Sunday, March 30, 2014

RESDA Spring Trial 2014

The RESDA Spring Trial - first trial of the season for that club - is in the books now and it was a really nice day overall.

Heavy overnight rains (much welcome moisture, don't get me wrong!) held off during the next day so that we could enjoy the trial without getting drenched. The field was in lovely shape and the sheep looked great.

A large entry of open dogs (27) and pronovice dogs (7) made for a long day. But it was well worth it and the time seemed to fly by. There was a delicious barbecue/potluck lunch made nicer by all the fixings and prep that went into it. The course was the traditional RESDA fetch course which with the big range ewes made for an interesting challenge. Many hands and helpers are needed to run a trial smoothly, and it seemed that most everyone stepped up and took a job where needed to make it all go.

I ran both my Coal and Ryme in the Open class. My main goal with Coal was to get him stopped on the fetch and do a decent fetch; after our Zamora experience that is clearly the area where we need to spend some time. I knew we'd be running on range ewes at Johnson's, so it was a prime opportunity to work with him on the type of sheep that really get his eyes twinkly! :) The outrun was fairly short, so getting him stopped on the fetch and rating that fetch was not too hard. But it still felt good to be able to put those brakes on, if I needed them. Coal has a bit too much eye for range ewes and one of our group of three did not like that very much. I tried to keep him from getting up into their eye, yet contain them from running off to the very heavy draw to the side. It was a difficult challenge. We got to the chute portion of the course and timed out. I was happy with my good lad! He tried hard and he knew it. A very good practice session! :)

Ryme has not run in very many trials successfully. In fact we have RTed more often than not and I had stopped even attempting to trial him for a long time. This winter he got neutered and he is now five years old. I have been working very hard with him in training to get him to be more deliberate and direct in his approach to the sheep. All these factors, were what I was going to test at this trial. I was a little nervous but he did not let me down. They say that in a trial you may have 50% or so of what you have, at home in your training. I would say that is about true; Ryme  was not opening his flanks cleanly nor stopping nicely as we have been training. But overall he kept his head about him, obeyed, and was listening. He tried hard as well so I was very happy with him. We made it to the pen but did not pen so time ran out. His flanks were not like they should be and one ewe was not happy with him. While we penned two ewes a couple of times, the third did not want to go in. If it were not a trial situation I would have sorted that out with Ryme but as it was a trial, I couldn't. Still overall I think it was a great mileage experience for Ryme. We so rarely get to work on that type of sheep, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Very happy with another good lad! :)

Thanks once again to the Johnson family for opening their ranch to the club and letting us rent their sheep for the trial. It is not easy to find trial venues these days, and especially venues such as this that are beautiful and comfortable for all.

Friday, March 28, 2014

So(jo) Many Choices

After we reviewed the Sojos treats for Chewy, we got an email directly from Sojos asking us to review their dog food choices. They very generously sent us an ample supply of samples and also one complete regular size bag of their turkey complete grain-free (which we are still working on). The boys seem to like this one, and the only complaint that I have about it (well, two complaints I guess) is that you sort of have to make it up ahead of time, which requires planning. I am accustomed to Honest Kitchen, which I have used for years, and can be made up with just about ten minutes' notice. For the Sojos to get fully hydrated, you need more time than that. The only other complaint about the Sojos is that it does not seem to be very thoroughly mixed in the bag. So if you scoop some out, that scoop may have mostly one kind of bits in it (such as the sweet pototo/vegetable) but not all the bits (such as the meat bits). That can be remedied by shaking the bag up a little, before you open it. But that's another step I am not accustomed to taking. All in all it seems to be a really good food, and comparable in price to HK. The boys certainly liked it and I thought it smelled like Stove-Top Stuffing, after I poured the warm water on. Hummm...but no, I did not taste-test it myself! ha! :)

Sojos turkey complete grain-free

In our sample box there was were some samples of the beef complete grain-free, which is what I opened first. The boys really liked this one and I thought it was more mixed than the turkey (but that may have just been the effect of the small sample bag). I think if I were to buy more Sojos, that this beef complete formula is what I would purchase first.

