Sunday, September 11, 2011

Steamboat Stock Dog Challenge; an End of Era

If you've been wondering where I've been, I've been going around and back and forth on a tractor since the 5th of July, cutting, raking and baling hay.  When we have finally finished, I'll tell you all about it but right now I want to tell you about what happened here on the ranch on Labor Day Weekend for the past eight years, the Steamboat Stock Dog Challenge.

This is last year's poster.

For nine years, Marianne Sasak, our neighbor has organized the Steamboat Stock Dog Challenge, and for the last eight years, we have hosted those trials here on our ranch.  This year was the last year for the challenge.  Marianne has worked long and hard to carry this event off but now she wishes to spend more time competing than organizing.  This is good for Marianne because she and her dog, Dot,  made the finals at last winter's National Western Stockshow.  This is sad for Steamboat, the dog trials community, and I certainly will miss looking out the window in the mornings or evenings during Labor Day Weekend and watching the dogs play and race across the meadow and visiting with people from around the world, across the nation and state or just locals from town as they either participate or view the event.

To see and hear Marianne talk about the dog trials watch this video:
To see and hear a video made by a dog handler watch this video:

Our part in the whole thing is to get the hay from the meadow, make sure there is water available for the sheep and dogs, make sure the corrals are ready to hold the sheep, provide panels and water tanks, and mingle with the crowds.   Our kids,Pat and Jan along with the grandchildren always come up for the weekend and enjoy it a lot. 

Our Border Collie
The only one who don't enjoy the weekend are our dog who is also a Border Collie.  Every year he gets to spend the weekend in our company, on the porch, or on the chain because they have a tendency to visit all the visitors or want to help the competing dogs. Border Collies need to be kept physically and mentally busy.  If this doesn't happen, they will invent their own activities which often means trouble.  Each dog has it's own personality and it's own preferences on what it like to do.  Our current dog, Fritz, doesn't get to work livestock every day; but if we don't give him enough to do, he will go out with the horses, herd the tractor, or do his self appointed job of keeping all of the barn cats in a shed.  There is a track around the shed where he spends time circling it to make sure the cats aren't escaping from the other sides.  While our old dog, Ben, loved to fetch the ball: Fritz will bring it back only once.  I guess he figures if we keep throwing it away we must not really want it and he takes it away.  Ben would never have considered coming into the living room while Fritz will not only sneak in but, if Jim is asleep,  try to sneak up into his lap.  As if Jim wouldn't notice a 50 pound dog on his lap.
Fritz thinks Jim won't notice that he slipped onto his lap.  First he places his head on Jim's lap, then one front foot, the other front foot, a hind leg, and finally the last leg.

What is a dog trial?
 A dog trial is a competition where the handler and dog work as a team to go out, bring a number of sheep, through a series of obstacles, pen the sheep. The handler must stay at a pole using only whistles and voice to direct the dog until the dog brings the sheep either to a designated circle where they are allowed to help the dog shed off a given number of sheep and  to open the pen by a rope and help get the sheep into that pen and close the gate.  The team is given a certain amount of time to complete the given tasks.  If they take longer than that amount of time, they are disqualified.  In addition, each team begins with the same number of points and the judge subtracts points for miscues and mistakes.  The final score includes both time and the points awarded by the judge.

Two riders, with their dog, brought out the sheep and hold them in place until the competing dog came between 1/8 to 1/4 mile to get control of the sheep.  (This is called setting the sheep. )

Setting the Sheep

The dog would then bring the sheep back to the handler who was waiting at the pole and take the sheep in a circle around the handler . . . in the correct direction.
Moving the sheep around the pole and handler.
The handler remained at the pole but directed the dog to take the sheep back down the field through a gate making sure they circled in the correct direction, back up the field to the pens.  The handler then left the pole to open the gate, was allowed to help the dog get the sheep into the pen, and close the gate.
Penning the sheep.   

The judges stand, a new truck provided by the local car dealer.
Upon the judges signal (a beep of the horn from the judges vehicle), the handler and dog moved the sheep from the pen and into a circle marked in the field, separated the given number of sheep from the group, and the dog had to control the separated sheep until the judge indicated that the time was up.  ( This is called shedding.)

The dogs are athletes who are as intent as any human athlete.  They travel five or six times further than the sheep to keep them in control and expend a lot of energy.

The previous dog and handler move the sheep across the bridge to the holding pens.
After each run, the dog which had just completed the competition went to the water tank or the ditch to cool off and drink.  These dogs worked hard and at top speed so they needed to cool down.  The previous competitors which had cooled down were then responsible for taking the sheep to the holding pen where the sheep had food and water. They were released to graze the field after the competition.  At night the sheep were kept in the corral across the road.  The first year, they were kept in a field behind the corral with sheep fence.  However, they were able to escape and were caught the next morning just before they escaped into the brush and timber a mile from the ranch.  The second reason is because the coyotes have gotten very bold around here and the sheep were protected from the coyotes. 

Meanwhile, spectators came to view the trials from the hill. Many brought blankets, chairs, umbrellas and picnics.

A speaker system was used for the entire duration of the trials to explain what was happening, scoring, and what the judge was looking for.

Handlers and their dogs circulated and visited with the viewers.

There were many educational opportunities for viewers including different kinds of live sheep on display, a sheep wagon, and this shearing demonstration.

Western style food was available, either with barbeque from a smoker and one year everything was prepared by dutch oven at a traditional chuckwagon.

One of the sponsors, provided bags of treats to be handed out to the views and handlers alike.  Boy scouts circulated through the crowd to hand out the bags of treats.   People were encouraged to bring their dogs as long as they were on a leash and were well behaved.  

Border Collies, Are they to dog for you?
 Many times people come to an event like this or see a movie and decided that the featured breed of animal is just what they need.  After the movie 101 Dalmatians, there was big rise in the demand for dalmatians which resulted in a big increase in dalmatians release to rescues and local animal shelters when people realized that the dog didn't fit their family, circumstances, expectations.  Just because Border Collies are smart, it doesn't mean they're for everyone. If you're interested in Border Collies check out this brief video from Animal Planet.  and/or this website about the breed, .   If you're still considering a Border Collie, I encourage you to check out this website from a Border Collie Rescue. 

Children's Books about Border Collies

  A Puppy for Annie by Kim Lewis. The story of Annie and her new Border Collie puppy. Kim Lewis lives in rural Northumberland, England with her family and dogs. Beautifully illustrated.

Tam: A Border Collie by Sharon Northrup. Follow working border collie Tam from his birth in rural Scotland through the challenges he faces with different owners. First volume in the TAM series.

Tam's Pub by Sharon Northruup
Angus and Sadie by Cynthia Voight and Tom Leigh.  Angus and Sadie’s life on a farm in Maine. Grades 4-6

If you would like to visit a dog trial you might go to Carbondale, Colorado this coming weekend for the National Finals or you might wish to visit the National Western Stockshow this January in Denver.  They hold dog trails for working both cattle and sheep.

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