Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dunnigan Hills SDT, Zamora, CA Nov. 14, 2008

"There's something about Zamora..."

On Friday, Bid, Coal and our friend Jack and his dog Ross went to Zamora, CA for the Pro-Novice class of the Dunnigan Hills Sheepdog Trial. It was warm but very windy…in fact the wind would almost blow you off your feet and the dogs had trouble hearing our whistles. The course was a 245-yard outrun with the handler’s post set up on a hill facing a little valley in-between two more sets of hills. The sheep were set in the draw in the middle of the little valley where it started to climb. Visibility was good for all, if you could stay on your feet, that is! The judge was Karen Child, recent winner of the Western Regionals, and a popular trainer/handler from the Pacific NW. We got two runs and it was a left-hand drive. There was little advantage to send either direction but most handlers sent to the left on a come-bye outrun. A few sent successfully to the right, however. I sent Bid to the left both runs as that is his stronger side; with Coal I ended up sending one run in each direction. I had to use my brass (louder) whistle and even then was blowing on it as hard as I possibly could, to be heard at the distant portions of the course.

In short, BID DID FANTASTIC! I am so proud of him; the only mistakes were mine. We would’ve had third place in the morning trial if I hadn’t retired at the pen. In the afternoon run Bid took first place.

Coal actually got a score on the challenging course in the morning, and in the afternoon we were “arguing long distance” too much on the drive, so I retired with him on the drive…to try it again another day. At those distances, we just don’t have the whistle communications yet, and in the wind, it was made doubly hard. He is young and we will get there, I hope by spring.

On the morning run, Bid’s scores were just one point off the outrun, one off the lift, and one off the fetch, and only 10 off the drive (we barely missed the first panel and hit the second panels)…he had a great run going. The sheep had not been penned in a year –since their last trial at Zamora-- so they did not want to pen. All the morning run dogs had trouble penning and there were very few pens. Bid and I had the sheep set up at the pen one time and they settled nicely…I asked him for one small step to move them and the lead (high-headed) sheep blew out and started to run…not Bid’s fault…I tried 2-3 more times and all we did was ring the pen…. I was running “out of dog” so I retired…not knowing I only had a few more seconds left on time. Everyone was mad at me for retiring and said I should have just held things together to run out of time, and if so I would have gotten third instead of RT on the scoreboard. The judge was very kind but gave me a talking-to about ruining a good run like that...but also she complimented me for my sportsmanship and my lack of willingness to run the sheep around and my desire to “save” my dog. I was just so thrilled with Bid’s work I didn’t care about the score. But of course it would be nice to post a nice score and get a placement (and take home a check!). His outrun was just beautiful, he went way wide around the hills to approach his sheep, and his lift was just almost perfect. The fetch was pretty much straight on and he was listening. The drive went well except for just skirting that first panel (which cost us 5 of those 10 drive points, since we had 5 sheep to run). I guess my next purchase will be one of those wristwatches with a stopwatch on it.

On Coal’s first run I sent to the left, and he ran straight up the field, as many of the novice dogs did, crossed over, but got the sheep, so that was good. I was thrilled that Coal even ran out for the sheep. His lift and fetch were downright brilliant and then of course we ran into trouble on the drive as we don’t really have inside flanks. We did manage to work our way around and had a perfect pen (one of the very few pens in the first trial at all) so Coal got a score of 41 in the first round.

In Bid’s second run, he got a set of sheep that were totally nuts and running off from the setout crew, taking a most circuitous route to their holding spot. I thought the judge might call for a new set, but the sheep were finally settled on the hay and we were told to go ahead. I was worried that Bid would even be able to handle them because of his age, and since I knew he was already tired from round #1…but we did it. The sheep were hard to control but we made it around and even penned. Bid got a round of applause and hoots and hollers from the local crowd. I was as thrilled as if he’d won the National Finals. His scores ended up one point off the outrun, zero off the lift, five off the fetch, 17 off the drive, and 3 off the pen for a total of 64--not a high score but considering the wild packet of sheep that we got, and a nine+ year old dog on his second run of the day, it was downright amazing.

Coal did a better outrun on his second try (sending to the right this time) but we got to butting heads on the drive and he wouldn’t take my whistles or voice commands so I finally retired without ever making the first panel. He is a strong-minded little thing and the distances were so great that is it out of our comfort zone. Still, I was very happy with his performance. We have a lot to work on. Karen Child told me I was a “good handler”! (beaming!) and encouraged me to stay in the sport and not change my attitude about respecting the stock as well as my dogs.

Many thanks to all who helped put on such a nice trial. The nice group of handlers was jovial and in good spirits. Thanks to Bill Berhow and Leslie Pfardresher for opening up their farm for this opportunity, providing a challenging course and fresh, healthy stock (St. Croix/Dorper crosses) to work.

I think this is our last sheepdog trial for 2008. I am thrilled to look back and reflect on our many successes, and especially the lessons learned, and look forward to more fun in 2009.

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