Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sonoma Marin Fair 2011

Preserving Tradition

Last Sunday Coal and I ran in the RESDA trial that is part of the Sonoma-Marin Fair held annually in Petaluma, California. It's a very big deal for all the FFA and 4-H kids who show their animals in some very hot competition. The very appropriate fair theme this year was Preserving Tradition. All the livestock winners are listed on the fair's website with some great photos of kids who work very hard with their stock. Take a look! These kids are the future of farming and will face challenges in animal agriculture in the future that we can only dream of. No animals, no sheep dog trials; think it over,'s not just about the Ugly Dog Contest in Petaluma!

The RESDA sheep dog trial is held in the back of the fairgrounds, in a very small horse arena; the size of the arena does not make it easier - only more tricky! It is an annual challenge to see which of the local handlers are up to the test on the course. Luckily the weather cooperated better than that last two years when the temps have hovered around 100 degrees. Last Sunday it was mild in the low 80s, and there was a pleasant breeze. The consistent white hair sheep from the Spencer ranch provided the challenge on the course. My goals going in, were to have fun, remain as quiet as possible on course, have fun, respect my dog, have fun, enjoy myself, have fun, stay focused and calm and quiet with my dog, and have fun!

Coal can be a bit creepy and sticky at times so I wanted to avoid that. We've been working some exercises to keep him engaged with his stock and I think it has paid off a little bit. We had a smooth opening and good flow going but in the tight arena I couldn't get the fetch straightened out, alas. The turn around the pen and the lines to the two panels were fairly good. Some handlers had difficulty approaching the second panel, when their sheep ran back to the hay used for setout, but Coal and I handled that OK which made me quite happy! Then we came to the chute. We ex-agility folks all joked on the walk-thru, about how we had to do two front crosses (or two blind or rear crosses, or one of each) on this course the way the handler's position was prescribed for the chute. That comment certainly broke some tension in the handler's meeting! The chute was close to the rail located opposite the spectators. It was really hard for us to handle the desire for the sheep to run down that "alleyway" between chute and rail and Coal and I were not up to the challenge on that day. (Plus on that side of the arena, the exhaust sheep were waiting behind tarps.) After several attempts on the chute without getting it, I regathered the sheep near the end of the chute and went on to the pen which was smoothly completed. Our work was good enough for 6th place with no chute points. We should have gotten that chute and placed higher, but Coal and I still have things to work out related to his extreme eye both in the arenas and in the field. Considering that practicing has been at a minimum due to foxtail season, I was happy and felt like I accomplished most of my other goals. I think this is the best any of my dogs have ever placed at this particular fair. Just because it is small it is still a big challenge. Often times, believe it or not, dogs do not see the sheep at the other end of the arena! That happened once with Bid and me and once with Coal on his first time in RESDA Open there, what seems like a long three years ago.

Anyway thanks are due to the Sonoma-Marin Fair for its continuing sponsorship of sheepdog trials there and to the Spencer ranch for providing the sheep for us. And Redwood Empire Sheep Dog Association for its ongoing preservation of tradition.

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