It was about 5 pm Sunday afternoon by the time the Ranch runs were set to begin. Bob and a few others moved the panels and pen, and Brian, who was judging, moved his minivan close to the red cone that marked the handler’s post. This is definitely the minor league level. Almost everyone else had left, leaving just the 11 handlers in Ranch to watch each other’s runs while the lawn chairs, card tables and canopies were cleared up and packed away. Behind them and through the gate, the cars and trucks steadily emptied until only a few remained.
The course was about a 75 yard outrun, through a fetch panel, a right hand turn at the post, followed by a short left hand drive and a right hand turn back to the fetch panels. The sheep were to be driven back through the fetch panels and to the pen.
I hadn’t thought a lot about our run throughout the day, and wasn’t particularly nervous when the first four runs were completed and it was our turn at the post. I wasn’t at all sure how it would go, but at least I knew he’d be able to see the sheep this time.
Bob approached me just before the run and asked me to keep the sheep in the pen if we succeeded at it, because following our run they were going to drive sheep from the exhaust back to the setout for the remainder of the runs. I told him I would.
Someone said “Jim Kling is up” and then I walked forward to the post. But something wasn’t right, and I turned back to see Rodeo watching me. “That means you, too!” I said, and he bounded forward happily.
I sent him on a come by flank and he took off on a nice wide arc. Near the top he hesitated and looked back at me – not unusual when he encounters a dog and person at set out. I gave him another flank command and he started forward again, then stopped once more. Another command got him to the top and he completed a perfect lift and fetch through the panels. I gave him an away flank to turn them around the post to my right, and he took the command well. But I was slow and the sheep drifted too far to my right. By the time I gave him a come by flank and he turned them back to the left, they had made quite a wide turn around the post and I knew we’d lose a few points.
But he got turned them back in the right direction and brought them back on line, and drove them in a nice measured pace through the first drive panel, on a right hand turn and out to the fetch panel. He took all his flanks and drove them steadily through the fetch panel, where a final come by flank turned them back towards the post.
I walked to the pen and everything looked great as he pushed them towards me. I laid him down and the sheep started moving into the pen. I turned my attention to them to complete the pen, expecting to give Rodeo a walk up command to put additional pressure on them if needed to complete it. But suddenly the sheep were headed the other way, out of the pen, and I realized that Rodeo had gotten up and circled the pen for fear that the sheep were getting away. I gave him a come by flank and he managed to cut them off before they circled the pen. He turned them towards me and we were able to get a quick pen, but at the cost of some points for pushing them back out.
I completely forgot Bob’s instructions to leave them in the pen, so I opened it to let them out. “Keep them in, keep them in!” I heard Bob yell, and quickly remembered. But it was too late. Rodeo was behind the pen and the sheep popped out. But it only took 30 seconds or so to pen them up again, and this time I kept it closed.
This video of the run was taken by our friend Jennie. You can see me suddenly realize my mistake as I’m opening the pen back up again.
I stood with Jennie to watch the rest of the runs. I knew we’d had a good run, so I was watching to see how many I thought were better. The winning run, with Cindy Baker and Kael, came 2 or 3 spots after ours. I watched it and knew immediately that they had us beat. By the end, I thought maybe we’d placed 3rd or 4th. Brian later informed me we’d come in 2nd, with a score of 69 out of 80. Not bad!
Jennie and Elsa ran at the end. Elsa did a nice job on the gather but had some trouble with the drive and Jennie wound up walking out to help her. I thought Elsa did well – she kept her head and tried hard on the drive. The sheep drifted a bit and Jennie was just a bit off on her timing with her flank commands, so that the sheep either didn’t get turned back in the direction of the panel, or they turned too far and ended up moving in the opposite direction. That happened a lot in the other ranch runs as well.
Jennie and I talked for awhile, and then I loaded Rodeo into the car. It was almost 7 pm when I hit the road and just before 11 pm when I arrived in
Rocky Ewe was a great experience. I’ve gone to a number of trials over the past couple of years, and competed in 3 previous ones. I’ve enjoyed each experience but I always felt something was lacking, like I should have enjoyed it more than I did. This weekend I realized that I was getting the full experience. Even before our final run, when the only competition experience was our disappointing Pro-Novice run, I was really enjoying myself and didn’t feel all that concerned about how well we would perform in Ranch. I’d finally managed to take the competition in stride and not let it affect everything else. Volunteering for set out also helped because I met more people and learned a lot. And lastly, I have enough experience now that I can watch other people’s runs and have a better sense of what’s happening, so that I’m able to learn more from it.