Monday, December 8, 2008

Running through the bit

The weather was crisp and cool and it was sunny. Red and gold leaves littered the path while wispy clouds raced above. Sheep dotted the hillside as they meandered toward the holding pens. Black and white streaks curled at our feet as we sipped hot, steaming cups of coffee. Words frosted in the air as they left our lips and we stamped our feet to get the blood flow going. Thick winter coats were buttoned up and wooly hats were firmly in place as we gathered for the handler meeting on Saturday.

It was a fine day for a dog trial. Indeed it was.

Except I brought the two wrong dogs to the trial. “Steady Tess” and “Obedient Nan” were exchanged for “Aint’ got no Down, Tess and “Pedal to the Metal, Nan”

The sheep were set on top of a very steep hill. The outrun was several rolling hills with large dips and the dogs lost sight of their sheep. As the dog hit the hill, the sheep drew them in flat and the sheep would race down the hill. The dogs feeling the pressure and lost control of the sheep either tried to head them or tried to catch up. As they did either of the two, the sheep ran faster.

If you got your dog to down and remain calm, then you had a good chance at a run. Tess was first on deck. She went narrow at the bottom so I blew an away flank. As usual, she ignored it and continued on. She flared out as she got halfway up the field then came in slow at steady at the top. She was a little flat but cautious and didn’t startle the sheep as she went behind them properly. Then the sheep took off and I blew a hard down. She didn’t hesitate. So I blew it harder and the whistle about knocked down the setout with the blast. Tess misinterpreted it as a speed up command as she ran faster after the sheep. Tess and the sheep got to the post in record time and would make NASCAR proud. She did slow down and listened at the turn and did a nice turn and started the first leg very nice. Just before the first panels, the sheep went to one side and then another and I flanked Tess trying to line them out. They bolted through the panel and Tess flanked to stop them. I blew a down to stop her so the sheep could line out for the cross drive and she didn’t stop and over flanked and caused them to dip low. I reflanked her to put them back on line and she was off like a rocket.

Normally Tess is slow but not that day. One would think a 10.5 yr old dog might slow down but Tess just put on the after burners. I would blow a down and she would take anywhere from 3-9 steps then slow down and maybe stop. On a flank, she was fast and furious. Needless to say, our cross drive was like a drunken sailor on a tightrope. We missed the cross drive panel and were a little wide but the last leg was true to the shedding ring.

The sheep wanted nothing to do with the wolf in their midst and we missed the one opportunity for a shed and timed out.

Nan, not to be outdone by Tess was also a speeding bullet. Her outrun was nice but her lift was hard and there was no stop on the fetch. We had a nice turn at the post and start of a good first leg. When I would give her a flank, she went fast and far and blew through my down. Her flanks were too far and shot the sheep off the course. I dropped my whistle and went to voice but to avail. She was afraid of losing her sheep but didn’t realize that her quick movement and lack of stop made the sheep more panicked. As we went into the shed, Nan got just wound up and it was a blessing when we timed out.

It was a rough trial and the lack of downs, wild sheep and rough terrain made is especially difficult. There were some handlers who did quite well and their dogs were quiet and calm and downed and let the sheep flow. We will come back to this trial in January and in the meantime my homework is to work on my timing, the downs and the dog’s letting the sheep go and not panicking.

I can’t fault my dogs as we really haven’t worked over five months. We need to get into sync again. At home, I am going to set up sheep escape to a draw and make the dogs down and not race after them. Also do a down no matter what they want to.

That is why they call it a sheepdog trial. It’s a trial and was it ever a trial. In spite of our shortcoming on the field, we had a great time. Dirk and Sonya hosted the trial and they gave each handler fresh sheep. Sonya provided coffee and tea and delicious sandwiches and treats. There was a tent so we could stay dry during the brief rain burst. It’s part of the Winter Series and Dirk and Sonya are hosting several of them. I certainly appreciate it but I am sure the wily Scottish Black Face sheep are looking forward to the next trial to sese how many dogs they can best.

As the last run was going in the fading light, we were breaking down the tent and helping Sonya get squared away, we all reflected how much fun we had and what good friendship is all about. I drove home with my “power- pups “and sang to some old country western songs and was happy to be alive. It was a great feeling to be at a trial and enjoy myself and be with good friends.

That my friends, is what life is all about.

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