After a couple of days of rain and clouds, the sun finally made an appearance Monday morning as I left our campsite in South Whidbey Island State Park. I was too late for the handler's meeting anyway, so I stopped for espresso at a drive through stand and ordered banana bread, which turned out to be moldy.
Can I blame this for what happened? Fungal poisoning?
Well, our Pro-Novice run was undermined by a major handler error.
But first, the good part. Rodeo did very well on his outrun. The sheep were set out about 250 yards away, in a field that sloped gradually upward from left to right, culminating in a grassy knoll. The setout pen was behind that knoll, well out of my sight.
Sending Rodeo on an away flank would have put him into the pressure from the setout pen and made for a simpler lift, but I was concerned that he would lose sight of the sheep due to the terrain, and he has had problems recently with longer outruns. So I sent him left, to the lower slope, where the sheep wouldn’t leave his sight. That was also the direction of the exhaust, so it also eliminated the chance of a crossover.
He took off at a good pace, but his attention was quickly drawn by the exhaust and he started to turn that direction. At this point our training in the aftermath of the Rocky Ewe trial in April paid off. I yelled “No!” and he immediately turned his attention upfield and continued a nice outrun.
He hesitated a couple of times, and I encouraged him until he made it to the top. There he hesitated a bit and didn’t completely cover them, so when he completed the lift the sheep drifted off in the direction of the setout pen. Off they trotted, over that grass knoll, and Rodeo followed out of my sight.
And just like that, I was out of the picture. There was absolutely nothing to do but wait to see what happened. I figured I’d give it a minute or two and then walk down the field and over the knoll to help him.
My internal clock ticked the seconds away. I put my hands behind my back, trying to look nonchalant. Tick tock, tick tock.
That’s when the highlight happened. Within 20 or 30 seconds, the sheep reappeared over the knoll, moving at a nice trot, with Rodeo behind them in tight control. No zigging or zagging, just a nice trot towards me. He took my flanking commands, and we made our fetch panels.
He brought them to me and I started the right hand turn around the post, and that’s where it fell apart. Maybe I was starting to feel too good about his performance out there beyond the knoll. Or maybe it was the mold in the banana bread – whatever it was, I blew it.
“Come by!” I commanded, and Rodeo went the wrong way. “No! Come by” I repeated, and he kept blowing me off, taking the wrong flank while the sheep began to drift towards the exhaust. What is his problem? I wondered. He’s not doing what I tell him. He’s going to his left instead of…
“Away! Away! Away!”
I'd confused my flanking commands, giving him one when I meant the other.
It was too late. The sheep were on the move towards the exhaust. Rodeo took off after them but they made it to the corner of the fence line and he couldn’t pull them off, so I walked out to help him and we retired.
You always learn something at trials. I learned that Rodeo has improved on his outrun and fetch, though because of my error we never got to see how he would do on the drive.
Most of all, I learned that I still have a heck of a lot to learn.