Monday, August 25, 2008

An Exceptional Weekend at the Breezy Hill SDT

Let's just start by saying that it was a successful weekend from an extended dog family viewpoint (Twist, Twist/Sonny pups, and close relatives). Sonny is Roy Johnson's open cattle dog (he also works sheep, but Roy doesn't trial on sheep often) who won the USBCHA National Cattle Finals in 2007 and placed in the top 10 at the finals this past year. I'm sorry I don't have any photos to share, but Becca came up on Saturday and took some video, so when she gets the videos posted on YouTube, I'll put a link here.

First I'll explain the course to give you an idea what it's like. If you're standing out the post, the exhaust is behind you and to your right in an old barn. Off to the right in front of the barn area are two ponds. At the far corner of the field, also to the handler's right is the set out area. The field is set up for a left hand drive. Normally the sheep aren't too bad to fetch up the field (that is, if they didn't bolt to the set out at the lift), but once you turn the post to make the left-hand drive, the sheep lean really hard to the right (in the direction of the draw to the set out), so that you're forced to keep your dog way over to the right as well to try to make the drive panels. As soon as the sheep hit those panels, whether they make or miss, they generally high tail it for the set out. In the meantime, the dog, who was all the way over on their right, has to do a huge, fast flank to the left (so as not to cross the course) to catch the sheep and get them back online for the cross drive. The sheep will lull you into thinking they're on line on the cross drive (when they're not running 90 miles an hour, which happens often enough, and it's near impossible to hit drive panels with running sheep) and often will jog to the left or right at the last second, causing a miss high or low. It's crucial that the dog once again do a fast left flank because once the sheep make or miss those panels, their inclination is to bolt across the ditch that runs behind them and then swing around onto the other side of the ponds. On bad runs, it's not unusual for sheep to go in the pond. They can be gotten back across the dam between the two ponds, but it's not for the faint of heart and takes a steady dog, so the usual result when the sheep end up over there is a retire for the handler-dog team. So coming up the side of the field on the handler's side of the pond from the cross drive panels, the sheep have to be brought through a chute--if they pass the plane that passes through the exit of the chute, you've missed the obstacle and have to move on to the pen. There's not much space between the chute and the edges of the ponds, and of course there's a very strong draw at that point to the barn up above the ponds where the exhaust is. What this means is that if the sheep try to run hard for the exhaust, the dog doesn't have much room (because of the ponds) to get out and around to stop them before they pass the chute completely. The pen is the last thing to be done on the open ranch course. For open, since we were running four sheep, the handler-dog team also had to do a split, taking the last two sheep on the head. Penning Roy's sheep is famously difficult, and this weekend was no exception. Given the penning problems that were the downfall of many teams, there weren't many opportunities to attempt a shed in the open class.

My first dog to run for the weekend was Larky, who made her debut in the open ranch class on the big field. Her outrun, lift, and fetch were very nice on both days, and the drive away went pretty well too. One wrong flank (I gave the correct flank; Lark took the wrong one) on Roy's sheep on the drive away on the open field can be fatal, and on Sunday it cost us the win, but Larky did a great job of catching runaway sheep on the crossdrive, getting them back under control, and successfully negotiating the chute and the pen (and anyone who knows Roy's sheep knows that pens are not easy to come by). In fact Lark's speed and ability to stop on a dime at the pen on Sunday were thrilling, and it was thanks to her quick responses that we were able to successfully pen at all. I think there were only four scores Sunday out of 12 or 13 dogs, if that gives you any idea about how pissy the sheep had become by then (the open dogs didn't fare much better, with lots of retires). We ended up placing second both days, and our combined score for the weekend clinched the open ranch championship. Way to go "Needle Nose"!

I chose not to run Pip and Phoebe in pro-novice on the small field. I think they would have handled it fine, but I don't have unlimited funds for trial entries and so decided my entry money would be better spent stretching them out on the big field in the nursery class. It wasn't an official USBCHA-sanctioned nursery class because we didn't have the requisite minimun entry of five dogs, but Roy and Debbie were kind enough to go ahead and let us run the class so we could get mileage on a bigger course and tougher sheep for the youngsters. According to USBCHA rules, you can run a young dog in nursery and any other class, so what running in nursery allowed me to do was get my youngsters on the ranch course without having to commit to moving them up to ranch (that is, they can still run one level down from ranch, at the pro-novice level, which really is more appropriate for them right now). The nursery field consisted of the three littermates Phoebe, Pip, and Nick, all of whom turned two on July 14 and so are eligible to run nursery for the 2008-2009 trial season.

