Sunday, April 1, 2012

Zamora 2012 Wrapup

Finally, there is a bit of time to post about Zamora. While the weather threatened, it was not awful, for the most part. There was some rain Saturday afternoon and a lot in the evening and overnight, but most of the day during the actual trials, it was not too bad. We are grateful for the rain here in Northern California, this year, so no one was complaining too much. It was rather ironic, though, that after weeks and weeks of being clear and dry, the few days before the Sonoma Wine Country trial and most of the week inbetween that event and Zamora, it literally poured buckets from the skies! Oh well, we are glad to have that rain to grow grass for our sheep and other things. It was going to be a pretty bleak summer around here, if that long period of no precipitation had continued.

Zamora offered two trials over three days for the open class. For me with only one dog to run, this meant that I only had runs on two of the three days. As it turned out, Coal drew up very early Saturday morning and very late Sunday afternoon. The sheep were range ewes from the Slaven ranch production flock and were very fit, fine-looking ewes in fabulous shape, on their home turf! They were overall nice, mostly undogged, and presenting a challenge to the handlers. Once in a while one or two of them could get an attitude but in general the sheep were fantastic...just perfect for this venue.

Here is one important thing that I learned this past weekend: Maria's Cantina in Woodland, CA, is a very good place to eat!

Coal was up third dog in on Saturday morning so we were there bright and early. It was overcast and cool, not raining; perfect sheepdogging weather! I felt lucky not to have the sun in my eyes coming up over the ridgetop, as Friday's early handlers had been. Most everyone sent Away on the field, with only a few exceptions. (I only saw two dogs, personally, who made a success out of a Come Bye outrun--there may have been others that I did not see--and one of those two went really wide out of sight but still found his sheep.)

Coal started off wide enough to the right, and then dropped out of sight into one of the little valleys and in so doing, drifted down to nearly the centerline of the field, as many dogs had done. As soon as I saw him, I blew a couple of Away whistles to get him back out, which he did. At the lift the sheep had squirted to my left, whether he came in tight or or whether the sheep got away from the stock handler, I don't know; it is simply too far away for me to see. But I was proud that Coal was able to scoop them back up and not let them get over the hill and out of sight (and thus probably back to setout). The fetch started out offline though as a result. We got them back online and continued a pretty good fetch with our five ewes. The fetch ended with us turning the sheep around a cone across the ditch from the handlers' post - in other words we did not turn the sheep around ourselves like the usual - but around a post out in the field. This threw off a few of the dogs but most of the experienced dogs did not mind it, and Coal was OK with that as we have practiced that manuever many many times.

I was so pleased that Coal was responding well to the whistles - nothing like the second day of Sonoma Wine Country where he got on those range ewes and then wouldn't listen to me at all. He was very responsive both days at Zamora, about which I was thrilled! We fiddled around a little to get panel #1 and then I was unsure of the cross drive line, as it was hard for me to see, but we skimmed panel #2 just high. Many did. There was a pretty good turn back to the end of the drive, sheep across the ditch with no fuss, then our shed. I can't remember it! Drat! It happened so fast but it must've been good - for zero points off. We went to the pen but timed out.  Ten minutes were allowed for the course. I was so happy that Coal got out to the sheep and was so responsive. The comment was made to me, from someone who has mentored me a lot, "do you realize how far you've come?" Yes!!!

Saturday evening there was a get-together to celebrate Elgar's birthday. It was so nice to be a part of that milestone!

Happy Birthday, Elgar!

Trial host Bill Slaven with judge, Alf Kyme
Coal's second run was on Sunday afternoon, second to last dog of the entire trial and day. Only a few die-hards were left at the trial grounds, and I know the crew was anxious to finish up. Sunday's weather was nice after a very stormy night. I was thankful that the clouds had cleared, mostly, for Sunday. By late afternoon the sun was behind us, and the air was cool and clear. The dog running just ahead of us, unfortunately did not find his sheep. So Coal and I walked on to take those sheep. I felt confident that Coal would find them, and he did. I sent him right, again, of course - not going to meddle with success. I whistled just one "Away" just before he disappeared over the first hill, as insurance. He probably didn't need it, and I knew it would cost me on the outrun score, but I also knew that if he dropped inside again I would regret that I hadn't blown a whistle. He stayed out and had a lovely outrun and lift.

We are getting the same approximate consistent number of points off of our fetches lately on the range ewes, so there is obviously something to improve there, however, we got them down the hill in OK fashion. The post turn was just a little wide but we managed it. It was hard to get the ewes turned toward the drive panel. In the afternoons the Zamora ewes had been a little trickier to work with and they showed more attitude. They were leaning on Coal but we got them to panel #1 and turned on the cross drive. At this point the sheep booked for home as they had done with everybody in the afternoons. It was hard to steer and we missed panel #2 - no big surprise - many did. It  was again hard to turn them back onto the line to the ditch crossing, they were leaning on Coal again, but we got them to the crossing. This time they were reluctant to cross. I had watched several dogs get stuck here and be unable to complete. I think a couple of years ago when Coal was less experienced, we may have gotten stuck there, too. But this time after a little bit of coaxing, he got them across which was like winning the trial for me.  There was water in the ditch from the  heavy overnight rains, and that made it a lot harder than the Friday and Saturday runs had been.

At the shed the sheep had really wanted to book on everybody. I had a plan in my head how I wanted to set it up but for the first time in either run, I felt a bit disoriented. Trying to take a deep breath like I have been advised...I did not set up a good shed. Coal came in on the three ewes instead of the two and of course the judge did not call it. I knew we had to keep working so I tried to set it up again but then Coal came in on the two and the shed was called. I didn't hear it so the judge called out to me again. By then I was really feeling disoriented. We went to the pen, started working on it, and timed out. It was difficult at this point for anyone to pen because you had your back to the draw, the dog had to push the sheep toward the draw but not let the sheep get around you to get away back to the exhaust, into the creek, or even out of bounds back up into the next pasture. I felt good that we just kept our sheep contained even though time was called, for us, too soon.

Victories: I was not "out of dog" on either run, which was a huge relief which you consider the length and breadth of the course and the hills that the dog must run out and back on. Also, Coal had to shake off distraction; there were a number of bitches in season at the trial, and some of the male dogs were very distracted by this (some would not even run out on their outruns). I noticed what was going on, early in the trial so I kept Coal sequestered in my car across the road and only brought him out to potty and to see one outrun and lift, each day. I did not want his mind on the girls!

The winning run of the second trial was really something to see. Bill Berhow's Coal dog ran the course with an 86 out of 100 (in only his second open trial weekend) and there was very little to imagine that went wrong on that run other than that the sheep booked through the panels each time and had to be turned back to get on line. There was not much that any of the handlers could do to control this, as the sheep ribboned out and the dog could not be in two places at once. If the handlers tried to turn the sheep too soon, then they would not have gotten all five ewes through the panels. If they waited too long to turn the sheep, then the sheep often got too far away from the dog for steering to be effective at all (and sometimes the sheep "won" and truly did get too far away resulting in an RT).

Our scores were not good enough to get any nationals points, but I really didn't expect to, going in. The victory for me was in part that we literally doubled our scores from our runs at Zamora last year in 2011. And, the zero-points-off shed on Saturday plus the nice gather on Sunday were fantastic confidence-builders for Coal and me. All in all it was a very fun weekend and the back-to-back trials meant that there were a lot of handlers from out of our area who had come to tackle both challenges. It was as always nice to see old acquaintances and make some new ones. Coal and I are looking forward to our next challenge!

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