Sojos beef complete grain free

Below is the original Sojos, which did not contain meat. For this one, you add your own choice of meat, and mix/re-hydrate. The original formula has quite a bit of grain and the grains are whole and not chopped up. So while this one smelled good when it was mixed (I mixed it with some cooked ground turkey for the boys) and the boys ate it right up, I am fairly certain I would not buy this product due to the grains and the need to add your own meat.  I know that HK has its own product which is very similar to this one and because of these same reasons, I have never bought it.

We have a couple of more kinds to try, one that you add meat to, and I am not sure what else. Stay tuned! Sojos was very generous with their samples! They also sent a teeny tiny bag of even teenier, tinier little dog biscuits which were incredibly cute. When I handed one to each of the boys, however, they looked at me like, "where's the rest?" I think they are too small for my dogs but would be great for tiny dogs who can get fat just looking at a bigger biscuit. More Sojos to come! I would like to say thank you to that company for reaching out to us to let us try their products. It is always interesting and these all seem to be great products.

Sojos original - you add the meat    

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Shepherding the Sheep at Zamora

On the first day of the Zamora trial (Friday afternoon after the last run of the day was completed) they had a little ceremony to honor the memory of Bill Slaven. Many of the handlers gathered at the trial field and there was a bag piper playing the pipes. Many of the family members were there. They had a couple of enlarged color photos of Bill Slaven, taken there on the ranch. Dusk was starting to settle. Handlers were relaxing, and many had a cold drink in hand. Several of us had our dogs with us and I had Spot there with me on a leash because I’d been giving him a walk after Coal’s run. Spot had never seen or heard a bag piper before and it was a new experience for him, but he didn’t overly react to it. 

Dr. Madigan from UC Davis spoke (the same veterinarian who spoke at the funeral) about Bill Slaven. It was a similar speech only shorter and a bit lighter, with remembrances of Bill Slaven and his family, mostly based in the experiences during and following the devastating Zamora fire in 2006. 

It was a fairly brief gathering, but very nice. I think it provided some closure to those folks who were unable to attend the funeral. The family had made up little gift bags for each of the handlers, which was very thoughtful.

It  was strange though, that during the ceremony, here came the trial sheep out from their holding area, just walking across the field (sort of backwards on  the cross drive line). But no one was out there shepherding them, and it seemed like no one had let them out because literally everyone there was gathered ‘round to hear Dr. Madigan. The sheep were just walking and grazing; there was no loose dog out there with them or anything. It was quite a backdrop for Dr. Madigan’s talk. A friend standing by me nudged me with her elbow…whispering, “who do you think is behind those sheep?” It was very fitting. I have to say it was strange being there all day at the trial with no Bill. I kept expecting him to appear on his quad bike, on the first day. The second day was a bit easier. But…who was shepherding those sheep? It is not hard to imagine who.

Monday, March 24, 2014

More About Zamora - Appreciation

More about Zamora - the theme is appreciation...
We had five sheep and we were to shed off any two. The course time was twelve minutes which was really nice. The sheep were sheared and in great shape; they would run at the drop of a hat and in that regard resembled overgrown Barbados more than the commercial whitefaced ewes that they obviously were. If they decided they were not going someplace why then by golly they did not go there, but they would bolt in another direction. They had a lot more room to run at Zamora than at Sonoma and they certainly took advantage of it! 

On the first two days when I was there, the scores were mostly low with a few exceptions. By Sunday’s scoreboard it appeared that some handlers and their dogs had figured it out and the sheep may have settled in a bit. There were very few pens and most handlers missed the first set of drive gates, if not the second set. 