On Saturday, Pip ran first. He did a lovely outrun, but the sheep were being held on grain and they had their heads buried and were facing away from him when he came up for the lift. They didn't notice he was there until he was right on top of them, at which point they exploded and raced for the set out at a dead run. He couldn't catch them before they made it back to the set out, and the chaos that ensued there (with extra dogs and sheep running here and there) left him a little rattled. I ran down the field to help him and we got the sheep off the setout and I had him drive them back up the field to the exhaust, so we were at least able to turn it into a positive experience.

Laura and Nick ran second and he had a beautiful outrun, lift, and fetch. The drive was a bit rough (not Nick's fault--the sheep were just tough to get around the course in general), and I don't think they made any of their drive panels (but they didn't lose their sheep either), and they got their pen nicely for a final score of 71 and the win.

Phoebe ran last and also had a nice outrun, lift, and fetch. She was ignoring my lie downs and steady commands, but kept things under control nicely so that it wasn't a disaster that she wasn't being very obedient at that points. We actually hit the drive away panels, but the sheep got way offline when I asked her for that hard, fast swing to the left to catch the sheep and get them back online for the cross drive. She also worked well at the pen, and our score of 68 left us in second place.

Sunday's nursery runs presented a kind of reversal of fortunes for the pups. Phoebe ran first, and her outrun started out nicely, but she came in flat on top and pushed the sheep off sideways toward the set out , which could have been a fatal mistake as the sheep would certainly use any excuse to bolt back to the set out anyway. Fortunately, she then flanked quickly and covered nicely, caught them before they got too far, and managed to get them back on line for the fetch. It went downhill from there because Miss Pheebs was like a runaway freight train--probably because of all the excitement she had caused at the lift. Lie down or even slow down had become some sort of foreign language to her (and this from the dog who used to turn completely sideways off sheep if asked to stop--my how time and maturity can change things!). Even so, I was able to keep it under control (barely) to get the drive away, and she even took that hard flank to catch them on the escape and make the turn for the cross drive. At that point, she was pushing the heck out of them and ignoring me completely. We missed the cross drive panels low (in other words, toward the pond), at which point, one of the sheep split off (absolutely the result of Phoebe's extreme pushiness and complete lack of pace (feel my sheep? what's that?) and went up on the edge of the pond. At that point I decided to cut my losses and leave the post and make an impression on Miss Freight Train before se sent one or more sheep swimming. In retrospect I probably should have left the post and insisted she listen long before that, instead of attempting to handle through it, but in the end it was okay. I did let her drive the sheep up toward the exhaust after we had retired, but darn if the little dear didn't push as hard or harder then as she did around the course. It's clear what we need to work on with ol' Phoebe Jeebies Short Pants....

Laura said she was going to send Nick right or his Sunday nursery go to see if that would help cover the draw to the set out. Sending right actually makes sense on this field (because of the draw), but few handlers ever do it, largely I think because of a ditch that runs along that side of the field and the fact that the set out is pretty prominent on that side at the end of the field and a wide or deep running dog could get caught up there if it noticed the sheep in the set out pens before seeing the sheep on the field. At the last moment decided to send him left as she had done the day before. Nick also ran out nice but also came in flat (like Phoebe) and pushed the sheep off toward the set out. Unfortunately, they outran him back there, and Laura left the post to run down the field and go help him out. When she got there, he scooped the sheep off the set out very nicely and they wore them back up the field. Afterward the judge told her she had done the exact right thing to make sure that he maintained his confidence.

