Thursday, April 16, 2015

Lessons Learned

After returning home from our Easter trip to Lake Jackson, the following Friday Rue and I traveled to Helotes to participate in the San Antonio Highland Games Sheep Dog Trials.  My long-time friend, Keyes, whose home is only a few minutes from the trial site, was gracious enough to put us up for the night.  This selfie was taken on his upstairs balcony.  Rue was there, too, but my arm wasn’t long enough to get her in the picture.

We enjoyed catching up on each other’s news, and pigged out on some great hamburgers and fries at Bobby J’s on Bandera Road.  (I highly recommend it if you’re in the neighborhood.)  

Keyes took these photos of Rue in the bluebonnets when we took her out for her evening run.  He did a great job with her portraits…

…but I’m not sure he captured my best ball-throwing form.

On Saturday, we were at the trial site early, and watched a lot of very good dogs and handlers working the sheep.  

Though you wouldn’t know it, these yearling ewes are “woolies.”  However, they had recently been sheared, and I’m quite sure they were embarassed by their very bad haircuts;  they seemed to bolt for the exit at every opportunity!  They are also what are called range sheep.  That is, they had spent most of their lives far from humans and most of the “dogs” they had seen previously were probably coyotes.  It made for some very interesting runs, but the experienced dogs and handlers did a great job moving them around the course, 

through the “Maltese cross” and other obstacles, 

and into the pen.

When the Novice class was called, it was Rue’s and my turn to work.  I was cautiously optimistic, but it turns out I shouldn't have been.  

The sheep came bursting into the arena like popcorn.  After they had settled down at the far end of the arena, I sent Rue to fetch them.  

Rue had never worked in an arena before, and did not hug the fence and come in behind the sheep as she should have.  They were startled by her approach and came racing down the arena toward the "exhaust" gate they knew led out to grass and water.  After I made Rue lie down, they slowed their pace and approached the pen but went past the gate.

Rue turned them back toward the pen and I thought we had a chance to get them inside.  

However, a couple of failed attempts to pen the sheep sent them back toward the other end of the arena with Rue close behind, trying to turn them.  I could see what was about to happen, but in the heat of the moment she was past listening and I was powerless to stop her.

As the ewes fled, Rue charged in and tried to take a bite out of one of them.  I heard the dreaded but much-deserved “Thank You” from the trial judge, and our run was over.  

I had asked my friend Karen, who was announcing the trial, to take some photos of our run.  When I looked at these pictures, I felt like I should apologize to my dog.  I had made almost every mistake in the book.  Contrary to what my coach has taught me, I watched my dog instead of the sheep.  The timing of my commands was terrible.  I didn’t react nearly fast enough, and by my actions (or lack thereof) literally set her up to fail.  Rue was doing her best, but I didn’t do my part.  I learned some hard lessons last Saturday.  Clearly, we (and especially me) have a lot of work to do.  

On the bright side, I had a great time watching the other dogs and handlers and visiting with good friends.  I very much appreciate the supportive and constructive comments from the other participants.  They have all been where I am, and I hope to one day be where they are!

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