Saturday, November 24, 2012

Dunnigan Hills 2012 - Open


After fairly nice weather on Friday for the Pro-Novice, the Saturday first day of Open at Dunnigan Hills was horrendous. The rain and wind and blew in near-hurricane fashion. At times it felt like you could barely stand up if you were up on the crest of the hill to see the trial field. For the handlers it was fortunate that the wind was at our backs. For the setout crew, however, the biting rain and wind was straight into their faces. It was hard to believe that the diehards on both ends of the field stayed out there and persisted, but they did.

Coal was up midway through the order. By the time it was our turn, I think the wind and rain had laid just a little, although not much. I sent Coal away (to the right) but he was focused on the setout helpers up on the horizon rather than on the sheep far to their left which blended in with the grasses.  Ouch. It took three whistles to get him out where he needed to be and after that he put in a beautiful top to the outrun, and lift. It was not a poor outrun, he was just understandably focused on the wrong, darker, more prominent thing...which several other dogs did as well.

Good news; we made all the gates and our fetches are improving. Whew! I was quite happy with the run. There were a few squiggles here and there but overall it was a nice run considering everything.
Coal came out of it with an 82 out of 90 points which held up for fifth place in the trial and a handful of USBCHA points. Yeah! Judy Loflin and Cam were the winners with first place. By mid afternoon the rain and wind had quit and it actually got pretty nice out for the last ten or so runs of the day. We were finished early and all went back to their quarters to dry out and warm up to get ready for Sunday's runs.


On Sunday the weather was much nicer although the access into the pasture was very muddy and each trip in and out was a bit more precarious. Coal ran #41 - late in the day. The sheep were re-used, and tired. On Sunday they didn't want to move. Changing their line at any given time required some doing, and some big flanks. Despite the improved weather, the running was much  more difficult on Sunday than it had been on Saturday.

When our turn came, I sent right again. Several dogs sent left - come bye - had gotten drawn back to the holding/setout pens. The first part of Coal's outrun was not good...there were no setout helpers for him to get drawn into this time but for some reason he was not where he needed to be. With a verbal correction from me he shot off like he should to the right and the rest of his outrun was gorgeous. The top of the fetch was difficult; the sheep were leaning on him and we missed the fetch gates. The rest of the fetch and the post turn was all good, except - I realized when the sheep got close to me that I had drawn up Penny - the ewe who normally can't be penned - who was not supposed to be used in the trial.

Thinking really fast with sheep and dog on the run (or trot) I tried to aim for a perfect drive even though I knew we probably couldn't pen. The path to the first panel was good but the sheep - especially Penny - were leaning really hard on Coal and we missed the first panel. In trying to recover I blew too many whistles, and Coal crossed the course. So much for mental management when things go awry! Knowing that we had already missed two gates and had a poor top half to the fetch, as well as corrections on the outrun, I decided to retire. It was just not happening that day and there was no point in pushing the tired sheep through the rest of the course when I knew we would likely get a poor score. Being objective about it, I am really happy with the weekend's gos. The outruns I continue to work on but at each trial the outrun truly is in Coal's hands (or paws!) and so I do my best and send him and see what happens. The element where I have more influence on the trial field that I had identified that really needed work - the fetch - is showing improvement so I feel good about that. There is a lot of time to think it over and train for our next trials which will not be until March 2013.

Coal on the fetch at Dunnigan Hills (photo by Barb McPherson)

At the post - Dunnigan Hills - photo by Barb McPherson

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving - Takoda is Found!

