Thursday, September 27, 2012

Rolling On

Trial season is now in full swing here in the mid-Atlantic area. This past weekend, the dogs and I went to the Pipedream Farm SDT, hosted by good friends Mark and Renee Billadeau in Middletown, MD. Mark and Renee bought this farm a few years ago and have been working their behinds off on it since, and it's really starting to show. I hadn't been there since the trial last year, and the changes to the house are wonderful. The fields were lush and healthy, the sheep fat and sassy. I was lucky enough to be invited to stay over for the weekend at the home of Todd and Peggy Simpson, a treat all in itself. Their home is so interesting and beautiful, and this trip i actually had time to explore and enjoy the grounds a bit in the daylight, as well as spending a little more time than is usually possible visiting with Peggy and Todd.

The course at this trial isn't especially large, with the outrun being somewhere around 200 yards. The sheep are set on the top of a ridge and dogs are generally completely out of sight at the lift. The drive is fairly long and set on the face of a hill, so lines aren't too bad to pick out. There's quite a bit of pressure with draws for the sheep back to the setout on the drive and also behind the handler's post to the exhaust for the fetch, so that's a bit tricky. Shedding was fairly difficult and penning was pretty straightforward though not a given. I ended up needing to pull Zeke from the trial since he'd had a canine removed and the vet felt it was too soon to run him, so Zac and Bill were the Shoofly team this time around.

Zac was my first dog up at #4 on saturday and he had a pretty nice run around the course. There were some minor bobbles but overall it was pretty good. The shed was very good, very clean, and the pen good. I thought it would place but didn't realize the shedding would end up being pretty difficult over the course of the day, and in the end, the score held up for 1st place. Bill ran later on and drew up a very difficult set of sheep. They broke hard off the top before Bill arrived and with some quick moves on his part, he caught them just before they'd made it to the fetch panels. We got them back online but they broke again at the turn around the post and Bill had to pull some pretty fancy work to keep them on the field and get them back online for the drive away. The sheep finally realized they weren't getting anywhere with trying to get away from him and we managed a very pretty crossdrive which i capped off by steering the sheep high around the panels. Off to the shed where the crazies started again. I thought i'd seen Bill slip and possibly tweak something on the turn around the post, so kept him from trying any heroics to control the sheep. When it became apparent that shedding was going to take full speed, i decided to retire rather than risk further tweaking on a run that had already gone to pot. It was a lot of fun trying to manage that difficult group, and i was thrilled with Bill's work sorting them out.

On sunday, Bill was my first dog up and i thought he really nailed it. I'm not sure where we could have cleaned up many points other than a wiggle in front of the driveaway gates and a pause before the sheep went into the pen. He was just really on. The judge wasn't quite as happy with it as i was, hitting his top end a fair bit, and we ended up in 4th at the end of the day. No matter, i was very happy with his work all around for the weekend. Zac was up later and he was really on too - laying down a really gorgeous run around the course. We were penning before the shed, and with only a small pause the sheep walked right in. On to the shed, where we got a nice split, i called Zac in, and my dog that usually takes out my knees on a shed refused to come in, very strange. I mean, i assumed he was in there and got all twisted up looking for him because he's ALWAYS there and i don't need to watch for him. Time ran out not long after with no shed and a 10th place finish. It's a little worrisome that he didn't come in and i'll be keeping an eye on old Zac-boy to make sure there's not something physically troubling him. He had a good run up to the shed, but his flanks were also a bit un-Zaclike. I had given him melatonin saturday evening because it looked like it would storm and he hates storms, so perhaps it was still affecting him. If i see any other suspicious things, i'll be having him checked over and test for tick diseases. Those things can present in very subtle ways so it pays to be wary of anything being a touch off.

So that's the report on the running at the trial. I had a great time socializing and hanging out, and seeing some folks i don't get to see often enough. It was a really pleasant weekend!

After the trial, i drove to Sarah Ruckleshaus' place in Chestertown, MD on the eastern shore for a day of doing lessons on Monday. I'd done a clinic a few weeks ago at Monroe and Evelyne Williams' place and afterwards Sarah asked if i'd like to do one at her place, but with all of the fall weekends filling up, we decided to try a mini-clinic/lesson day instead since i'd be fairly close at the trial. It ended up being a most excellent day, with 7 or 8 dogs and a nice group of people. I've been really resistant to doing clinics or lessons away from home before, but i'm finding i really enjoy it a lot. It's a very rewarding experience. I've been asked to do another the first weekend in November at VA Beach and i'm looking forward to that.