Coal and I got  a better score the second day and had a slightly better run and his outrun was way better, but there was still no stop on the fetch and little stop elsewhere. Oh my goodness! I tried harder to get ahold of Coal on the fetch, but really couldn't. That was our downfall for sure. It must be exhilarating for him, because he came off the field practically dancing and he wanted to go back and run again a second time. Even after the ~ 700 yard outrun and and running at a warmer time of the day, he was not tired; so my concerns about him being not fit enough were nothing to worry about. We got a shed and went to the pen with about a minute to go which I knew was not going to happen (there were again very few pens and they took several minutes to happen with very patient handling and a lot of luck). 

Here’s the important part: I really learned a lot about the level of obedience and control that I do not have on the dog and realized more of what one must have in order to compete even at a moderate/medium level in this difficult, challenging type of a trial. I’m not exactly new to this activity, but it was another huge eye-opener for me this past weekend at Zamora. The non-broke sheep bring out all the flaws in the dogs and then you add the long distances. In the last two weekend trials – at Sonoma Wine Country and then followed by Zamora -- there was a high standard of performance. It helps me to comprehend the amount of work that the top handlers put into their trial dogs. The level of control and trust and confidence is a huge step beyond anything I have with Coal, and he is 7 years old and pretty seasoned. I saw lots of folks who are normally very good, have a lot of trouble. I thought I had a better stop and I really don't. I’ve been working hard on his fetch for a couple of years – and have improved it at non-Zamora trials - but I am not sure I can fix what Coal and I do not have.  I’m going to try, just to see if I can do it. The bottom line is, I certainly appreciate a whole lot more what is there in not only the top handlers' runs but the middle strata of runs as well.
I also appreciated the gal who sat and clerked for two solid, long days; I don’t know if she clerked the third and fourth day but I am going to thank her profusely the next time I see her and let her know I appreciate her donation of her weekend and more. I also thanked the course director on my way out of the trial and he surprised me by saying something on the order that I was doing good with my dog and keep up the good work. Wow! I said thank you! Needless to say I expressed appreciation to the people who put on the trial. Appreciation for all those who make things possible costs us nothing and goes a long way...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Like the Green Jeep

Coal - March 2014
This blog post is really about the Zamora Hills sheepdog trial, 2014 version.

But to understand it I had to think way back to maybe 1998 and a story about a green Jeep.

My brother and I would do anything back in those early border collie days, to try to find a place to practice with our dogs on sheep. He had made an arrangement with an elderly rancher to use a small field (that was knee to waist high in grass and weeds) right next to the road to train on his sheep, IF we would also work with this rancher's little bitch who was part aussie, part (??) and had almost zero talent. But we wanted to work our dogs so we gave it a try. One Saturday we were trying to work our poor dogs in this not so great arrangement when we noticed that the rancher's family had taken the green ranch jeep (an elderly contraption solely used for climbing up on the steep hills overlooking the winding two-lane road that leads out to Jenner from Duncans Mills). No doubt they were doing something with the cattle that day, or perhaps just out enjoying the ranch. All of a sudden we realized that the green jeep was careening down the very steep hills (an almost vertical drop off) without a driver inside and luckily no passengers. Someone had not set the brake or they had parked the jeep in an un-level location, or both. The jeep was headed right for the road and was out of control. We were panic stricken but luckily no cars passing by, on the road were hit. The fencing on both sides was taken out though before the jeep bounced to a rest in a tired heap on our side of the road. We rushed to push the fencing back up as best we could so that livestock would not escape. I am not sure that we ever went back to that ranch to try to train our dogs again. The aussie mix was hopeless and better left for a pet. The tall grass was impossible for our poor beginner dogs to navigate in hopes of heading the awful non-broke cull ewes that the rancher had put in the pen for our use. But we have never forgotten that green jeep! :)

