2016 Bluegrass Classic Stockdog Trials
CLICK ABOVE IMAGE TO ENTER THE GALLERY
PREFACE -- This year's images feature a few older dogs in attendance and the atmosphere surrounding the trials. The huge smile from a crippled Corgi named Ruby greeted my wife and I when we first arrived. Ruby was comfortably nestled in an adjustable framed aluminum cart with two wheels that provide her mobility. I met several elder Border Collies this year -- one was handicapped and strolled the grounds in a human powered drop-side wagon. Several other dogs in attendance were well into their double digit years. Each of the older dogs were well cared for and seemed to enjoy the sport of people watching along with the trial events. A lovable brown and white Border named Meg won the hearts of everyone that strolled past her. Meg's owner was nearby working one of the retail kiosk.
2016 Stockdog Trial Blog
(May 22, 2016) -- My wife and I have attended the Bluegrass Classic Stockdog Trials nearly every year since 2008. As a spectator, herding competitions are fascinating -- handler and dog working together -- something called teamwork. Border Collies are a striking breed first known as Scotch Sheep Dogs. To pinpoint the breed's origin on a world map, they were bred in close proximity to the border of Scotland and England. Border Collies love to work. Their herding nature has long been refined through the bloodline. Affectionate and high energy, Borders love to please and will carry out assigned tasks with enthusiasm.
Border Collies are smart and extremely alert to everything around them. They constantly reprocess information gathered from sight, sound and scent. The breed is happiest when given a task to perform -- accomplishing the goal, and doing it well, is job one for a Border Collie.
Bluegrass Classic Stockdog Trials are held in the vast rolling terrain in the rear of Masterson Station Park in Lexington, Kentucky. The park's near perfect setting has made the Bluegrass Classic a popular event -- attracting top handlers and dogs from across the U.S. and Canada. There are many factors that make this event thrilling and suspenseful as a spectator.
Herding dogs must traverse an enormous amount of terrain during the competition. Border Collies run across acres of land to take control of a flock of sheep. It can be difficult at times for a dog to spot the sheep in the far distance due to variances in rolling terrain elevation -- it adds to the challenge. Obedience to a handler's command is essential for a success trial. Commands are given only by whistle and/or short verbal cues from their handler. It isn't unusual for a Border Collie to second guess a handler's command when it's line of vision is obstructed or some other unforeseen stimuli occurs in the field.
When a herder is unable to see a distant flock of sheep from his low vantage point, trust in the handler's signal to fetch a distant flock must override the herder's natural tendency to second guess the scenario. Herding dogs tend to reprocess all gathered information and swiftly make a decision using their best judgment. As a spectator, it's important to consider the vast distance between the Border Collie and the handler during this portion of competition. The herder will quickly become a small speck running in the distance and must make decisions on the fly based on a handler's signal. Border Collies are courageous and energetic canines and pleasing their handler is a top priority.
The fetching trial portion of the Bluegrass Classic includes a Double Lift. When a dog is given the okay to fetch he leaps into action, leaving the handler's side, and runs to take charge of two separate flocks waiting in the distance. Each flock is led to a designated spot by a rider on horseback accompanied by another herder. Only one flock is brought out at a time. Working the Bluegrass Classic course, Border Collies must run up to a third of a mile before reaching the initial flock of sheep. A working dog doesn't run toward the flock in a straight line. The dog will run toward the high ridge and circle around to the flock from the rear. After taking charge of the flock the herder must drive the flock toward the handler -- keeping the sheep in a tight group. When the dog has driven the [first] lift about an eighth of a mile toward the handler, he must then leave his [first] lift and fetch the second lift of sheep. It's important to note, a herder doesn't like to leave a flock once it has taken charge of the lift. The handler now signals the herder to "Look Back!" The verbal command instructs the herder to turn around and look for another flock of sheep in the distance -- this is the [second] lift.
Shedding Competition -- after the herder gathers both lifts into one group, he must drive the flock toward the handler, moving the flock through two open ended gates along the way. When the herder's flock reaches the handler the Shedding Competition begins. The flock is then driven into a large defined circle by the herder -- perimeter boundaries are marked by piles of sawdust. Both handler and herder are active participants during Shedding. Six to eight sheep within the flock wear an orange collar. Shedding begins when the handler starts dividing the flock into two groups -- one group will have orange collars. The herder will be signaled to secure the perimeter as the handler walks into the flock with cane in hand. Herder and handler are not allowed to make direct contact with the sheep. The separation process is challenging for both herder and handler. Sheep tend to stay together -- they do not like to leave a flock.
Through careful movement and timely maneuvers, the handler slowly begins the separation process. Once the handler has persuaded one sheep (or more) to exit from the group, the handler will signal the herder to guard the area between the separated sheep and the original flock. Herder and handler work together as a team throughout the shedding process.
Successful shedding within the allotted amount of time is rarely accomplished by trial competitors. Shedding is difficult and requires a high level of skill from both handler and herder. More often than not, a bit of luck is also needed.
(c) 2016 Mark D McKinley