Sunday, November 22, 2009

UC Hopland Sheepdog Trial, 2009

On Friday we drove about an hour north in the pouring rain to the tiny town of Hopland, CA to a sheepdog trial hosted by the University of California Research and Extension Center. It is a beautiful location and home to agricultural field research for scientists from many locations. The research center maintains its own large flock of breeding sheep, from 600 to 800 head at any given time. As a result the sheepdog trial handlers would be treated to fresh sheep for every run, all weekend. The sheep were large white commercial ewes, very fit and obviously well cared for, however they were not used to dogs and not particularly friendly to people. All of this created the wonderful challenge that we sheepdog-trial addicts crave! Combined with the pouring rain it created a unique situation to enjoy the wonderful farm surroundings. It is truly a treat to be able to run at this farm on their sheep.

Coal was up 5th in the Pro-Novice class so he got to see a couple of outruns, thankfully. My fears about his outrun vanished though as he left my feet quickly and boldly and ran out in a beautiful gather. The fetch was a bit fast but straight through the fetch gates. The ewes were fast, powerful, and needed a very light contact from pretty far off. They covered ground quickly and were very touchy to both dog and handler pressure. We managed to get them around the course though, although our drive was pretty messy. The driving part of the course was very short for this level of competition and there wasn't really enough room to get this type of sheep lined out and flowing before you needed to turn them for the next element. I'm sure some better teams than we managed a precise drive but those were few and far between.

The pen was unusual, three-sided, with no gate. I enjoy having a different or difficult challenge on the courses instead of the same thing every time. Coal and I timed out at the pen. The course time was only seven minutes which seemed really short, given the difficulty of the pen. Coal is a good penner and I'm sure we could have managed it, given just a little more time. His score was a 54, and we did not get the breakdowns. I'm sure he lost most of his drive points. Due to the poor weather and other obligations, I left after the trial was only about half over. At that time only one team had managed a pen with a 70 score. I am really pleased with the progress that Coal and I have made over the past year and I am thrilled with how he is working now. We've come a long way, and with luck I hope we are positioned well for our trials early next year. It was a great way to wind up our trial year and look forward to the next. I'm not sure what our first trial of 2010 will be but no doubt we will run at Zamora, Sonoma Wine Country, and some others.

Friday afternoon, the rain let up, and while I was checking our sheep at two different fields, I took a chance to shoot a few random pictures of the dogs while they played in the fresh green grass. The pictures are in a Picasa album, here. Rime will be a year old in about two weeks although he still looks and acts somewhat immature, I can see real changes in him lately that show he's getting it together. His training is coming along slowly, but we are getting started with some basic structure around the sheep. All of the dogs are fit and happy, for which I am very thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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