That brings me to Zamora 2014. Coal and I were on the waiting list to get in as the trial was way-oversubscribed. Thursday evening later I got a phone call saying that there had been a scratch and did I want to run? I said sure and we appeared on Friday ready to go.  We ran late in the afternoon so I watched run after run with really good handlers and dogs having trouble. For the past several years I have really been working on Coal's fetch, and getting him to steady and/or stop on the fetch. Our non-Zamora fetch scores have slowly gotten better even though we don't trial a lot. In all honesty I know that I have worked hard at it but I found out at Zamora this year, I have not worked hard enough. On his fetches, Coal was like that green Jeep tumbling down the hillside with no brakes or steering and in front of him five unbroke commercial ewes who were like greased lighting, running at top speed! It is almost impossible to steer a contraption like this! I found that out, because we messed up the post turn, not once, but twice, and had to un-wind it. Oh my.

But, one of my disappointments overall at trials, is in when someone is complimented for their run, and that handler instead of smiling and saying "thank you" just lists all the things that went wrong and does not seem happy about all of the things that went right. If someone compliments my runs I am trying to smile and even though I may laugh at all the things that went wrong, I am wowed by someone who thinks I may have done some things right! :)  I know that our Zamora 2014 runs were not great and there were many things wrong. In contrast I also know that many things went right and we have come a long, long way from that little field next to the road, in waist-high grass and our poor dogs (who are now gone) trying to contain sheep who were having none of it. This year, we got a score, both runs. I know many good handlers walked. We got our sheep down the field, both runs; I know many good handlers would have liked to do that. We finished the drive, both runs, when many folks did not get that far. We got the sheep through the first drive gate, when hardly anyone else did on that first day (and then brought them back through without intending to - arghghgh!). We even got a shed, one day and got our hands on that elusive pen rope! Thank you, thank you!

I have a lot more thoughts about our Zamora experience so I will save some of them for more blog posts. Overall I had a really fun time, connecting with folks, and in going to the post with my little monkey of a dog who had such a great time! He seemed exhilarated after his runs and would have immediately gone to the post with me a second time very willingly if given the chance.  And I was worried about his fitness! :) I'm very grateful that the family decided to go ahead with the trial. And very happy that I got to run even if it was behind the wheel of a green jeep with no brakes! :)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Long Distance

One of the many challenges in trying to run dogs in the USBCHA-type driving trials is in finding places to practice at the longer distances. We have places to train on sheep close to home but they are smaller fields. Finding a place to work several hundred yards away from the dogs and sheep is a huge and constant issue/ challenge/ quandary...

Hauling your own sheep out seems like a good answer to the problem, and it's what many folks do. But lacking a trailer and suitable tow vehicle makes that out of the question for now (while that remains on the wish/goal list). This /activity/ lifestyle is not for the faint of heart nor those who don't have deep pockets. Being retired and/or having a trust fund would be of great help as well! :)

But that said I recently had a chance to go train with Ryme and Coal at as much distance as I could possibly stand it, and as far as I could push ourselves. Both boys did well. In fact (and I am so puzzled by this) neither dog did better than the other overall. Ryme was just as confident and trustworthy at several hundred yards away, doing both outruns and driving, as Coal was. They each have their strengths and their weaknesses. It made me want to try harder to try to find out what situations would work for Ryme to be able to trial even at a limited number of venues.

We had a really nice day and spent it in a lovely place where I chose to be unplugged from the electronic world for a few hours. That part was really restful given the pace of late. Coal was a bit footsore when we got home. I know the dogs are not in the shape they should be in. Something else to work on. With the local county's leash laws, that part of the equation is not simple, either.

This sheepdog activity certainly pushes the little grey cells (as Hercule Poirot would say) to their limit!

