Sunday, August 30, 2009

Nicomodes Gulch SDT (August 7-9, 2009)

I know it's been a long time since I last updated, but I've actually got several entries waiting to be posted now. Hooray! I'll post them sequentially, as they happened, over the next few days...

First up is a trial report from the wonderful Nicomodes Gulch Sheep Dog Trial in Monte Vista, Colorado.

I ran Craig and Taz in this beautiful mountain trial hosted by Dan Keeton and Terry and Tina LePlatt. This is a notoriously tricky trial—the field is not enormous (the open outrun was about 300 yards; open ranch was about 240 yards), but the drive away and cross drive are quite long. In addition, the grass is high in some spots, so the dogs can have a difficult time seeing the sheep during their outruns, and the field has a creek running across the bottom of it, not actually on the course but right below it. The sheep, range lambs, panic easily and often try to escape their canine directors into this creek. It's a tough course, to say the least!

Two back-to-back open ranch classes would be run on the Saturday of the trial. This trial site is at about 7,500 feet elevation, so it wasn't too awful hot, but I was afraid Craig wouldn't be able to handle running twice in the same day. I am happy to report that he did fine! I'd heard the dogs had a tough time during the open runs the day before, with the sheep being very heavy. Taz ran first of my dogs, third in the running order. The first two runs did not go smoothly, with the first dog having trouble at the top and the second one struggling to bring the sheep down the field (which turned out to have a lot to do with a lame lamb, resulting in a rerun for that handler). I decided my strategy (and I use that term loosely) would be to try to keep the sheep moving and just try to keep as much control as I could. But mostly with Taz I was hoping he would just keep going out until he could find the sheep...

I sent him on an away, and off he went. He did need a redirect, but he was fairly wide and lifted the sheep nicely. But Taz was being pretty pushy. The sheep moved down the field at a nice pace, but the fetch was a bit wild. I said nothing to him until he got inside the fetch panels and then slowed things down to line the sheep up to turn the post and begin the drive. Taz was no longer at mach 10 speed, but he was still pretty pushy on the drive. He was not taking my lie downs right away, which resulted in some overflanking. After a little back and forth, I asked for a stop a bit late and he started to turn the sheep back to me. I retired at that point, and when I got off the field everyone asked me why I retired so soon. But I knew it was going to be a long day for everyone, and I didn't want to waste everyone's time.

Next up was Craig. I sent him to the right as well, and he had a very nice outrun and lift. He was listening to me very well, and his fetch was much better than Taz's. However, we did have a bit of a wing-wang experience on the drive. Still, we were moving forward, until I messed up my flanks and gave him an away when I meant to say come bye. He took it and things went a little out of control, and I had a hard time recovering from my mistake. This is one of my biggest challenges right now—I need to learn to better keep my cool and move on after I make a mistake. I retired with Craig soon thereafter, and this time even the judge (the fabulous Don Helsley) asked me why on earth I was retiring. Um, because I'm an idiot?

I was sure I could do better with both dogs during my second runs. And I did, a little. During our second run, Taz was much more in control. His lift was better, and the fetch was nice and straight. Unfortunately, it was not straight down the middle of the field, but about ten yards to the right of the fetch panels. I had been told that I was smart not to try to direct Taz early on in the fetch during my first run, and I clung to these words while Taz sailed past the panels during this second run, only giving him a helpful "come bye" right after he passed the panels. He took it right away and his line was then straight toward me down the center of the field. D'oh! After my run, Don asked me why the heck I had waited to give him some direction, since he obviously would have made the fetch panels if I asked him to come bye above them. Answer: I'm an idiot once again. We struggled mightily around the post, with lambs going all directions and winding and unwinding, but eventually got them moving toward the drive panels. But remember how I said I have trouble moving past a mistake? Yeah, it happened here, too. We did a bit of driving toward the panels, but I was rattled and we soon retired.

Last up: Craigor MacGregor. I knew he could do it if I kept my head together. "Don't retire!" Don called out to me as I stepped up to the post. Yes, sir! I sent him again to the right and off he went. Beautiful outrun, lift, and fetch straight through the panels. Wonderful pace. He had these lambs' number! We bobbled a little around the post, but were set up nicely for the drive away. The drive was nice and straight, and the lambs went straight through the panels. Hooray! Just a quick flank to the left and we'd transition to the cross drive.

"Come bye."

Nothing. He stared at the sheep, who began to drift.

"Come bye, Craig!"

Nothing. The sheep stopped and began to graze.

[blows come bye whistle softly]


"Craig! Come bye! Lie down! Come bye!" [blows whistle desperately]


I looked at Don, but he couldn't help me now. I shrugged and walked toward my dog. "Come bye, Craig." He took it, but of course by then we'd retired once again. After talking with people who saw the run, some thought he just had locked onto the sheep, but many said it seemed like he couldn't hear me. Those who knew 11-year-old Craig best were sure of it. Rats! Don told me I could have tried a recall as well, but I do think it was actually that he was too far away from me to hear what I was telling him. Unfortunately I do blow a soft whistle, so that wasn't much help (though, to be honest, Craig often doesn't take my whistles). But he had been listening to me so well before that. Too bad, it was such a promising run before that happened. Don also told me Craig handled these sheep really nicely and that he was a good dog and that I handled him well. Craig has his moments. I sometimes let him get away with too much, but he really did handle the sheep well at this trial.

So although we got only letters at this trial, I am pleased with how my dogs did. We still need to work on lots of things of course (especially me, with the letting go of mistakes and not quitting too soon), but I definitely learned a lot.