Then came Pip. I thought about sending him right, but was concerned with all that went on at the set out yesterday that he might be drawn there, but then figured that I had intended for these runs to be basically training runs anyway, and so why not try it. The worst that could happen was a wreck like Saturday's, with me running down the field to try and salvage something out of it. I certainly didn't have to worry about him stumbling over the ditch by runnign wide (it's in their genetics to do so, since their mother Twist is quite a wide runner), because he ran pretty tight most of the way out, finally kicking out and around about 3/4 of the way down the field. He had a nice easy lift and brought them fairly on line. At least he was taking my flanks to get them back online, which in the past he has refused to do. Still, I'd like to see him bring them straight to me naturally--I know he should have it in him (maybe it's just hiding), because his mom is very capable of silent gathers, and his sis Phoebe and cousin Lark also seem to have inherited that nice natural ability. We made the drive away, with Pip holding the pressure to the right quite nicely. We even made the panels, and he took that nice hard flank and caught them before they got too far offline on the cross drive. There's something about the pressure there just before the cross drive panels, though, as all my young dogs hesitated on their flanks there, with the result being a missed panel every time. We got our pen fairly easily, for a final score of 74. So he managed to redeem himself after Saturday's fiasco.

So it seems that the nursery runs from one day to the next were about reversals of fortune. But I think all the youngsters learned something, and I think both Laura and I saw where holes exist and need working on. I was quite pleased with all three of my youngsters for getting out there on the big field with the tough sheep and pretty much holding their own. That doesn't mean we won't have disastrous runs in the future, but especially in Pip's case, the runs this weekend were a tremendous improvement. In our two or three outings last fall in pro-novice, practically every run ended with Pip latched on to a sheep, riding it into the sunset. Maturity has done him some good, and even with all the pressure these youngsters faced on that field and those sheep, he kept his head and worked well. Phoebe, despite the freight train behavior, also pleased me. Given how off her game she was for the eight weeks after her heat in April, I was nearly ready to give up on her. But again she showed me that she can do the job an do it well, if we can just get past that little "I can't hear you" thing.... And as for Lark, her issue is taking wrong flanks, and although she's gotten better, it's where we still need to improve. But she worked well, showed she could do a pretty decent silent gather and hold her own against sheep that wanted to run and were very tough to pen. She's just two and a half, but I think she'll be able to take on an open course before long.

In the open class on Saturday, Twist and I placed 4th with a score of 83 (out of 110). The course was the same 8 minutes we had for the ranch class, but we had to negotiate the chute, get our pen, and then bring the sheep back out and get a split, taking the last two sheep on the heads. If Roy's sheep are famous for being hard to pen, they are equally famous for being hard to shed. Twist had a really nice run on Saturday, but we ate up a ton of time at the pen (the pen became the make-or-break obstacle as some individual sheep just weren't going in there no matter what, meaning the team never had a chance for a shed). Twist and I had a very difficult-to-pen group that managed to break past us on several occasions, which doesn't bode well for a succesful pen, because once the sheep manage to beat you the first time, they will try harder the next time. After much difficulty, we finally got them in, and I had about 6 inches to go getting the gate shut when time was called, so I didn't get my pen points. To be honest I was pleased with Twist anyway. She hasn't trialed or worked much since April because of an intermittent hind leg lameness problem and so I was sure being out of shape and it being somewhat hot that she'd give out with all the circling at the pen, but she hung in there, which confirmed to me that the issues we were having this past spring were probably because she was in pain.

Kat ran toward the end of the class. She is also rusty as she's been worked less than Twist (I've been spending my time with the youngsters when I could, given the summer heat and humidity), and it showed. Nothing was real bad about the run, but it was just a bit raggedy. She's on a different set of whistles than everyone else, and so some of the raggedyness can be attributed to my own timing as I had to think about the whistles as well. That's my own fault for not working her more. She's fast and a bit pushy and tends to unsettle her sheep, and it cost us at places like the chute, pen, and shed. Still she managed a score of 80 for 6th place.

On Sunday, Kat had a better run, and although we missed the chute, we managed to pen fairly quickly, and had nearly two minutes going into the shedding ring. Kat is not a great shedding dog, so I have to be able to set things up well for us to be successful at the shed. Unfortunately on Sunday, I couldn't get her in close enough to the sheep to attempt a shed--if I moved her up at all, the sheep would fold around me, and I just couldn't get them to give me any space (that is, they were clinging to me) so that I could try to get them lined out and try to call Kat through. Even so, we ended up in 4th for the day.