Next up, the Montpelier SDT in 2 weeks!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

And Still Another Post! Sunview Trial

I decided to pack up the pack and try a new trial this past weekend, the Sunview Trial in Quakertown, PA. Hosted by Maggie Chambers and Jim Strohecker, this was the inaugural for a lovely little trial that hopefully will become annual. The field was on the smaller side, outrun maybe 200-250 yards i'd guess, fairly flat with a slight rise in the middle falling off to the sides. Dogs running out properly wide dropped out of sight, and it was difficult for the "vertically challenged" (read that, short like me!) to see the dogs behind the sheep at the lift. The sheep were a commercial whitefaced wool cross, provided by Sharon Nunan. They were healthy, fit and pretty opinionated about where they did and did not want to go. Being a smaller field, the pressure/draw could be pretty strong with some packets of sheep really bolting back to the setout or to the exhaust, especially on the driveaway and first turn. The first day, we had a chute with a bend in it to negotiate rather than a pen, and the sheep wanted no part of going into what looked like a closed box to them. I think the chute was completed successfully only twice all day, along with only one partial (2 of the 3 sheep going through). With the shed following the chute, and sheep that were very difficult to split, there was only one shed all day. For the second day, the chute was shortened and widened, with no bend so the sheep could see daylight at the end, and it became much easier to accomplish. Alas, shedding was still very difficult, with only 5 sheds out of 53 runs.

With a two dog limit for the Open class, i decided to run Bill and Zac. Since this was a NEBCA trial, and under NEBCA rules dogs are allowed to run both Ranch and Open until they have placed in an Open trial, i put Zeke in the Ranch so he could run as well. Zac was up first and had a decent enough run. I didn't care for the way he ran out very much, tight and not bending out as he should have. I think perhaps the flat field threw him a bit but he should know better with his experience and age. He had a difficult ewe in his group and we did our best but it wasn't a winning type of group or run. Bill was up later and had a good go around the course. I decided to change things up at the chute and set myself up on the other side from what everyone was choosing, and that worked out well, as we got the first completed chute of the day. I had plenty of time for the shed but just couldn't get any kind of split at all. At the end of the day, the run held up for a win for Bill. Zeke was up in the Ranch at the very end of the day and had a truly terrible group of sheep to try to negotiate. You know it's tough when both the judge and the setout person go out of their way to offer sympathies! But i was thrilled with how Zeke worked. He ran out very nice, wide and deep. The sheep bolted as he got to the top and i had to flank him hard right back the way he'd come. He caught them at a dead run halfway down the field and all the way over at the driveaway gate, but he stopped them cold and brought them back onto the fetch line. Unfortunately, the first leg of the drive was right back in the direction they wanted to bolt, so that was tough. But Zeke kept his head and his flanks and attitude stayed really good through it all. I decided he'd held it together long enough and walked off before we got around the whole course, but i was really happy with Zeke.

Sunday Bill was up early on and had another nice run, pretty good lines even when good lines were hard to come by. Got the chute and I got the shed but unfortunately Bill didn't. I was jumping around and into the sheep like a crazy woman, getting them to split and holes to open up, but Bill decided i'd lost my mind and wouldn't come in to help me out or hold it. I can't really say i blame him, but it was the only thing i hadn't seen tried yet, as team after team failed to get the shed. (Note to self: practice crazy woman sheds with Bill....! ) At the end of the day, he was tied for 6th/7th.  Zac was up at the end of the class and had a decent run but i mucked up the chute and again, no shed, so finished in the middle of the pack. Zeke ran again in the Ranch and was very good at the top end but he got very stiff on his flanks after the running mess from the first day, and i decided to walk off again.

All in all, it was a lot of fun. The sheep were a big challenge and it was good for the dogs to get out there and try to work it out. The trial atmosphere was great and it was nice to see some of the northern folks that i don't get to see often enough. And on top of all that, we were invited to stay with friends for the weekend who spoiled us with wonderful meals and hospitality. It was a great weekend!