Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Time Sure Does Fly

Okay, although it may seem as if I've dropped off the face of Earth, I haven't really. I've just been very busy with one thing after another. Probably one of the last times I posted I mentioned getting ready to go to a cattle trial. Well, we did that. The calves were smaller than usual, maybe around 500 pounds, because Roy and Debbie had to sell off much of their older stock due to hay and grain prices. Although I didn't have any real successful runs (well, that depends on how you define success), we all had a great time. I ran Twist just once, because of her intermittent lameness, and threw Pip out there in her place for the other three runs. I give Pip credit for improving with each run, but he's really not anywhere near ready for a full open course (having to that point never gotten all the way around a pro-novice course), let alone given the fact that he's seen cattle just once. Lark performed admirably. She really seemed to enjoy working the calves. She had no problems hitting noses (something she's not very inclined to do with sheep) when the calves tried to run over her to get to the barn. She showed me that she could handle a full open course, even while working stock with which she was largely unfamiliar. Phoebe even got a turn at the end of the trial, although for her it was more about reverting back to her alligator youth than showing what she could do on an open course. Still it was a great weekend and I got to see a bunch of folks I haven't seen in ages. I haven't been to a trial since early December, so it was nice to see old friends and catch up.

A week later, Tony Luper and I headed out to Elizabeth City, NC, for the Dixie Meadows Sheepdog Trial at Carol Calhoun's farm. This is where I started out with my first dogs, and where Twist had her start too. So it was sort of like going home. I've gotten used to the rolling hills in this part of the state, and you sort of forget the flatness in the east--with fields crossed by drainage ditches to help water run off. People who haven't seen agricultural practices in that part of the state often wonder about the ditches, but it makes more sense if you remember that a lot of that area used to be the Great Dismal Swamp. The water table lies very close to the surface. Any rain and water is pooling above ground. That's not the best situation for plants like cotton, tobacco, and peanuts, so all the fields are crossed by drainage ditches. It's what gives the countryside some variation (since otherwise it's just plain flat).

Anyway, we stayed with my former housemate Jake, who lives about 3 miles from the trial field. I had just entered my young dogs, largely because with gas and grocery prices going up I don't have as much money to spare for the fun pursuits like trialing, and since I have no plans to go to the National Finals in Sturgis, it seemed to make more sense to put mileage on the youngsters. Carol had contacted me, though, to see if I'd set sheep for the classes in which I wasn't entered and in exchange she'd give me the entries for my open dogs. So I ended up running Phoebe, Pip, and Lark in pro-novice, Lark in nursery, and Twist and Kat in open, though I was still wavering over Twist because of the lameness problem.

It turned out to be a great trial weekend for us (well, excepting Phoebe). Pip refused to lie down on the fetch the first day, but we still made it around the course. On Sunday he had a great run--I mean he was listening for once! We made it around the course very nicely (and this is a vast change from the dog who usually would last be seen heading over the hill latched on to the backside of a sheep....) and in fact tied for 4th place with a score of 70 (out of 80 possible). I should also add that Pip started out his first trials being a bit concerned about the set out person and so he would slow down and become hesitant as he went around behind his sheep. If any "action" was going on up there, it just made things worse. So Tony was setting the sheep with Blurr and when Pip got there and tried to lift the sheep and bring them down, Blurr decided she wasn't letting them go. In the past this would have confused Pip mightily and the rest of the run would have been a disaster after his mind was blown by the situation at the top. In fact, the judge offered me a re-run, but I saw that Pip was handling the situation with equanimity and decided to continue on.

The other two 70s were Pam Gardner with Rom and me with Lark and the final breakdown was Rom in 4th, Lark in 5th, and Pip in 6th. I couldn't have been prouder of the big lug!

Then there was Phoebe. Oh Phoebe! None of my other bitches has ever given me a problem when in heat, so I'm not used to having to deal with issues at that time. Phoebe, however, is one of those bitches that has issues when she's in heat. Her outrun, lift, and fetch were fine, but apparently hormones somehow made driving impossible. So impossible that any attempt made to drive the sheep toward the panel got her so confused that she spun around, tried to come back to me at the post, and just in general acted like a complete moron. It's a good thing my ego isn't all wrapped up in how well my dogs do on the trial field, because her Saturday run was one for the record books, and not in a good way. I just had to give up and retire her and have a good laugh at our expense. On Sunday she looked a lot better and I got my hopes up. We even made the drive most of the way to the drive panels before her "hormone effect" kicked in and she whirled around and started to bring the sheep back to me. I actually got her and the sheep turned back around for a second attempt at the panels, and she pulled the same stunt. Deciding to cut my losses after that second attempt, I headed for the pen. But wait, Phoebe wasn't done! It wasn't possible to bring the sheep toward me at the pen ( a most basic fetch). Instead she was going to let them go way off line to somewhere back behind the pen. When I insisted that she come around to their heads to turn them, she decided that diving in was the better option. The sheep scatterd and bolted toward the exhaust, with Phoebe in hot pursuit (shades of Pip in a previous life!). At that point all I could do was stop her and call her off the field, once again shamed by my hormonal adolescent....

