Thursday, April 14, 2011

"That's why this is so addicting..."

This week was a little bit back to reality. I’d been getting a little full of myself, pleased with my newfound confidence and assertiveness, but this week’s lesson was something of a struggle.

Rodeo was fine. He was keen as could be, and yipped in the backseat of the car as we turned on to 3rd Avenue towards the field where we train. He was ready to go.

In the field, he drove really well and took flanking commands, so that we were able to pretty consistently hit targets when driving the sheep. If this holds up, we should have a reasonable chance to make it around the course this weekend at Rocky Ewe. We’re entered in Ranch and Pro-Novice, both of which have a driving component.

But I wanted to work on Rodeo’s driving under pressure. Similar to last week, we set 3 sheep in the round pen and left the rest out in the field to create a draw (once released, the sheep from the round pen would want to seek safety in numbers with the sheep out in the field). Brian instructed me to send Rodeo into the pen to get them out, then send him to return them to me and do a right hand drive.

It sounded simple enough, and we’ve managed it before. But when the sheep came out of the round pen gate and Rodeo followed, I laid him down. The sheep were already at a fast trot so that by the time I sent him again, they were already well on their way to joining their compatriots and Rodeo was unable to catch up to them.

Brian had us “gate sort” 3 more sheep into the round pen, and then had us repeat the exercise. The result was exactly the same.

“Why did he lose them?” Brian asked.

I thought for a moment. “Because I laid him down.”

“Right. And what did that accomplish?”

… “Nothing,” I said sheepishly.

“Worse than nothing. Why?”

… “Because I laid him down and it took them out of his control, and then he got frantic.”

“Right. So why did you do it?”

I explained that I thought I should give the sheep a running start. I was thinking in terms of setting up a scenario that would challenge Rodeo. But the sheep were running and the other sheep were only 100 or so yards away, so I should have reacted to the situation at hand and realized that there was no time to stop him.

“The sheep tell you what to do,” Brian said, and I finally understood what he meant.

So the next time we did the exercise, and the sheep took off at a fast trot, I sent Rodeo right away. He looped around quickly and brought them back to me, and I attempted to have him drive them around me and then begin a right hand drive. But the gate to the round pen was still open and under pressure from Rodeo, they went right back in.

So I brought them out and tried again, and once again sent Rodeo right away and he brought them back to me. I tried again to get Rodeo to bring them around me, but the sheep split in a single and a set of two, and neither of us was quite sure what to do. “Look back! Look back!” I shouted to Rodeo, but he was too fixated on the sheep in front of him. Still, he was sufficiently distracted by the commands that he lost control of them and they beat him to join up with the other sheep in the field.

We tried several more times and failed repeatedly. For today, at least, this task was just beyond our ability.

I said as much to Brian and he nodded. “You just need more mileage. You need experience to react quickly to different situations. There are so many subtleties that you have to learn to react to. That’s why this is so addicting.”

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