Sunday, June 27, 2010

Back to the Ranch

(pictures courtesy of Sonya Schaller)

When we started sheepherding, Rodeo and I trained with Dirk in nearby Van Zandt. Dirk and his wife Sonya lived there in a small farm house, with low-lying fields and a hundred or so sheep. Dirk ran a grazing business and competed in sheepdog trials, even hosting a couple of trials on nearby land.

This past February, Dirk returned to his native Belgium, where he's working as a shepherd and competing in sheepdog trials. Dirk introduced me to Brian, who has been our trainer since.

Things have gone really well with Brian, but I missed working with Dirk and coming out to see the place. So it was fun to go back and see Sonya, who still lives there and still has sheep, along with dogs Roy, Lily, and Skip.

In the past when we pulled into the driveway, we were greeted with a chorus of barks and usually one or two dogs bounding up to us, but this time it was strangely silent. There are fewer dogs now, and when I knocked on the door of the farmhouse, the chorus began and I realized the dogs were in the house. Sonya answered a little bleary eyed and told me that she often keeps the dogs in the house now.

From the driveway, the farmhouse is on the right and the big barn is on the left, with another barn straight ahead and the large fields beyond it. Sonya put some temporary fencing in place across the driveway entrance and then we went out into the field and brought about a dozen sheep out of a small fenced in pasture and returned with them to the driveway. Sonya stood in the gap that led to the open field while Rodeo and I attempted to drive the sheep around the farmhouse and back towards the driveway.

The sheep tried to make a break for the big fields, but Sonya stood in the way with a stick and menaced them as best she could to convince them to stay. But Rodeo was pushing behind them and they were seemingly intent on trampling her. Fortunately Sonya is sharper than I am and told me to send Rodeo to the right flank of the sheep to turn them back towards the driveway and the house, and that did the trick.

We circled the house a few times and Rodeo did pretty well with me walking beside him. But when I tried standing still and letting him drive them on his own, it didn't work so well. For some reason the sheep refused to be driven at all. They turned back towards me rather than move around the house.

We did a little bit of work in the field after that, but had to stay close to the farmhouse and barn because most of the grass was too tall. Sonya worked Roy a little bit. He's a long-haired tricolor border with a great personality and talent, but he sometimes pushes the sheep too hard. I suggested she lie him down when he got too pushy and then let him walk up, and lying him down again if he was still pushy. Dirk did that with Rodeo and eventually he learned to let up. Sonya did it a couple of times and he seemed to relent a little bit.


After training, we split a beer and chatted for awhile. I suggested that Sonya take a Tuesday afternoon and come out to train with Brian. Mine is his last lesson so I expect he'd be willing to stay a little longer and do a double lesson.

That will also give us some ideas on what to work on the next time Rodeo and I come back to the ranch.

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