Happy Thanksgiving! Takoda was found today, about a mile and a half from the accident site. He has worn pads and a sore foot but otherwise is no worse for the wear being out lost for six nights in the rough desert.
I am so thankful that he was found and so happy for his mom and dad Leslie and Michael.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dunngan Hills 2012 - Pro Novice Day

The Dunnigan Hills Fall trial was this past weekend; the pro-novice day was Friday. I had entered Ryme earlier, and decided to go ahead and run him (despite his poor performance at Hopland) since Dunnigan is familiar ground with home flock sheep that he knows. I had also planned to stay the weekend and help out with the trial in whatever ways I could...knowing that it would likely involve the setout pens again especially on Friday. Some help had been procured for Saturday and Sunday in the pens, but not Friday.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The Dunnigan trial this fall was held to benefit a very worthy cause. A young man just 16 years old lost part of his leg in a  high school football game accident. All profits from the Dunnigan trial this year will go towards a prosthesis for Koni Dole. You can find more information on Facebook about the benefit and fund raising efforts to support Koni here:

Koni Dole Benefit Page.

A beautiful handmade quilt was donated to the trial for a silent auction item, as was a handsome man's shepherd's crook. The empathy and outpouring of support for Koni and his family was obvious at the trial. Koni is a very inspiring and motivated young man. They are selling wrist bands for his cause that say it all: Too Strong For Fear.

Friday's weather was good. We had a few sprinkles but not much; the forecast had been for rain but we lucked out. I ran Ryme late in the order. He did all right. We had one precarious moment after turning the post, but most of his run was OK. He got 64 points out of 90. We were out of the placings of course but in our world just finishing a course with a respectable score is a huge milestone. I was proud of how Ryme handled most of the run. He needed a whistle or two to get where he was supposed to be on the outrun, but he stopped and lifted the sheep nicely. Our fetch was good. The post turn was good. On the driveaway to the first panel, however, I let him get too close (the driveaway is down a hill and the sheep pick up speed which may have excited him) and he blew through the sheep. Oy. But we got everything back together, did the whole drive (with a pull-thru on the second panel which was fun for a change) and then penned, all calmly and under control.

The rest of the day, however, was really the highlight for me. We went up top early in the day and both Coal and Ryme helped me in the pens with pulling out the required number of sheep for each run and then bumping  them up the hill towards Mike who was doing the actual sheep spotting. Once we got into our flow, the whole thing moved like clockwork for the most part. Ryme is the most useful of my two dogs for this purpose, believe it or not. He remembered the job from last April and fell right back into the routine.  We don't want the sheep getting out to the trial course too soon, nor do we want them running back towards home. 

When the spotter was ready for the next set, we sent the sheep up towards him and I called Ryme off and we started the whole process again. With six minute runs, we had only a little bit of down time between each run. Any sheep that looked unfit, we sidelined into a pen where they would not be used. I was very careful not to send out one infamous ewe, Penny, (the ewe who cannot be penned) to the pro novice folks.

Since this is a farm flock trial, the sheep have to be reused. I think most of them ran maybe twice a day although some of them probably only ran once a day...when they had been sent to the exhaust they spread out over the hills grazing. At one point about halfway through, the spotter told me we'd need to go find the ewes who had been used once and reload the pens. He handled what I had been doing and Coal and I set off to find the exhaust sheep. The trial is held on a field that is 180 hilly acres and the trial only uses a portion of that land. The rest of the area is where the sheep were grazing; Coal and I walked to the top of the next hill and saw the sheep way in the back area of the pasture. I told Coal to "look"and sent him off to gather the sheep. I could not use my whistle for fear of interfering with the ongoing trial. It made my day to stand there and watch the little guy disappear out of sight behind the hills and then come back to me with the sheep in basically a silent gather. Later I was told that this gather is close to a thousand yards. Whoa. Who needs trial scores when you have moments like this?

The day wound up with a delicious Mexican dinner at Maria's in Woodland. Yum. There was a designated driver so I had a Mango Margarita. Awesome.

Open Day two and three will be next.

Takoda is Still Missing - A Plea for Arizona Folks

If any of my readers know anybody in Arizona...please send them this flyer. If you aren't in Arizona please send positive thoughts to Leslie and Michael that their boy will be found.
The accident was last Wednesday night and searchers have been in the area since it happened...the girl, Eve who ran from the accident with Takoda, was found...but the puppy boy has not yet been located.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hopland 2012 and More...

