Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Key Peninsula, Memorial Day Weekend 2010. Our first competition

May 31, 2010

For weeks I was building this up in my mind, putting pressure on myself to do really well. Brian kept telling me that we could win the novice class, and I believed it. By the time the trial rolled around, I was telling myself that it was okay if we didn’t do well, that I would take it as a learning experience and that would be the important thing. I did believe it, but nevertheless I expected to win and knew I’d be disappointed if we didn’t.

The trial itself was fun. We arrived at the Key Peninsula trial, in Longbranch, Washington, not far from Tacoma, at around noon on Saturday, just in time to see the latter half of Brian’s open run with Miggy.

Several handlers I knew were there, including Brian, Diane Pagel, and Dick Wilson. I also had conversations with a number of people I hadn’t met before, including Ruediger (Rudy) Birenheide and Bill Orr. Bill won the open class on Sunday.

In advance of our run, I spent a lot of time thinking about strategy. I worried that Rodeo would have trouble lifting the sheep off of the setout person -- a problem he has had in the past, so I was set to lie him down at the top and walk him up. I was so focused on this that I forgot to handle him and I wasn’t thinking about correcting him, much less about doing it properly (with a mild command and a sharp correction).

I sent him on the away side, and Rodeo took off on a very nice outrun. I stood watching the sheep and when he reached about 2 o’clock, they started to drift to the left. I didn’t see it at the time, but Rodeo hitched in towards the sheep, though he didn’t speed up at all. I was looking at the sheep, so when I looked back at him, I didn’t notice the change.

But now Rodeo was slicing in, even if he was doing it slowly, and that got the sheep moving faster, and soon enough he sped up after them. After they’d traveled 20 or 30 yards, he buzzed them, crossing in front of them on a clockwise flank and then temporarily splitting them before turning them back in my direction. They were turned around then and he had to work hard to complete the gather, but he did bring them to me. At the time I was really disappointed, knowing that I had no chance to win any more, but I wanted to complete the run and learn as much from it as I could.

Once the sheep settled at my feet, I walked to the pen and grabbed the rope. The sheep moved to the opposite side of the pen and I sent Rodeo on an away flank. When they came back around, he was slicing in on them because the pressure was now towards the exhaust pen. At this point I was too flustered to give any commands at all. Finally he did manage to control them and head them back in my direction. Two of the sheep settled at the mouth of the pen, but the third, a black sheep, wandered off on his own. I sent Rodeo after the black sheep but the other two decided they'd had enough and trotted off towards the exhaust, so I retired.

I walked off the field, shaking my head in frustration, and I forgot to take my place at the exhaust pen, where I was supposed to help take the sheep off the field for the next competitor. I just hope nobody thought I was being surly. It was just my first competitive run and I was flustered.

Ivy videotaped the run, which is what allowed me to make the analysis that I did.

We spent another half hour or so watching some runs in the ranch class, but I just kept replaying my run in my head, so didn’t pay much attention.

I was really upset after it, I think more so because I missed my opportunity for a pen. I felt like that was one of our strong points and I never even got a chance to try it. Driving home, I really started to question whether I wanted to continue trialing and sheepherding at all. I had become so focused on winning that I’d lost track of why I was doing this in the first place.

I managed to console myself somewhat with the knowledge that I was bound to have a difficult run sometime, and that in a way it was good to get it over with sooner rather than later. My ego was bound to take a hit, and I could learn a lot from the experience.

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