Sonoma Wine Country Sheepdog Trial 2014

Coal and I ran in the Open on the "flat" field last weekend at the Sonoma Wine Country Sheepdog Trial. He was up dog number five on the first morning, and the sheep were just a mite touchy, still, at that point (they were touchy all weekend but particularly so on the first morning of the first day). I was reasonably pleased with our effort. We made it to the pen and time was called but we got a score that ended up lying somewhere in the middle of the pack. The drive was all over the place but the lift, fetch, and shed were all good. On the outrun, I gave an extra whistle because it looked like he might slow up, as he sometimes does. The sheep had a huge bubble about them, and I shed them from much farther back than I normally practice shedding; that gives me yet another thing to add to my long list of things to practice. :) But we got our shed and made it to the pen. Not many handlers were able to pen, all weekend. For me, all in all it was a run to be glad about.

I took only a few pictures of various dogs on that first morning, and here below are a few of them. 

At the lift

Handlers waiting their turn

Turning the post

A dog stretched out in full on his outrun

A beautiful lift

The drive has ended and the shed begins

On the fetch

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

SoMething(s) To Blog About

In my last post I mentioned that there had not been much to blog about. To my surprise right after that, I got an email from Sojos saying that they would like us to review their dog food, based on our review of the Sojos treats from Chewy. Fun! I replied saying that for sure we could do that! After all, the dogs love to eat. :) Today we received a package with a number of different flavor sample sizes of Sojos to try.

Tonight I fixed the boys up two sample packets of the Sojos complete freeze dried, grain free beef flavor. First I gave Ryme a spoonful in a separate dish, as he is normally the most picky. He ate it right up! I thought it smelled a lot like stove top stuffing myself, so if do buy Sojos be careful that no other family members get their bowls mixed up while they are sitting on the counter.  :) Then I gave each dog a dollop of the Sojos on one side of their dish and a dollop of our regular dehydrated food on the other side of their dish. All of the boys ate up both sides of their dishes. So I think we have a winner! It does take longer to re-hydrate the Sojos than our regular food, Honest Kitchen. Sojos recommends at least 15 minutes and preferably, overnight soaking for their food. Honest Kitchen is definitely ready in 5 minutes according to their box, although I usually leave it a little bit longer.

We also have the Sonoma Wine Country Sheepdog Trial on the calendar. So there is another So-mething to look forward to. Coal has a run in the Open. Fingers crossed.

We went for lessons with our trainer last week. It was a reality check-in on how practicing at short-er-ish distances does not prepare us for the longer distances in Open. All the work on opening flanks and crisper stops that I have been doing with Coal did not show up until I got him and the sheep within much closer range. At distance it looked as if we have not been practicing at all, which was somewhat disappointing. On the good side, Ryme showed improvement over the last time our trainer had seen him (which was a long time ago, I admit). Despite getting a lot better, Ryme is still not ready to trial in PN.  So I will keep working with him. Keepin' on, keepin on.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Green Grass

We do finally have some green grass coming up. There have been a few rain systems that made their way through the area and dropped some rainfall...that combined with some warmer days has made the grass (and dandelions) grow. We and our sheep are very thankful for all of that! Well, except for the dandelions in my yard which are going to have to go...there is still an overall drought but at least we have had a little bit of relief.

There has not been a lot else to blog about. A ewe that we bought last fall, one of two who were said to "maybe be bred" but we didn't know which one, dropped a pretty ewe lamb a few weeks go. So far, she is good. I don't take lamb pictures as they have only brought us bad luck in the past. People will have to take our word for it, for at least a while, that this lamb is darn cute.  :) She's getting to the playful stage, and while it's too bad that she doesn't have any lamb buddies to play with, she seems to be finding plenty of ways to play on her own.

I have been working my dogs when I can, but not enough and certainly not at enough distance, for Ryme and Coal to be at a trial standard. I had Ryme entered in a PN run but scratched him; he is just not ready. Coal could be ready but we'll have to walk to the post to find out. Both need more distance work and that means I have to put in the time and miles to make it happen, which is the ongoing dilemma. Spot and I are just trying to figure each other out, still; I have been working him some, but will give it some more time.

I don't even have a photo yet for March, to use in the blog. I guess maybe I am afraid to take green grass pictures as much as I am afraid to take lamb pictures!