The Hopland sheepdog trial for 2012 is now a memory...what a wonderful trial site, with great fresh sheep and staff who never seem to run out of energy. Below is a picture of the trial field taken by one of the UCANR staffers, R. Kieffer, that is from their blog at this link. I really love this trial even though it is a hard one and I have not had the best of luck is one of my favorites despite our lack of success. Coal and I have run there three years in Open now (incredibly) and the year before that in ProNovice. It is hard to believe that Coal is now six years old.

IMG 7353 copy

I'm not sure that sheepdog trialling gets any better than this...

Coal and I ran in the Open on Saturday and Sunday and then helped with setout after his runs were over. We were middle of the pack on our scores but I was relatively happy with how he did overall. I would like to do better and we keep working at it. I was very pleased with his fetches in both runs which is one component that we have been working very hard on...and the improvement was there.

Ryme and I ran in the ProNovice on Friday. That day was somewhat disappointing as Ryme did not display the improvements in his work that he has been showing elsewhere at his lessons and at our various practice sites. I don't know exactly what to make of it except that maybe it was just too many changed variables all at once for him. Distance, strange field, touchy sheep...just too much for him to keep his head although the outruns were good (one to each side). Unfortunately though, that is what sheepdog trialling consists of...going to various sites and working the sheep and field that is set in front of you. I am thinking that I likely just won't be able to trial Ryme in most he will have to be a work and chore dog. We only have one more trial this year and it's in a familiar spot so I will go ahead and run him...and I plan to try to teach him a farm style shed this winter anyway, which will help me with his chores even if we never trial any  more. It is a very hard conclusion to come to after three years of work with him. He is now four years old...and very keen to work except...

A week ago Tuesday, Ryme got spooked by a loud and rapid period of gunfire right near where we were practicing. He quit working and wouldn't go back to the sheep that night. It was upsetting for all of us. I haven't taken him back to that site until this evening. He seemed fired up to work and we were sorting the sheep into a work group when suddenly he seemed to remember being scared, even though there were no more shots being fired. He quit again so I just put him back in the truck and got Coal out to work. After I was through with Coal I changed to a different group of sheep and tried Ryme again. He was ready to work again so we just did a few no pressure things and quit while he still wanted more. It may take a while to get Ryme happy at this practice site again. Poor guy. My dogs have become so noise sensitive due to what seems like almost a constant barrage of fireworks in the neighborhood where we live.

So that's the story... we have one more trial in 2012 and then it's on to 2013.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What a Wonderful Book!

I'm in the midst of reading a wonderful sheepdog book, One Man's Way by Austin Bennett. A friend loaned me this book and I had no idea what to expect other than I'd seen it listed many times in the various catalogs.

The book is a compilation of twenty interviews from the Working Sheepdog News in the UK. The interviews contain so much information about the handler being discussed which is enough in itself..but also the colorful description by the author of the geographical location of each person makes you feel like you are sitting in the car with him driving to each farm. There is a lot about each handler's training philosophy, and details such as whether they prefer to breed their own dogs or buy started prospects. Of course the interviews contain photos of the handler being interviewed, and also at the end of each chapter there is a full pedigree of one of the particular handler's famous dogs.

It has been a real joy to read this book...each chapter is like a unique book in itself, so I am savoring them slowly. The chapter on Johnny Wilson - that I read last night -  just blew me away...his philosophy on raising and starting a dog, and training them just meshed so perfectly with my own very meager views and experiences.

When I can afford it I am going to buy my own copy of this book and I am sure it is something I will pull out again and again when I want a good read, or am just looking for a tidbit here and there about a particular dog. Highly one for the book!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Time Change!

Tonight's the night - don't forget to change your clocks. I always remember, "fall back, spring forward."

It's always a depressing time of the year for someone like me who values her outdoor time so highly. But I always find a workaround and we manage somehow to work and exercise the dogs despite little daylight.

Getting up earlier this week to go to work will prepare me for sheepdog trial weekends coming up!

Now there's a positive spin isn't it?