Twist's run on Sunday was something to behold. It's the kind of run I used to have pretty regularly with her, where I could just "sit back" and give the occasional flank whistle and let her do the rest and do it beautifully. She had a lovely silent gather, and I didn't have to say anything to her until after she had made the fetch panels. I was so busy admiring the work that I didn't notice as quickly as a should that they were drifiting just a bit and so I was slow to ask her over to put them back on line. We lost two points on the fetch. Her drive was dead on. She held the pressure on the drive away, making the necessary small adjustments without having to give too much ground to the sheep, which set her up nicely to make a pretty tight turn to the cross drive, where she held a nice straight line. The sheep did the usual "wiggle" as they got close to the panel, but Twist read them well and kept them in the middle. Then I stepped in and very nearly messed things up by flanking her just a hiar too soon for the turn back toward the chute. Quick thinking on my part and an equally quick reaction and flank back to the right on Twist's part prevented a pull through and produced the tightest turn you could get, the sheep just skimming down the back side of the panel. We negotiated the chute with the smallest of hesitiations from the sheep and then managed a pen with little effort. Things were just flowing out there. Twist is a great shedding dog and I knew if I gave her half a chance she'd manage it. We went into the shedding ring with 1:45 left on the clock and got our shed within 20 seconds or so. Our final score was 107 out of 110 (the remaining point we lost came off the drive) for the win. The next nearest score was Twist's dam Quest, with an 88 for second place. They had one individualist at the pen who gave them quite a hard time, with the result that although they finally managed to pen, they ran out of time before getting a chance to shed. (I did say this was a family affair, didn't I?)

Twist's combined scores from her two open runs gave her to overall championship for open. The reserve champion went to Tom Forrester's Pete, who placed second on Saturday with a really nice run, but who were caught on Sunday by sheep that absolutely would not pen, with the result that they ended up in 5th for the day. Pete is Twist's half brother (they share a sire, Bud) and is Lark's grandsire on her dam's side.

So I have to say it was a great weekend for me and my dogs (and some of their relatives). To top that off, Laura and her Twist pup Nick had a stellar weekend in pro-novice. This was Laura's third trial with Nick and her second in pro-novice and they won the class on Saturday and tied for first on Sunday, but lost the run off to place second. Their combined overall score had them overall pro-novice champions for the weekend. I've already described their nursery runs. Laura and Nick remind me very much of me and Twist when we were starting out. They're a great match and should go far.

In trial results for friends and other doggy relatives, Mary Luper ran her young dog Roxy in N/N. They retired on Saturday, but placed 6th (with a completed run) on Sunday. Mary also ran Ben in P/N both days. They timed out at the pen on Saturday and didn't have a placing run, but on Sunday she placed 6th.

Tony Luper and Blurr were third in ranch on Saturday and retired on Sunday. Tony and his open dog Maid had a really nice run on Saturday to score an 87 and place third. Maid was unlucky enough to get one of those non-penning sets of sheep on Sunday, and they ended up timing out without penning. Maid also ripped a paw pad completely off while trying to pen.

Lark's mother Scout placed in the pro-novice class on Sunday, as did her littermate brother Blue. I don't remember exactly who got what, but I think they were 4th and 5th. Lark's sire Dutch ran in the ranch class. He had some tough sheep both days, but gave a good go even so.

As I was sitting here writing up this trial report with the window open to catch the night breeze, I heard Maia and the neighbor's LGD both start barking. Then I heard a series of yips and "screams" (for lack of a better description). It happened twice and I went to get Jimmy to have him listen. By the time we got outside, Maia had gone silent, as had whatever was making that noise. I came back in and started typing again, and again Maia started barking and I could hear the yipping/squealing. I jumped up again to call Jimmy and he said it sounded like young coyotes to him. He drove back to the back of the property, but didn't see anything. One of my Rhode Island Reds went missing this past weekend, and Jimmy said he'd seen a large hawk around, but there aren't even any feathers lying around (in my experience, hawk attacks on chickens generally result in the loss of feathers that can then be found at the site of the attack). Of course. there's been a black lab coming down the driveway the past couple of days as well, and the RIRs range out in both the fenced and unfenced pastures, so really anything could have gotten her.

