Monday, March 2, 2015

Sheep Herding 101

The rest of February flew by.  Except for a few days, most of it seemed colder and wetter than usual.  Last weekend was no exception.  On February 28-March 1, I had entered Rue in an AKC herding competition at Destiny Farm, a great facility a few miles outside Bertram, TX.  At first the weather-guessers gave us some hope, but as the trial drew nearer it was clear that the weather wouldn’t be…clear that is.  

We practiced with sheep on Thursday, set up for the trial on Friday, then competed on Saturday and Sunday.  The weather was miserable.  On Saturday morning, the pavement retained just enough heat to offset the freezing drizzle that was falling, coating the roadside grasses in sheaths of ice.  But the gravel parking lot at the trial site was another matter.  It was covered with a slippery glaze that had all of us using our herding sticks for support as we piled out of our cars and made for the barn.  Luckily Sheryl and Tom had a big fire going in the wood-burning stove, so we pulled up our chairs, grabbed a cup or coffee or cocoa and waited for the ice to melt.

You will notice there are no pictures of excited dogs herding ducks or sheep.  That’s because I didn’t want to take a camera out into the mizzle (combination of mist and drizzle) to photograph anything!  Gray skies, dead grass, soggy sheep and mud-encrusted dogs…not very photogenic! There will be other herding trials and opportunities to record the ever-unfolding drama of dogs and their handlers working stock, hopefully on green grass under blue skies.  

But this weekend the sheep were grumpy and even the ducks wanted to be inside.  The stock-setters’ feet, hands and ears were frozen, and the dog handlers had so much mud on their boots that they looked like they were wearing clown feet.  In fact, we humans were so bundled up that you could hardly recognize your best friend....Only eyes were visible.  

But the dogs were having a wonderful time!  They were focused on their jobs, tongues lolling and bright eyes snapping as they did what for generations they have been bred to do.  And so were we!  Being with friends, doing what we love, and giving and receiving support from our peers and a very helpful judge, was intoxicating.  We, too, had a great time.  

Rue and I competed in the entry-level events…Started A Sheep and Started B Sheep.  From last year’s AKC trial, she had two “legs,” that is, two qualifying runs in Started A.  This weekend, she had four qualifying runs, achieving her Started A title and getting two legs toward her Started B title.  We have a long way to go before we get to the advanced classes, but we’ll be working on that.

Colt had fun, too.  He is retired, and no longer competes, but he can help with the trial.  His job was to "exhaust" sheep that had just been worked and put them back in their pens.  He then helped to move new sets of sheep into the arena for the dogs that were preparing to work.  By the end of each day, he was covered in mud and happy he had gotten to participate.

When we got home, Rue was patient enough to pose with her ribbons.

She was much more impressed with her toys, however.  (Dogs get not only a ribbon, but also a toy when they have a qualifying run!)  She shared her toys with Kota and Colt, with predictable results.  

After enthusiastically unstuffing a toy (with a lot of help from Kota), she relaxed and drifted off into sheep dreams.  The perfect end to a perfect day!

No comments:

Post a Comment