going. Not pretty but effective. Just young dog stuff as he figures out how to work the different types of sheep we run into.

It started pouring rain overnight Tuesday night. Sylvia had very graciously offered to let me crash in her RV for the night. Unfortunately, a small leak overhead turned into a bigger leak overnight, and it was kind of a drippy night in bed! I snuggled around a pot in the bed catching drips for a few hours but eventually it ran me off into the house and onto the couch. Pretty funny and now i have a good story to rib Dan and Sylvia with.

Wednesday morning was nasty and rainy and icky. I was up first so chose to run Zeke for the experience. He ran quite well again and i was happy to see he'd sorted out in his mind about moving the sheep, and things smoothed right out. He had a very nice shed but we timed out on the pen. I was feeling tired and creaky with the chilly rain so decided to sit the rest of the day out, and jumped in my warm, dry truck for the trip home. I hated to miss running Zac and Bill but it sure was nice with the heat cranked up, and we would be on our way to the next trial in only a couple of days.

It was a great inaugural trial at Quiet Acres, and i definitely plan to be back next year!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Edgeworth SDT

This past weekend was our annual fall trip to the Edgeworth Open SDT in Gordonsville, VA, hosted by Tom and Florence Wilson. I love this trial, it's right at the top of my "must attend" list every year. The field is big and beautiful and it's a great challenge. This year our judge was Alasdair Lyttle and i thought he did a nice job of it. The field had a lot of very thick grass on it and it seemed to give the dogs and sheep some trouble as scores were generally lower than usual. There were lots of good parts to the runs, but no one seemed to lay down a really stellar run from start to finish.

I had 2 Open spots in the trial and my plan was to run Zac and Bill in the first round, then if Zac wasn't staying sound i'd perhaps sub Zeke in for him in the second round. Truthfully, i was just itching to give it a shot with Zeke to see what he'd do with that 600 yard outrun, one of the most difficult we'll ever run into at a trial. Given that I don't have a turnback on Zeke and only the sketchiest of redirects, i was trying to be sensible and not throw him in the mix but i sure wanted to try it. He's got a good head so i felt that even if he wasn't successful, it wouldn't cause any harm to his training. But i resisted for the first round and stuck to just running the 2 experienced dogs. Zac was my first up and had a pretty decent run around the course. I missed the crossdrive gates and thought the run was sloppy enough to keep us out of contention but in the end, Zac ended up placing 13th out of the 67 dogs. Bill had a very good run but troubles at the pen cost us several points and he finished 9th.

So you know what's coming, right? Of course, i put Zeke in for the second round! It was one of those years where lots of dogs were crossing over or not finding the sheep, but i just couldn't stand it so put him in as my 3rd dog. He was definitely seeing the sheep at the top, and left my feet nice and wide. I thought he was on a really correct path but gave him a little verbal "out" reminder just after he left, just for insurance, and out and out he sailed for a perfect outrun. I was dying to do a little happy dance standing at the post! He landed nicely, lifted a bit hard, and the sheep broke hard to the right down the hill, as they'd been doing all weekend. Zeke didn't quite know what to do about that and got them about half way to me before i managed to get him around to stop them. Back online and around the course, a little too pushy but not horrible, off to the pen, where the sheep decided they wanted nothing to do with being trapped in that small space. A bit of round and round but we did get them in, then off to the shedding ring where they were stuck together as if glued. No time to finish the shed but all in all, a great first time out at Edgeworth for young Zeke. What a good boy!

Zac was my next one up and again had what i thought was just an okay run around the course. I couldn't get anything close to a shed as the sheep were feeling very friendly with each other, stuck in a clump, and Zac couldn't get within 15 yards without them bolting around me. So with no shed i thought we were out of luck, but in the end we had held onto a 3rd place, Zac's highest ever finish at Edgeworth. He was really working well, especially with having been laid up with the injury. Bill ran towards the end of the round and was good around the course but for some reason decided he just wasn't going to shed and wouldn't come through for me. That was unfortunate as he had a high placing run up to that point.

So another Edgeworth is done, another great weekend passed on that beautiful field. The picture above of the field was taken last year, looking through Zeke's ears. I'd only had him a few weeks and he had the best time watching the trial and being around all the people and dogs. If you've met Zeke, you know he's a real "life is good!" kind of dog, all the time. He was just starting his sheepdog education then. I think it's pretty cool that he got up that field just a short year later. I'm just a little proud of him! :-)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Montpelier SDT

The trial at the Montpelier Fall Fiber Festival was a great success this year in my opinion. It was mostly new folks running the event for the VBCA and they did a terrific job. The sheep were commercial polypays rather than the usual dead broke hair sheep and great fun to work. The course was short but the challenge surely wasn't.

I was happy with the performances of both of my dogs. Bill seems to have really picked up a lot of knowledge and confidence from his experience on the western trip. I could feel the confidence in his work as he muscled the stroppy sheep around the field. The first day was especially fun for both of us as he had a ewe that kept trying to break off to the exhaust while leaving her friends behind. It made for a nice puzzle for us to work out. He ended up in 2nd place both days and was the overall Champ for the weekend. I ran Zeke since it was a small course and i'm still resting Zac, and he did very well himself. The first day he had a good enough run that he'd surely have placed well, but i just could not get the sheep to part on the shed. It was no fault of Zeke's, other than perhaps he'd muscled them around a bit hard and made them not want to separate. Not accomplishing the shed also cost the pen points. He ran very well the second day as well, finishing just out of the placings.

Montpelier is a special trial for me in many ways. The first trial i ever witnessed was at Montpelier, with my first little BC puppy Bailey when she was just a couple of months old. My mom and dad attended the trial once, camping with me there. I have many memories of attending the trial with Joan over the years. It's bittersweet to remember traveling to the trial together last year, with her passing only short time after. This year a new memory was added. I always see Pat and Steve at this trial, the people who i placed my first real Open dog Ben with many years ago, to help with their goat herd (they exhibit at the fiber festival). This year, Pat told me that Steve had passed away earlier in the year, and she told me a goosebump-worthy story. A few days before he died, she found Steve with a peaceful look on his face and he told Pat that he was sitting in a field with Ben, that Ben was happy and healthy and it was beautiful. One of their guard dogs was there too but he was so happy to see his Ben again. Of course we just bawled all over each other but wow, what a wonderful thing. Pat's always said i gave them the greatest gift, but i think truly i was the one given the gift, of knowing how happy they all were together. Isn't it amazing where these little black and white dogs can take you and who you meet? (photo of Ben at the Bluegrass by Denise Wall)