(Photo by Dan King)
Thanks to unemployment, I haven't been trialing much this year. Dr. Ben's trial is only the second trial we've attended in 2010, and the first one, Sherry Smith's up in Church Hill, MD, we ran in because we were there setting sheep. But despite the fact that we haven't been trialing much (or maybe as a result of it), we had a pretty good showing this past Memorial Day weekend.
I was asked why I wasn't running Kat: Don't worry, Kat is by no means retired. It just so happens that Pip got moved up to second open dog when Kat injured herself right before Edgeworth, and as I already have some points on both him and Twist, it made more sense to run them and try to get more points. I doubt I'll get enough to make the finals this year, but fate just has a way of doing that to a person sometimes.
Dr. Ben's field is terraced, which can be tricky for young, inexperienced dogs (and even some seasoned dogs). The right side is even steeper than the left, so on hot, humid days like we had this past weekend it made more sense to send dogs to the left to help them conserve energy in the heat. Unfortunately for me and Pip, this caused some problems.
On Saturday I walked out on the field before the sheep from the previous run were exhausted--or should I say Pip ran out on the field ahead of me and unfortunately locked on those sheep. I could tell by his body language before I ever sent him that he was going to try to go to the exhaust. However, the exhaust is well covered and is on the way (in a roundabout way) to the top, so I went ahead and sent him left. Sure enough, he kicked over toward the exhaust, but as soon as he realized no sheep were there, he continued on around and made it to the top and lifted his sheep nicely and brought them on down the field. His shenanigans on the outrun cost him three points.
The rest of the run was pretty nice, lines pretty good, panels made, shed completed, and pen made with a few seconds to spare. We ended up with a score of 82, which landed us in 13th place at the end of the day. The high score of the day was a 90 (Mark Billadeau and Peg).
Twist ran later in the day, around mid-afternoon. I was sure she'd give out on me about the time we got to the shedding ring, since she really isn't as fit as she should be. The sheep bolted to their left before Twist even made it around ot the top, and I was afraid I'd have trouble because the set out dog was moving too, and Twist has done enough set out that she tends to defer to the dog already working. But the set out person stoppped her dog and Twist flanked on around and got her sheep and brought them down the field nicely. The fetch and drive went really well, until we got to the cross drive panels and I realized too late that we were a little too high. That miss cost us at least 4 points and dropped us to 14th for the day, still in the money though.
I was most pleased with Twist's attitude. Over the fall and winter she had seemed rather sour at events like the international shedding clinic with Tommy Wilson. But this past weekend she seemed much like her old self, which made me very happy. Especially given how hot it was, as she would have had every reason to give out on me.
On Sunday, Twist ran first and we had a decent run. I didn't blow a whistle to her until she was at the fetch panels. We lost 5 points on the fetch, but I was quite pleased with her mostly silent gather. Her fetch might not have had "millimeter tolerance" on the center line, but she kept a pretty straight line and did all the correcting of the line herself--something I think is a valuable trait to have in a working dog. Her packet of sheep tended to be a bit herky jerky, very reactive to the least little movement on her part. That's unusual, as generally she can settle sheep. It made for a lack of smoothness throughout the entire run, and especially in the shedding ring where the sheep refused to really settle.
On the drive away, she resisted my attempts to flank her to the right (the sheep were quite heavy to the left toward the exhaust). After seven years of trialing this dog you'd think I'd have learned by now that pretty much most of the time if I head them toward panels, Twist will take them through. Oh, and as if just to spite me, at one point she stopped, gave a sniff, and squatted and lifted her leg, as if to say, "This is what I think of all this." That was a first! (What was that I said about an improved attitude? lol!) But back to the drive away. In this case, though, the panels were offset, with the inside panel back slightly further than the outside panel. I knew this and was watching the sheep closely and flanked Twist when I thought they had passed that inside panel. We did a nice tight turn--right in front of that darned panel. That's a mistake I haven't made in a long time!
Our cross drive was nice, as was the return leg to the shedding ring. In the ring, we were to make a split, taking the last two sheep on the head. Every time I got them lined out a little and moved Twist the least bit, the lead sheep of the back two would turn. I finally got a small gap and called Twist on through, with that same sheep turning at the exact moment I called Twist. The judge counted it as taking them on the head, thank goodness.
Then I made my "fatal" strategic mistake. In order for Twist to regather in the ring I had to send her around to the far side of the ring. This means she ended up opposite the sheep with respect to the draw to the exhaust. I actually stood there for a second when I realized that in the heat and at the end of her run Twist wasn't likely to catch them quickly if they bolted to the exhaust, especially with her being in the exact wrong place to have much chance of stopping them. In hindsight, instead of walking toward the pen as I flanked her, I should have walked back into the shedding ring and in front of the sheep and tried to hold them long enough for her to get around at least to the side of them. But I didn't, and as a result they bolted and she didn't catch them until they were almost at the exhaust. We timed out as she was bringing them back to the pen. I don't know where we ended up at the end, but I don't think we were too far out of the placings, even with all the mistakes and lost points.
Pip ran in mid-afternoon, around 3 p.m. It was good and hot by then, but he's white so I really don't think he gets as hot as the darker dogs. (See, there may just be an advantage to being mostly white!). I figured (hoped?) that on this day, having already successfully gathered the sheep off the top the day before, he'd do a nice outrun (which is what he normally does) and maybe we'd manage as good a run as the day before. As soon as we got to the post, he was looking toward the exhaust. Gah! When he looked that way, I told him "No!" and then when he turned to look back up the field, I said "Look." I've worked with him a lot at home to teach him to look for sheep in the direction I'm facing, even if he can't see them. So as he was now looking up the field, I sent him. And the little sucker immediately kicked over toward the exhaust. This time, instead of just letting him go and waste time running along the exhaust fenceline and then on up the field, I called his name twice. This is something I also do at home whenever he wants to run too wide (his mom is a wide outrunner, so I've been very conscious of trying to prevent that with him). He pulled back in, but then hit a terrace about a third of the way up the field and looked like he was headed for a cross over, so I stopped him and gave a redirect. He kicked out nicely at that point and went on around to get his sheep and lift them beautifully.
On the cross drive, one sheep turned to face him. This is where we had problems at Sherry's trial (despite him having no trouble setting sheep all weekend), so I was a little worried here, but he kept walking right in to her, and she turned, at which point he looked over at me as if to say, "See? I've got it under control." The rest of the run was clean and uneventful, and we ended up with a score of 81. Those 8 points we lost on the outrun killed us not once, but twice. First, it dropped our score from what would have been third of fourth to ninth. And second, it left us with a combined score of 163, which tied us for fourth for the double lift final, for which only the top three dogs go back. I would have loved to have tried him in the double lift.
So overall it was a successful trial. Maybe all the time we've had off has actually helped the dogs. It sure was nice to be out there again, though, even if those of us who were tent camping were nearly washed away by the torrential rains of a Friday night thunderstorm. You know, a tent seems awful flimsy when lightning is flashing all around....
I have a couple of chicken stories to tell, as well as an elaboration on my comments about unemployment above, but I'll include those in future posts. I promise to let little time lapse between this post and the next few!