Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend at Dr. Ben's NC State Sheepdog Trial

This past weekend was one of ups and downs as far as my dogs went. Twist is on extended crate rest, so I had just Kat to run in open at Dr. Ben's, and I nearly didn't enter either open dog, since I don't plan to make the trip to the National Finals in Sturgis and so have been concentrating my time (and entry money) on the younger dogs.

Friday evening started at 5 with the nursery class. I imagine many of us were surprised to see that the young dogs were going to have to negotiate the full open outrun. At Dr. Ben's the outrun isn't overly long, just 323 yards (according to Dr. Ben), but it's tricky because the field is terraced and dogs lose sight of their sheep as they go from a lower terrace to a higher one. The drive was a bit shorter than the one for open, but still rather long. Lark was definitely in over her head, but we gave it a good try anyway. Lark required two redirects to get her to the top, and then at the last moment, when I thought she could surely see her sheep, she crossed over on the terrace just below them. That's the trickiness of those terraces--what we can see standing at the post and what the dogs can see as they move from one terrace to the next are quite different! Anyway, she got behind her sheep and brought them fairly nicely down the fetch, well at least until I flanked her to the left to try and correct the line. She flanked nicely, but as she turned out on her flank, the sheep dropped to the next terrace and she lost them, flanking ever wider on the terrace she was on, head swinging looking for he sheep, which in her mind had simply disappeared. Fortunately, the sheep weren't running and actually waited downslope until I could call Lark in. Once her head popped over the terrace and she could see her sheep again, all was well.

The drive away was rough and offline, with the sheep leaning hard to their left. We missed the drive away panels on the outside and then I had to flank Lark carefully to avoid a pull through. We made it past the panels and then Lark, clearly in young, inexperienced dog mode, started trying to fetch them back to me. After some work I got her to flank back around to their heads and push them back up to the crossdrive line, but at that point it was clear to me that her mind was fairly blown and I retired rather than try to push on and perhaps do more damage than good.... At least we were in good company as half the nursery dogs retired. Of the 16 or so who ran, I recall just one really nice outrun, and that was Robin French's Moss, who went out beautifully and landed deep, only to have one sheep bolt back toward the set out while he was determined to bring the three in front of him on down the field, necessitating a retirement.

Saturday dawned cool and cloudy. I hadn't slept well the night before, perhaps because the wind had been blowing pretty hard all night, making life pretty noisy inside the "Taj Majal" tent I camp in at trials. I ran pretty early with Kat, the 12th run of the morning. The runs started right after the handlers' meeting at 6:30. The course was a left-hand drive, with a split in the shedding ring, and then the pen. Dr. Ben's hair sheep usually do not get on well with Kat--she tends to unsettle them with the speed of her flanks and general pushiness, and of course that always comes back to bite us by the time we get to the shedding ring. But on Saturday Kat was in good form--she went out nicely and stayed pretty quiet and off her sheep. We had a really nice fetch and drive, but as everyone knows, that's never our downfall--that usually happens in the shedding ring. Kat is not a good shedding dog. That's how I was able to get her for a reasonable price. And overcoming training issues created by someone else is never easy. And I confess that I really haven't put much effort into fixing Kat's shed, at least not more than a workaround that requires some very specific things to come together in the shedding ring (for example, I always try to set up the shed so that she's coming through on a come bye flank since that is the way she's most comfortable coming through). So we make it into the ring with plenty of time to spare. There's both good and bad sides to that. If the shed isn't going to happen, having plenty of time seems like an eternity. But of course, having plenty of time also means not having to rush and being able to set things up for the best chance of succeeding. Because Kat had been so kind to her sheep around the course, they were willing to settle in the ring (we were lucky there, because there were plenty of sets that wouldn't settle in the ring no matter what). Then I realized I was right on the edge of the ring, so I got Kat up and moved as back toward the middle. I was trying to be careful because the sheep were being cooperative and I didn't want to upset them, but at the same time, if you shed on the edge and the sheep go out of the ring before the dog has taken control of the shed sheep, then many judges won't call it. Anyway, after a minute or two I had the sheep lined out in the direction that would allow me to call Kat through on the come bye flank and I did, and she did! (That's never a given!) We quickly regathered the sheep in the ring and went to the pen, where the sheep appeared to want to march straight in. Even so, after seeing more than a few of the runs before me have a single sheep who would bolt around the pen to the right at the last second, I flanked Kat around to hold that side, and we got our pen nicely. Our final score, a 91! That score held in first for a good part of the day, until Alasdair ran Star and ended up with a score of 91 as well. Those two scores held, but there were plenty of good dogs to go, including Alasdair's second dog Nap, so a run off wasn't a given, but by the last run (60 or so dogs) we were still tied and a run off was in order.

