Monday, July 12, 2010

Highland Games trial

On Saturday, Ivy and I loaded Rodeo into the car and drove to Mount Vernon for this year’s Highland Games. There’s always great food, music, culture, and sporting events (and beer!), but I was really there for the arena-style sheepherding trial that they hold every year.

It has been my ambition to compete in this trial ever since we started training, largely because many of our friends would be there to see us. I didn’t think we’d be ready this year, but Rodeo and I advanced faster than I thought we would during the spring. But by the time I knew we were ready, the entries had long since filled up.

So it was a somewhat bittersweet experience, but I enjoyed it. Certainly Rodeo did. As always he sat upright, staring fixedly at the sheep as they made their way around the course.

The field was an oval maybe 100 yards in length, and the handler’s post was more or less in the center of it. The sheep were let out along the side, and the dog had to push them straight ahead, along the fence line, and then turn them to the right around a post at the far end. Then the dog brought them back for a turn around the handler’s post, and back again in the original direction. The handler could leave the post and help his dog maneuver them through the next obstacle, the Maltese Cross:

The white interior of the cross pieces represent the open passage way. On day 1 of the trial, the handlers had to move the sheep into the near entrance of the cross, then get them to do a right hand turn in the center of the cross and exit via the passage to the right. It seemed like it would be really challenging, but Diane Pagel, who ran first, showed everyone how to do it by getting the sheep to follow her as she walked the pattern herself. Very savvy on her part and she started with a great run.

On the second day, the competitors had to drive the sheep through the cross, in one end and out the other, and then repeat the exercise in the other direction. The handler had to remain outside the cross, which made it much more challenging. It made for some interesting strategic decisions on the part of handlers and was really fun to watch.

After the Maltese Cross, the handlers went to the pen. Each team had 4 ½ minutes to complete the course. Scores were simple: the team had 4 sheep, and for each sheep that passed through an obstacle, the team received one point. A number of teams earned all their points, and ties were broken by the overall time to complete the course.

After runs on Saturday and Sunday, the top ten combined scores made the finals. There were only 7 or so handlers because some had qualified with more than one dog, and had to choose just one for the final round. The winners were determined solely on the score in the final.

The winner was Charmaine Henderson and her dog Reo. She also won last year, and I remember Dirk talking about her. He had made the finals and was doing really well, but she had a great run and beat him. He was surprised because she had sort of come out of nowhere, and Dawn mentioned that she was relatively new to the sport. Last year was clearly no fluke. Congratulations, Charmaine!

I spent most of the weekend watching the sheepherding competitions, but I did break away to listen to a bit of music and drink a bit with friends in the beer garden. I also dropped by the border collie rescue tent and bought some great stuff, including a beautiful leather leash and a brilliant chapbook entitled “Lessons From An Expert Sheep Dog Handler.” This is a tribute to Brian and filled with hilarious tidbits such as:

Lie Down:
The “LIE DOWN” is a very important command. It stops an enthusiastic, albeit unauthorized length-of-the-field-and-then-some drive/shed. It can also prevent a fetch that breaks the designated course limit, thereby incurring a fault.
The best way to teach a solid “LIE DOWN” is to tell the student, “You need to get a lie down on your dog.”


Get Out of the Sheep
Again, a phrase which is at its most useful when used repeatedly, and with considerable volume.
Do not be swayed by the student who offers excuses like: “HOW???” “I’M TRYING!” AND “WHAT THE $%&@ DO YOU MEAN??”
Simply stand still, lean on your crook, and repeat the phrase.


Other Books by Brian Ricards
“How to Teach Your Dog to Lie Down”
“Lie Down… Damn you – LIE DOWN!!”

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