For those who believe us to be out living the dream, forget it. The last couple of days have been fraught with bitter disappointments. Howell made it through to tomorrow in good style. Dorey did not make it to the semis. I consider her my first string dog. None of my regulars could console me as there was no cell device here. You get the picture. The car park diminished rapidly today. Handlers headed home to all places in North America.
Bridget Strang is practised at throwing a party. Great barbecue. Horse arena turned party hole.
Opening ceremonies at seven tomorrow morning. Double lift final afterwards for top seventeen.
Ever since we left Meeker, connecting with the world had been difficult. My computer is still dead after Sammy tipped the water onto it . No cell service is available at Strang Ranch, so Internet junkies are agitated and in withdrawal.
Meeker is splendid trial to win. The Merino sheep are magnificent athletes, descending from the rarified air of the flattops at ten thousand feet, to take on our sea level dogs. Two of mine made it to the semi-finals, Dorey and Howell. Howell set the pace early in the day with 104 of 110 points, a marked single and uncollared shed. Howell was back to his old self, after a course of Doxy. He marched them in style. Dorey had a difficult single at the pen, swinging around three times before we got them in. The same uncollared single wrecked havoc on the shed by running everywhere out of the ring and never giving us a chance to take the collared single. Only Howell made the final, but that was enough.
Howell drew up just before noon, which in high-desert-speak means heat of the day. From frost at seven to 80 an hour or two later. His first gather was very good. The spotters lost his sheep for the go back and Howell went tight for a couple of redirects. He picked up the second group and fetched smoothly save a few kinks. He drove well. His shed was a twenty pointer. But I lost a few taking risks at the pen. They did not get back together.
A few competitors nearly caught us, but none ever did. Howell’s second Meeker championship. You can never win that honour enough times. It was my turn to buy at the Meeker Hotel.
We got up next morning to work young dogs at Ila’s and ride on to Carbondale for the US National Finals.
On Monday we went about parking in the rough terrain of the carpark, with sage brush stumps, cactus. Leveling up is a big job. The biggest handlers meeting in North America ensues, with all anticipating their best ever finals. Mary Minor and Feist turned in the first run of our gang, She is still sitting eighth after two days of qualifying. Barbara Ray ran well with Stella and Howell will be back for semi-finals on Saturday.
he sheep were very different to Meekers’s Merinos–much more Rambouillait type, but difficult and demanding. Lots of good hands fell by the wayside under their pressure.
We went out to a Carbondale restaurant called Town. It was grand.
A long wait through the night for the Nursery to start. Haley Hunewill, Faansie Basson, and Joni Tietjen are leading the pack. I put Quark on the line at the pen after an OK run around the course. She grabbed one under duress and it was game over. I have Zola, tomorrow morning and Dorey on Friday morning. If I can get to wifi, you will hear from me.
My mother’s terrier knocked over my flowers on the table. My computer was in the way and now will not light up. Mich lent me hers.
Yesterday the scores went upward. Handlers speculated as to why—the caliber of runner, or the increased agreeability of the sheep. Who knows.
Dorey had an intelligent run. A fluffed shed attempt. But the pen was once again intense and successful. 82. Ron Enzeroth tied her score in the lead, with a similar good run. We watched the running most of the day, with the sheep telling us stories, good and bad, about the dogs.
Meeker poured it on in the evening with Michael Martin Murphy entertaining the event at night, a lamb cook off, and the art show. We grazed leftovers with great wine.
Today is maintenance and young dog training day. I see a walk at Avery Lake in the later afternoon. My pals are running dogs today and I look forward to watching them take on the Meeker sheep.
Mittens, sheepskin boots and winter jackets are required first thing in the morning, but within a few hours, it’s back to sandals and dresses. Maybe those radical temperature changes do not affect the nature of the sheep. A dog’s ability to cope at mile high altitude is definitely changed from one part of the day to another.
Howell had a crappy go today with a good outrun, decent lift and sheep that despised him the balance of the way around the course. We made it with a couple of missed gates and a decent finish. The trial takes back the top eight from each qualifying day, to Saturday’s sami finals. Howell lives to play on Saturday. Shauna Gourley lead the day with an 80 score. Barbara Ray showed us it could be done properly with a good go around the course but no finish for a 72. Beverly was disappointed. There are two more days of this tough running. 47 dogs a day.
We all went to the White River for a dog swim. A mob of dogs. Afterwards, I got in some training time with the young ones. All part of growing up, but their being cooped up on a long road ride like this, is harsh by any measure. I took Hazel out to watch for awhile. She spotted the sheep way up the big Meeker field and longed to be the one who brought them in. Her turn will come.