Reading Corner
A couple of weeks ago I finished the book Gossip of the Starlings by North Carolina author Nina di Gramont. I had gone to the library to pay an overdue fine and saw this book in among the new books and thought it might be interesting. When I got it home and started reading it, something about it seemed familiar, and then it dawned on me that I had heard about the book on NPR's "The State of Things," probably a month or so earlier when I was in the van on my way to Mary's house to let her dogs out for her. I enjoyed the book, although the priveleged teenage lifestyle it depicted was completely foreign to my own experience. I had to wonder if the author wrote from experience, but since I didn't hear the whole of the discussion with her on NPR, I don't know.

For a major change of pace, I am now reading The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan. This is the story of the events that led up to the dust bowl and of the people who lived through it. So far it's a pretty fascinating read, and as you read you can't help but wonder how no one could see what was happening and move to prevent it. The fact was that any number of folks did predict that tearing up the prairie would ultimately cause a disaster, but no one was listening, and when the depression hit, it was too late to try to undo the damage. I'm just about halfway through the book, and the author's method of telling the stories of individuals and their families (including their backgrounds--Russian imigrants of German descent, Jews, Irish--and their reasons for settling there) is absolutely spellbinding. There's a lot to be learned from this story, and I hope that some are paying attention.

In other book news, I really, really needed a calendar that I could fit in my purse and keep track of all that's going on this fall (usually my steel-trap mind suffices, but when it gets busy I get worried Ill forget something). So where did I go to find a calendar that would finish out this year and include next year? You guessed it, the book store! There's a reason I try to stay away from such places. I am a book addict. There, I said it. Given the rising cost of everything, I have made a real effort to use my local library a lot more and avoid book stores for the inevitability of my buying books if I enter one. So I went and got myself a $10 calendar and spent nearly ten times that much on books. At least I had restraint, getting a number of them from the "publisher's overstock discount table," but then further compounding my mistake of even walking in the door, I happened by the staff favorites and new in hard cover sections and, um, snagged just a few more (well, in my defense, they were 20 percent off!). So on my reading list for the next few months are the following books:
  • Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex, about the life of Leonardo da Vinci during his years at the court in Milan
  • The View from the Center of the Universe by Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams, about our relationship with to the cosmos
  • The Judgment of Paris by Ross King, about "the revolutionary decade that gave the world Impressionism"
  • The Forger's Spell by Edward Dolnick, which is the story of Vermeer and the painter who forged his works, nearly succeeding in his plan to sell them to NaziHermann Goering as real Vermeers
  • John Adams, by David McCullough
  • Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators by William Stolzenburg, which looks at the unforseen ecological consequences that have resulted from the eradication of predators.

And then my sister Jean also sent me a few books when she kindly sent me more of her homemade folks, so I also have to add to my reading list:

  • The Family that Couldn't Sleep by D.T. Max--this is another one I heard about some time ago on NPR and thought would be an interesting read. It's a look at mysteries of prions, centered around a Venetian family who have suffered from a progressive insomnia that eventually kills family members and has done so for more than 200 years.
  • Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, which tells the real story behind the voyage of the Mayflower
  • Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt, which attempts to tell the story of the making of William Shakespeare. I actually own this book and started it a couple of years ago, but couldn't get into it at the time. I may try again as sometimes a book I'm slow to start at one time sucks me right in at another.

I already have a stack of books from Jean I'm working through, including the one I'm reading right now, so I really didn't need to go out and buy more, but I think that's the nature of the avid reader. Sometimes one just can't help oneself. At least it's a relatively harmless addiction....


Robin French said...

You guys really did have a great weekend, congrats! Love the reading list - you need to toss some of those finished books my way. Long evenings are coming and i have a terrible time getting out and picking up good reads. And the TV turns my brain to mush!

~~Sittin.n.Spinnin said...

Holly smokes girl! You need to post more often, I dont have time to read all of it! ;-)

Rachel said...

Great job this past weekend!!! Hopefully I'll see you sometime soon...we plan to come to the Fiber Festival so let me know when the dog demos are so we can come watch.

carson-crazies said...

You guys totally ROCKED this weekend!! Way to go! Twists Open run on Sunday gave me goosebumps.