Things went well for Lark both days. She was pushier than normal, which made for less perfect lines, but she still managed to place 2nd on Sat. and 5th on Sunday. Better than that, she won both rounds of the nursery class. Since nursery is generally the open course without a shed (i.e., the open ranch course), I'm getting the feedback I need to make the decision about whether to move her up to ranch rather than leaving her in P/N a little while longer. She's been to only maybe five or six trials, so I don't want to rush things, but I also want to keep her moving on a steady track toward open.

Then came open. It wasn't a large class, but there were some good competitors there. In the first go, Twist wasn't quite on her game (a result of the lameness issue I think), which set the tone for the entire course. We made it around the drive, but then had to put the sheep through a chute and then to the pen before bringing them back out to take a single. As I was trying to set the sheep up to go through the chute in a nice line, Twist decided we were shedding and came flying through on the last sheep (well, at least she was doing it right!), but unfortunately that action boogered the sheep pretty badly and it took us a while to get things back together with the sheep settled enough to go through the chute (some of that was time spent getting Twist to get around on her flanks--the slowness no doubt due to discomfort). Anyway, we did eventually get them through the chute and got to the pen and penned them, but ran out of time before we had a chance to do the shed and so didn't place.

Kat, on the other hand, was a little superstar, with a gorgeous run all the way around (after two re-runs for problems with the set out, the third go was definitely a charm!). I don't consider Kat my best dog, and she's not a good shedding dog at all. In fact, I can probably lay the blame for any lack of competitiveness we have squarely on Kat's weak shed. But I can't blame her entirely, since I haven't spent any time trying to fix it either. So I was pretty lucky that my three sheep didn't want to clump together after we got them back out of the pen. Kat's quickness does tend to unsettle sheep, and as a result they often cling together, which makes shedding a much tougher job, especially for a dog who doesn't shed well in the first place. So I had one sheep that kept popping off the back and turning to go back toward the set out. But in order to get full points for the shed, I had to call Kat in on the sheep's head and not on its butt as it was turning away. So I spent some time working the sheep around trying to get that one sheep to stay facing in the right direction so I could call Kat through properly (all the time thinking it probably wasn't going to happen anyway). I finally got things settled and just so, and called her through, and lo and behold! she came right through! We won the class with a score of 102, having lost just 8 points on the entire run.

On Sunday, the competition was stiff. Kat put down another great run but lost enough points to leave it wide open at the top. Tony and Ben had run before us and had a winning run going until the pressure got to great in the shedding ring and Ben was DQed for a grip. Then the second-place team from Saturday, Richard Brewer and Floss, went to the post and laid down an awesome run. It was definitely the better run over Kat's, but I had to wait to see how much better because the scores weren't posted right away. At stake was the overall championship for the weekend (determined by combining the scores from both days). I had beaten Dick by just six points on Saturday and after seeing his run on Sunday, I knew it would be close. In the meantime, I had been debating running Twist or just letting her rest (the lameness thing) but in the end decided to run her. We had a much nicer go until the shedding ring. We were a little short on time because Twist had walked the sheep around the drive and so I wasn't careful setting up the shed. When I called her in, she turned on the WRONG SHEEP! This is something she never does! With less than 30 seconds remaining on the clock, we had no time to regather and try again, so that was it. We still had a good enough score for 6th. Finally Dick's score was posted and he had won the class. But he had beat me by just four points, so the overall championship went to Kat--by just two points!

So it was a great weekend for everyone--if you just ignore Phoebe's, um, accomplishments!

Last week, I took Twist to the vet on Wednesday (that's a whole 'nother saga) and Tom came down and Thursday and stayed through Friday to shear Paige's, Joy's, my and Tony and Mary's flocks. And Mary and I went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, where we showed my two karakul yearling ewes. But since this has already gotten long, I'll post more on that later....

Did I say we've been busy around here?

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