Thursday, September 27, 2018

Competing at the National Sheepdog Finals

Sheep at the National Finals.

I wish I could say that my run at the USBCHA National Sheepdog Finals went as I visualized.

But seven years of sheepdog trialing has taught me that things don't always go as planned. In this sport, no two fields are alike; no two groups of sheep are alike. Weather conditions change. The best handlers and dogs react and adapt to the changes, but even that doesn't guarantee success.

The open field at the National Finals.

In the smaller fields in the Midwest, the dog rarely loses sight of his sheep as he's running out to them. I have little experience with running on big fields, and it showed at the Finals.

Jack spotted his sheep, and kicked out wide to go get them. His path took him over a rise and out of sight. I thought I'd spot him as he neared the sheep.

I was wrong.

He went past his sheep, and we lost valuable time. Once he found his sheep, I gave a few too many commands, causing him to circle the sheep. While we got back on track during the drive, we ran out of time in the shedding ring.

While I was disappointed, I had no regrets about making the cross-country trek.

I've had the chance to compete on a challenging field with challenging sheep--and to see some of the best dogs and handlers in the country. And, once again, I've learned new lessons about sheepdog trialing.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Heading West Then

My first trip to the West was a quarter of a century ago.

It was summer, and my boyfriend, now husband, stuffed his Ford Bronco II with a leaky tent, foam mattress, cooler, AAA tour books and maps, and we drove. Our destination: the Badlands, Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone.

The wide open spaces and hiking were spectacular.

The weather was not. It rained for days. In Cody, Wyoming, we awoke to an inch of water in our tent. In Yellowstone, we awoke to snow on top of the tent. We became experts at lingering in lodges, restaurants and laundromats.

At the end of the trip we were still talking to each other--and talking about plans to go back.

Two years later, we made the trek west again.

This time, we had a better tent and a Ford Ranger; we also traveled with 10 other people.

The highlight of that trip was spending several days horseback riding and camping along parts of the Oregon Trail near South Pass City, Wyoming.

That vacation was the last of our long car trip vacations. When given the choice between driving and flying, we opted to fly.

This fall, though, I am making a road trip west again. My destination, Alturas, California, is nearly 2,300 miles away.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Where the Road Leads...

Jack at the Land of Lincoln Sheepdog Trial in July.
 Photo by Patti Sumner.

Sometimes you plan your routes, and sometimes you go where the road takes you.

When Jack arrived on our farm, just over two years ago, my plan was to compete in some trials and become a better handler. At 8 years of age, he was an accomplished trial and farm dog; I had been an open handler for less than a year.

We struggled at first and were very inconsistent, but we had just enough magical moments to qualify for the National Sheepdog Finals in Virginia last year.

With Jack turning 10 and the National Sheepdog Finals in California this year, I planned to focus on consistency, to compete at little less, and to enjoy working Jack. I did those things--and along the way, Jack qualified for the finals.

"You should go," my husband said. "It's probably Jack's last year to compete."

It's a long way from Ohio to California.

But that's where the road is taking me.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Sounds of Late Summer

The oak tree shows no ill effects from the constant mowing in its youth.
As always, Niki is the photo-bombing dog.

As I sit on the back porch, writing about the day, I hear a thunk, silence, another thunk.

Acorns are falling from the oak tree,
planted by my mother some 20-plus years ago,
mowed over by tenants,
and then mowed over my me,
until one day,
when I'd neglected spring mowing for a week or two.

While mowing, I spotted a stem and four oak leaves.

I mowed around the little oak tree that day,
and for days and years after.
Twenty years later, that oak tree is almost as tall as the house,
and it provides shade,
and acorns that thunk and thunk as they fall to the ground.

We've had 90 degree days during this first week of September.
Are hot days encouraging the acorns to fall?
Or does that oak tree feel a fierce winter coming?
Maybe the tree just wants to announce its presence,
with a simple thunk, thunk, thunk on a late summer day.