I lost the toss and Alasdair elected to go second, so off I went to the post with Kat for our second run of the day. I was inordinately nervous, literally shaking, which is kind of silly given that the worst I could do at that point was second place. Kat again did a gorgeous outrun and brought the sheep quietly down the field. It went downhill from there as I allowed my nerves to take hold and the drive was pretty rough. I was told later that we lost a total of 20 points from the entire run, with a few off the fetch and everything else off the drive. It wasn't that we were ever way off line or anything--we were just ragged throughout--not a pretty picture. Then of course we had the old shedding "bugaboo" to contend with. What were the chances that I'd get two good sheds out of Kat in one day? This set of sheep was less cooperative than the first set, and I had one who kept wanting to turn around and pop off the back. Although I tried, it soon became obvious I wasn't going to be able to set up our "perfect shed." That one sheep on the back turned and became the front sheep, and then her buddies also turned and the slightest gap started to open between the front two and the last two. It's all happening rather quickly but I remember thinking that this wasn't the way I had the best chance of getting Kat to come through (an away flank onto the heads of the back two sheep) but that if I didn't try I was going to be hit for a missed opportunity and I had already given up a lot of points on the drive, so I was just going to have to call her and hope she came. And she did! Very nicely, in fact. I'm always a little surprised when she comes through so well, and this time was no different. Fortunately she did the job, Amanda called the shed, and we were able to go to the pen. We penned pretty easily and the run was over. I stood in the exhaust and watched Alasdair run Star. By the time he made it around the drive, it was clear he had the thing won. And so I ended up second. But I was still pretty proud of Miss Kat-rat.

Sunday ended up being quite warm by midday. I ran around noon. The course had been changed to a right hand drive, followed by the pen, and then a single. The sheep were more reluctant to make the drive away, and there were many wobbly lines there. Then the sheep would go through the panels and start to run up the hill, necessitating a big, fast, sweeping flank to catch them before they got too far off line. Then, invariably, they would string out at a run across the field, opening a huge gap between themselves and the dog and making it quite difficult to guide them properly through the crossdrive panels. Low misses were most common as the sheep would appear to be on line and then drop down at the last second. Usually the dog was on the high side holding the line and was way out of position to save it when the sheep dropped.

Over and over again it seemed that handlers would lay down beautiful runs only to have one sheep that absolutely wasn't going to pen. A number of runs timed out at the pen without even getting a chance to go for the single. (Likewise on Saturday a lot of handlers found themselves in the shedding ring with a single who kept popping away from the other three--when we were trying for a split--while the three other sheep were clinging like burrs to one another, and again the clock caught many).

