Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rocky Ewe part 1

Rocky Ewe is held in Roy, Washington, and run by Judy Norris. This was our first trial since September, which was also in Roy and run by Judy, though on a different field. Rodeo and I had a rough time at that trial (link: http://sheepdogtrialling.blogspot.com/2010/09/rocky-week.html), so I approached this one with a little bit of trepidation. If Rodeo struggled, would I get as frustrated as I had before? Could I relax and enjoy the trial without worrying about how competitive we could be? I just didn’t know.

After considering several hotels that would take dogs, I managed to find a hostel in Olympia that did, Chez Cascadia (link: http://www.chezcascadia.org/). I like hostels, so I was quite excited to learn about it. $35 for a private room, plus $5 per dog. The private room was taken, though, so we slept in the bunk room instead. But the bottom beds were double beds, so they were more comfortable than expected and there was plenty of room for Rodeo. The hostel was a converted house and had a nice charm about it. Nothing fancy, but I’ll likely be back for future trials in the area.

Saturday morning I woke up at 5:15, had my shower, then drove 45 minutes to the trial, which was held in the Roy Rodeo Grounds. Much of one side of the field was inundated with water, so much so that a dog sent that way might literally have to swim in some areas. The sheep knew it too and lifted away from the watery half of the field when the dog picked them up at the top.

We were set to run third in Pro-Novice, and went to the post around 9 am. I immediately knew we were in trouble because the set out was over 200 yards away, and we had been focusing so much on driving that we had neglected long outruns. Still, I thought he might be okay if he saw the sheep.

But he didn’t. I sent him on a come by flank (away from the water, as did every other handler), and he immediately crossed over and ran towards the exhaust to our right hand side. I called out ‘look back’ and when he turned his head in the direction I wanted I gave him encouragement, but he remained fixated on the exhaust. After a few attempts I left the post and we walked towards the set out until he saw the sheep. I sent him and he completed an outrun and lift, but he seemed hesitant and a little bit cowed a few wet spots he had to traverse. For whatever reason, he never got control of the sheep and we retired.

It was eerily familiar to our run in September, but I find that I wasn’t upset. A little disappointed, sure, but I could shrug it off. The reason was simple enough: I knew what had gone wrong. He hadn’t seen the sheep, and he hadn’t gone on an outrun in the direction I was facing. We need to teach him to do that so that he’ll go in the direction I indicate and keep going until he sees sheep. Last September, I’d had no idea what the problem was and no idea how to fix it, which left me feeling incredibly frustrated.

After our run, I worked set out for the rest of Pro-Novice. I was ‘Little Bo Peep,’ according to Fran, who was also on the set out team. One handler let packets of 4 sheep out of the pen, another used her dog to push the sheep out towards me, and I used a bucket of grain to entice them to where I stood at the setout post. Rodeo’s job was to look handsome. The sheep wanted to drift in the direction opposite the watery area, so I stationed him on that side to prevent them from moving that way.

It was a fantastic learning opportunity. I had the best seat in the house to watch the end of each outrun and the lift, to see where a dog went right and a dog went wrong. Many had a tendency to cut in rather than completely covering the sheep, and many had to retire because the sheep would scatter and split as a result.

Later in the afternoon I performed the same job for Open, and so had an opportunity to watch some of the best dogs and draw some comparisons. Few of them cut in at the end of their outrun, and very few caused a scatter.

After setout, I returned to join the other handlers and watch the remaining runs. Fortunately I had dressed in layers. It didn’t rain, but it was cloudy most of the day and the wind frequently picked up, so we spent a lot of time huddling in our camp chairs, sometimes with a dog for a lap warmer. I found that I enjoyed watching the runs more than I have in the past because I understood more of what I was seeing.

(to be continued)

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