Monday, September 19, 2011

Mendocino County Fair Sheepdog Trial Finals

Yesterday the finals were held for the Mendocino County Fair Sheepdog Trials, which is always a hotly-contested event. This year was the first time I'd had a dog make it into the finals. The fair is held in Boonville, CA, and I was amazed at how many folks came out on a Sunday morning to watch a sheepdog trial! What a neat event with lots of audience involvement! We eight handlers were lined up in front of the completely filled grandstand, preceded by a young man carrying an American flag, who followed a bagpiper in full kilt and wool jacket to lead us in. It was quite a slice of small town Americana. I almost felt like I was in Evening Shade! One handler mentioned afterwards that this fair is like the equivalent of the "National Finals of the RESDA world"...very true!

Before I tell what happened to Coal and me, first I'd like to send out hearty congratulations to our friend Rhonda from Napa and her lovely male dog Craig who showed us all how it was done, RESDA-style, and won the trial, the belt buckle and the blue ribbon with a very high and well deserved score. Craig is a young dog who was nursery age last year, and is really coming on nicely for Rhonda. They were such a deserving team with a smoothly flowing run. Here are the other placements who were in the ribbons:

1- Rhonda/Craig
2- Patti/Roy (tie for second/third)
3-Barbara/Ben (tie for second/third)
4-Sandi/Liz
5-Karen/True

All of these runs were smooth although the Johnson ewes gave a few of them a little trouble. True is a very young dog, just two years old, and his handler wisely moved on from the chute after a couple of attempts, when it became apparent that the sheep were going to try to get the best of True.

And now the sad story of Coal and me. We were drawn up first to run in the order. That meant that first of all in the little "parade of handlers" that we had to follow the flagbearer who was right behind the bagpiper. At the recent Scottish Games, Coal had his first introduction to bagpipes - about a jazillion of them - all at once. Coal decided instantly that he did not care for bagpipes. Yesterday there was only one bagpiper, but that was enough to throw Coal off his usual merry countenance. Then, we were in a place that was familiar to him - we have been to many RESDA trials at the Boonville Fairgrounds - but everything was different. There were so many people and so many new noises and sights. Horses and trailers were everywhere. There were no tarps on the end of the arena to block the view of several dozen rodeo horses and cattle who were loose in corrals visible through the pipe gates. I could tell that Coal was pretty rattled.

With the parade over, we left the arena and the announcer, our friend Kevin Owens who does such a nice job at the microphone, called for Coal and me to come in for our run. I could only grab a quick drink of water for us both and we were off to the trial field. I waved OK for our sheep and I could see Coal looking up the field although he was also looking differently than normal. He took off in one of his creepy, overly careful outruns that he had not been doing since last year. Uh-oh. I think he was confused by all the rodeo animals and was trying to figure out through all the visuals of green pipe gates, exactly where his sheep were. At the same time  that he bent out on his outrun to do his gather, it was instantly apparent that the guys doing the stock handling had forgotten to close the gates to the release chute. The sheep saw the dog and ran right back into their chute. I blew a stop whistle. I waited to see what the judge would do. Finally Kevin announced that we would get a re-run. By this time I think both Coal and I were rattled. I called him back but he was looking everywhere for sheep. Poor guy. We went out of the arena again and tried to re-group. The first set of three sheep were exhausted by the stock handlers and soon Kevin called us back in, to re-run immediately. OK.

So back to the "post" we go. I waved for sheep again. This time Coal did a better outrun but the new sheep, led by one big older ewe, came charging out of the chute this time and that lead ewe took off at a dead run. Coal met her at about 10 o'clock and they were off and running. It was all Coal could do to try to contain that leader ewe and keep her on course. Our run was not pretty at all but somehow we completed all the obstacles with the sheep nearly at a run the whole time. There wasn't much to be done with that ewe from He&l. All she wanted to do was run from gate to gate in the arena, where she knew she had been before, and she took the other two sheep with her. It was all over with in a matter of time that seemed to me to zip by so fast. That ewe was running so much that I dared not watch my dog but just watched the sheep and whistled as I tried to take long strides on the fetching course to try to stay ahead of her.  This was no bo-peep run! Yikes! Just bad luck and luck of the draw.

Fortunately the crowd was still appreciative of our efforts. But needless to say it was not the run I had been visualizing. More lessons for thinking on one's feet! The rest of the runs went better and better - with some problems here and there - such as sheep not wanting to pen or go thru the chute. It seemed like the sheep were feistier than normal - perhaps due to the crowds and excitement, and all the extra animals around. Anyway that closes the book on the Mendocino Fair in the RESDA season for 2011...a serial of two chapters for Coal and me that included a high and a low! Just like the Cubs fans say...next year!

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