Kat was again being the "good Kat" not pushing too hard and the run started out fairly well. Our sheep ran on the cross drive but I felt I had them under control, although a little high. Sure enough, when I realized that I had them too high (it was a tough line to see and you had to aim for the center of the top panel to be on line), Kat was way out of position on the bottom side for me to get her around to hit the panel. We ended up with a miss to the high side and a fairly wide turn, but then got them back on line for the last leg to the pen. I had one ewe who wanted to be funny about going in, but we did manage to prevent her from starting the "circle of death" and got them penned. And then the shedding ring. I could not get the sheep to settle, and Kat, who hasn't been worked much this spring, was running out of steam. The sheep kept bolting for the exhaust and Kat had to flank the long way around to catch them (I was doing my best to stop them, but they were outrunning me too and were so determined that me waving my stick in the face of the lead ewe didn't even faze her). Three times they escaped the ring toward the exhaust. By then she was getting tired (and it was hot!) and we were eating up time trying to get them back in the ring. Finally, they're back in the ring with just seconds to go. I small hole starts to open up on the last sheep (and they're lined out in the best direction for Kat) and I wanted to give it another second for a little more space before calling her when time was called. You know, it was one of those classic moments, Amanda calls "time up" just as the three sheep at the front step off and the back sheep hesitates just enough and the perfect hole opens...too late. (Of course, with three times out of the ring, even if we had managed a last-second shed, there weren't many points left to be had.) We ended up with a 72, out of the placings.

The scores were for the most part lower than on Saturday, but a couple of people put down some really nice runs. Ken Arrendale and Belle scored a 95 and took first place, followed by Robin French and Zac with a 91. The rest of the top 12 ranged down to the low 80s.

Sadly, I ended up in 5th overall, with just three going back for the double lift: Alasdair with both Star and Nap, and Ken with Belle. Watching a double lift is always a treat, and Alasdair just has a way of making the whole run look poetic. He ended up winning with Star and in second with Nap.

Monday promised to be a gorgeous day, with cool, sunny weather. Lark and I were up first for nursery. The set out had been moved down one terrace to give the young dogs a better chance of getting out to their sheep. Lark started out a little tight but by the time she had crossed the second terrace she had kicked out nicely and it looked like she was on track to do a nice outrun. But then she hit the last terrace, saw her sheep and headed straight for them from the side. I stopped her and gave a redirect and she kicked back out and around (certainly an improvement over Friday's cross over) and started her fetch. I gave her a few redirects at the beginning but then decided to shut up and let her work. She did an excellent job of correcting the line herself all the way down, which is something I really like in a dog. Our drive away was pretty wobbly, but we made the panel (and a really wide turn) and our cross drive was as wobbly as the drive away. Lark stuck a couple of times, not wanting to get up when asked. I think this is just a confidence issue as this was a longer drive than she'd ever done. We missed the cross drive panels high (thanks to the sticking), had another wide turn and took a little while to get the sheep back on line to the pen. She worked the pen beautifully. We had the misfortune of getting one of those sheep who wasn't inclined to pen, and I was slow to flank Lark to catch her when she first bolted. The sheep circled the pen and I sent Lark on a wide flank. She positively flew around, well out, and caught them on the heads before they had a chance to start the endless circling thing that had been the bane of so many over the weekend. On our second attempt we had a successful pen. Our score was quite low, but I was still happy with Lark's work. I think she had a few brilliant moments and I can see where we need more work. (Amanda is tough on where the dog lands on its outrun and likes straight lines and tight turns, so we were sunk in that deparment, but some of the natural stuff Lark did on the fetch and at the pen was absolutely lovely.)

Then came the pro-novice class. I ran second with Lark and I have to say that I found the P/N course to be way harder than the nursery course. The sheep wanted to run, they were heavy to the set out and the exhaust, both of which were on the same side of the field, and they were just plain tired and cranky. Because it was a shorter course, there was less time to correct things if anything went wrong. The drive away was the same as the drive away for ranch and nursery, with a turn back into the field (and toward the draw) before heading to the pen. We missed the fetch, made the drive panel (not in any sort of pretty manner) and then had a race to catch them after the turn. All in all, it was pretty ugly, except for the pen, and our score reflected that. Afterward, I thought she would have had a better go in ranch, but she's young and has trialed just a few times and I didn't want to make an irrevocable decision to move her up. That's why I decided to run her in nursery at this trial and the last one we went to. Just trying to decide if she's ready to move up without overfacing her. I still haven't decided but will probably wait till the fall to do so.

