Thursday, March 21, 2013

Heppner Wrap-up

Heppner Sheep.
That alone should strike fear in man or dog. Cagey yearling ewes that slay the weak dog or bolt from the strong. Too much pressure and they break apart in numerous directions and too weak will make them turn and try to mash your dog in the rich sandy Oregon soil.
So for the second time, Kathleen and I took the trek over to Heppner, OR. I snagged a room at the local hotel and got a room in the overflow house. It is a huge, stately house that is being converted into a B&B. 
It was quiet and peaceful and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We booked it for next year. Last year, our drive was over an hour back and forth from the hotel to the trial field plus the worse Chinese food, made me book this local hotel. This drive was maybe seven minutes. Plus the food was much better around the area.
Saturday morning was crisp and cold. I put on my heated jacket and tuned it on full blast, a common theme for me the entire weekend. I layered a lot of clothes but the chill did dig deep into my bones. 
Luckily for me, Kathleen has a van that heated seats and we parked in prime viewing space.  We spent a lot of time in the van. But the sun did peek out; it was windy but nowhere near as bad as last year. Last year, it was windy sideways, the cold sneaking into your bones and stealing all the warmth and leaving frozen ice cubes behind. It was below freezing and when it did rise about 32 degree, it rain. This year, the sun warmed us and while it was cold and windy, it was a pale comparison of the year before.
The field was moved across the street and it was a nice but tough course. I like it.  The sheep were set out on the side of a hill, where they blended in, about 325 yards or so. To the right of the sheep, was the setout and they wanted to break back to that. To the left of the post were two huge rolling fields that ran out over 800 yards and fooled quite a few dogs to go over the second hill. Some of them never did find the sheep and those who did, had lost a good chunk of their time.
The draw was heavy to the right as the sheep came down and some did manage to break back to the pen or run down the fence line near the road. Once you did get them to the post, one would try to break away from the three others, and if successful, bolt to the highway. The fine line was tough as your dog had to convince them to move, and they would slip around the panel. At the last half of the cross drive, they would start to inch up the hill back to setout so your dog had to hold that heavy pressure, and once your dog would turn them to the second panel, they would break down the hill or slip on the outside of the panel. You couldn't leave the post until the sheep were in the ring and then it was any spilt. Then the pen, which I think only two people got the first day. The exhaust was across the local road and by Sunday, they knew where it was. Tough range sheep which displayed your ?areas to improve? and it was hard but very good for the soul. For me, it was about, what was working, was I need to fix on me and what part of the journey we still need to work on as a team. At least, since I have my pacemaker, I am able to decrease my volume of my whistles and not be a second slow as I was all last year.
Nan was first to go and she ran out swiftly and kept an eye on her sheep. She is great at spotting sheep and it was no problem for her.   Nice outrun and I stopped her on the lift and she picked them up slowly.  She worked them down the hill, offline and we missed the panel but she held them tight. They wanted to break at the turn but she grouped them and started on the drive. I was having a hard time, getting them to go straight so had a back and forth flanking but trying to have her flank small than her usually large flank. Success was about 40% and we skimmed by the panel, made decent cross drive, missed the panels again and then shed was clean and fast. One set bolted off so she put them back together to go to the pen, when one squirreled to the side and I thought she had tucked it in but it bolted and so that was the end of the run. In spite of the DQ, I was happy with how she worked and that she had no issues in standing up to the sheep. She was really leaning on them but she held them together and didn?t spook them. Handler error on my part.
Maid was anxious to run and she heard Nan's run. I took her out several times and played with her and she calmed down. I have been working with Maid to get her to soften and for me, not to micromanaged her until she gets pissed at me and grips. We have been doing lambing, putting chickens away and general chores. Plus playing toss with her as she loves to swim and bring back the ball. She has been trying to feel her way into the household and her role in it, often looking to Tess and mimicking her behavior. Since Tess has passed on, Maid has been doing a lot of the chicken work and she has learned not to push them as well as listen to me. Plus her years of experience with Scott has made her one solid dog. She wants so hard to please me as well.
She was leaning towards the flat field but I knew she had seen the sheep as when I asked her, she looked at them, then to me. I sent her and she looked like she was going to the flat field, then at the edge, she cast herself up the hill.  I am sure she was thinking, we don?t have these dam steep hills at the farm, only marsh. But the trooper she is, she went out wide, got to the top, bent out and came nicely behind them. She worked hard and part of the first fetch was nice, and just before the panel, they broke to the right. Two sets, each of two were trying to wrangle around her and Maid was calm. A ewe got in her face and challenged her and you could tell Maid so wanted to educate her but she listened to me and took the flank to turn her and held her ground. She slowly got them gathered and brought them down the hill, just below the panel. She worked the turn and held steady on the drive. I didn't flank her as much as I did Nan, (Thanks to Scott Glen on his feedback) and we got the first panel. Wide turn but back online for the second panel and missed but brought them down to the ring. She was an willing partner on the field and we had the shed set up but time ran out. I was so ecstatic on well her listened and how soft she was. She had several chances to grip but didn't and waited for me to tell her what to do. She got a low score for no shed and pen but I was very happy on well she ran and how hard she tried to please me. In fact, she ran softer than Nan.
Kathleen ran Gael but she was one of the dogs who ran wide and didn't find her sheep. She had an fantastic Open level outrun and did her best but it wasn't her day. This team is a very nice team.
For dinner on Saturday night, Kathleen had heard about a restaurant in Ione, which was ten minutes away. We went to it and had Prime rib, thick and juicy. Big, tender baker and corn. I was only able to eat half of mine and waddle back to the van. I went into a food coma shortly!
Sunday, the weather turned. It was very chilly and windy.  I got so cold that I had to wrap myself up in a blanket in the van and take a nap to recharge. I guess my system will always be a little off kilter due to the numerous heart issues and I feel the cold a lot more and take longer to recover. But at least I am alive.
We ran towards the end of the day so watched the other runs. I was able to switch dogs so ran Maid. She ran well on the outrun and the ewes were facing towards the setout. I had to flank her over on the comebye side to get directly into their faces to turn them and go down the hill. They had no interest and finally she was able to group them and start down the hill. Three broke and she leaned heavy on the right side to cover them and the last ewe saw this golden opportunity and spun around and broke back to the setout. Maid did not see her bolt. I worked the three back near the runaway, hoping she would join them but she wanted to jump back in so I walked. Maid kept her cool as the three kept dancing about, trying to go around her. She looked at me in surprise when I called her off but she was a real trooper and very cool.
Gael was the next dog to run. Kathleen set up so she was looking up the field, and she ran wide but stopped, took a redirect but crossed. She saw her sheep then cast out deep behind them and had a sweet lift. They tried to break to the right, but she held the pressure quite well and brought them to Kathleen. They had to work hard for the turn and did it. On the first leg, one ewe made a break for it but Gael took a clean head grip, stopped her but was DQ.
We gathered the First Place for Sunday, and High Combined for Scott Glen and Don. At least, we got to see them and dreamed of one day, we might be able to call one of those our own. Scott had left so Kathleen was bringing it to him.  The drive was long and hard and we pulled in near midnight. Getty unloaded the van while I passed out. Maid and Nan ran quickly to the bed and snuggled next to me.
It was a good trial and I could what worked and what didn't. I enjoyed running my dogs and had a good time. The best part was that Scott didn't have to wear the Hat of Shame...."I sold Maid to her and she sucks" at this trial, in fact he complimented me which made me happy!
Pictures tomorrow.....

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