I also ran Pip in P/N. He actually did a fairly decent outrun, though he slowed a bit as he neared the set out person. He then refused to flank far enough around to their heads to bring them back online on the fetch. He's at a stage where I have to lie him down before asking for a flank or he won't flank at all. But when he'd lie down, the sheep just used the opportunity to take off for the exhaust, so it was something of a Catch-22. I let him stay on his feet mostly and just accepted the way offline fetch. By the time he turned them just at the exhaust area the set up was ripe for a grip (something Pip is quite happy to do), but he kept his cool and brought the sheep on to me. We made the turn and got out to the drive panels with a very zig zaggy line, but he was happy to do that big flank and catch them for the return leg so that our turn was better than expected. He did a great job at the pen, holding the one who didn't want to go in, squaring off on his flanks and getting up slowly when asked. Again, while the bulk of the run wasn't pretty, there were some nice things too.

Laura had entered Nick in N/N but then decided to move him up to P/N once she got to the trial on Sunday. They were the last run of the day. Laura elected to not take a stick out on the field with her as Nick can be a bit sensitive about it. Nick did a gorgeous outrun and lift. The fetch was a little wobbly, but once Laura realized Nick was doing the job well and decided to leave him alone to work, he brought them smartly (he's very much like his mama there and will probably be able to easily do silent gathers). Their drive was also a bit wobbly, but they made the panel, had a decent turn, and a good line back to the pen. Laura had a set of sheep with one who knew she could take advantage and had obviously learned she could circle the pen. Three would go in and the fourth would turn at the last second and scoot up the side of the pen. Laura might have been able to save it had she proactively flanked Nick away while the ewe still appeared to be looking at the pen instead of waiting till she started to move, but that's one of those things that comes with experience. In the end, they were unable to get their pen, but Nick was obedient and careful and did all the right things for Laura. I know she had to be proud, given that this was just their second trial together and their first P/N run ever. To add icing on the cake, Amanda came out of the judge's box to tell Laura how nice her dog was!

So it was a pretty good weekend overall. I didn't have great expectations for my youngsters, but they had their bright moments and they certainly weren't alone in the problems they had. Kat gave me several great runs. Twist was just unhappy and bored. I talked with Bill and Betty Reed about finding a dog similarly bred to Kat (apparently not likely, given that most of Bill's dogs from those lines are dead, and many went to farmers who didn't breed, so the line just wasn't carried on, except in a very few dogs). Several folks put their heads together, though, and we came up with a plan, as there is at least one dog out there who is distantly related to Kat through the full brother of the dog Bill considered his best dog ever, who was Kat's grandsire. Kat's not getting any younger, and her next heat will basically be my last chance to get a pup out of her. But now I have a group of friends working with me to help me make it happen, so we'll see.

Now I have to gear up to head out to Florida for work this weekend. I had hoped to go to Steve Godfrey's novice trial to get the youngsters out again, and Tony might actually take Pip and run him for the fun of it, while I schmooze with our top clients in sunny Florida (bleh). Laura will be farmsitting, so at least I can go with the knowledge that all my critters will be in good hands!


Robin French said...

Great write up! And congrats on Kat. She looked great this weekend.

Julie said...

Thanks Robin. She's the only one I had that looked good, so at least the weekend wasn't a total bust.

Congrats to you too on your lovely run with Zac on Sunday. Maybe we both can do a repeat next year, but do it on both days!

Rachel said...

What a great description of your dogs runs for the weekend. Congrats to you and Kat for second on Saturday!!!


Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

To someone unlearned in working sheepdogs, there was a lot of jargon I didn't know; it's plain that there is a lot more to it than just instinct on the dog's part!

carson-crazies said...

Thank you Julie! We had a ball, and Nick & I both are quite pleased with ourselves. It was great to watch you and Robin this weekend - I just hate I wasn't there to watch you run Kat on Saturday!

No worries this weekend - we're all going to have a ball, and I'll take good care of everything.