It was steaks on the barbecue for our camp, with all the accoutrements
The day started like any other one here, chilly, delicious Nicaraguan cafe, the handlers camp buzzing with generators and excitement about the finale.
A strong final it was, with everyone turning in decent runs–no competitors whose dogs didn’t go back. Ron Enzeroth and his admirable Mick started the day with a run around the course that could have demoralized every other competitor. But things went south in the ring. Any run missing the final thirty points could not make it to the top. Not at this one.
My runs were quite good on the course and tidy sheds for both. Dorey made a couple of good saves—one collared she handled smartly while I tried to make sure I had enough collared ones behind her to let the saved one go. With eight collared sheep, only to keep five, this is a confusion peculiar to Soldier Hollow.
But it was the pens that were the take aways. Howell took his five to the pen, but while we were working them in, the discards showed up. I did not look to see. The crowds’ swoons told me they were coming, but the patter of their hooves on the dry ground behind me let me know how close. “Howell. C’mon. Now or never.” It worked. Handlers had a laugh. The thousands of spectators went mad.
Dorey’s was different. She had an exploder. Only she and I knew about it, as she kept it under such good control with a list left and right to answer all its ideas about leaving. I had seven minutes to pen. I wish the moments could have lasted all of it instead a couple, as they were so enjoyable and intense.
Soldier Hollow is an honour to win. The event makers, Mark Peterson, Karen Stanley, Donna Eliason, The Utah Stock Dog Association, the setout crew, the throng of spectators, the hardened sheep dog trial fans. I hope I can honour them with a couple of golden runs they won’t forget, any more than I will.
Today we drive on to Meeker, through the long sweeps of highway across eastern Utah with its climbs and descents, and the warm embrace of the eastern slope of Colorado.
The weather has cooled off entirely. Much of today was overcast with the odd sprinkling moisture (that’s how rain is measured in the desert). The dog running was fascinating, the sheep big show girls, without asking so many pointed questions as showing flat disdain for the dogs. It made it fun.
Dorey was the earliest high roller, with an adorable go around the course. With five full minutes at the pen, I could not put them in. Who knows how far you could have gone with Lavon Calzacorta at the trigger. What grips would have been tolerated? I tried every trick in the book, short of calling on Dorey to really shift them, and they never budged. She held an 82 without the pen, which turned out to be just enough to carry her into the final. Barbara Ray laid one down with Stella that scored her finalist status, and Bev delivered with Nan, scoring a ninety. Howell had qualified the day before but ran real well anyway, scoring an 88. The running was thrilling to execute, with good timing and canine authority rewarded at every turn. They sheep were devilish at the pen.
Allen Mills, of Texas, had one of the most memorable runs in the preliminaries. Sis, at ten years old, has had a brilliant career and now a long one to boot. She picks every sweet spot at the end of flanks and gives a perfect amount of ground to leave sheep relaxed within her turns. What a wonderful partner she has been for Allen, and I look forward to watching her at the next two trials. She didn’t quite pen, which cost her a spot on the final day.
Tomorrow the double lift Finals.
The first day at Soldier Hollow is a quiet one. Only several hundred spectators. Handlers getting their feet on the ground, resting from the long commutes. The sheep were tall, racey and naive. They make great study for dog handlers as they expose so much about the dogs. Every wrong move. Every scaredy cat eventually is exposed on sheep like these. Every missing confidence. Many caved at the end of their runs with altitude wrecking their stamina. The heat in the afternoon, while not as as blistering as it can be, was harsh, compared to the chill of he early mornings.
Dorey’s fetch was good but argumentative with her sheep after a gratifying outrun. Timing killed the driveaway panel with sheep bolting up the drive and missing narrowly to the outside. I might have been OK with that, but not with the two minutes required to return the shed sheep to the ring for the march to the pen, where I couldn’t finish. She was seventh or eighth, not among the five guaranteed a spot on the final day. Her next run is Sunday morning–onward.
Louanne Twa, a last minute entry on a cancellation, rose up to the top for winning the day with 83 points. Her dog was forward and free, a skillful sheep manager and all round good looking representative for the Canadian flag.
We barbecued some King salmon and got some sleep.
Extreme sheepdog handling
I got up first and fired up the cafe. Our gang rode to the training field at Arvada in near darkness. Deer and antelope asked to be struck by our vehicles. No Wendy today on horse back, but we didn’t need her. Joni drove us to a second entrance to our practice field and said we could gather here. I asked where the sheep were, and I wouldn’t have seen them if she had not pointed them out. The dogs certainly didn’t see them. They were camouflaged against a very distant fence and in between were multiple crevasses and rough stuff, with many dips out of sight before any brave gatherer could reach sheep. “I want to try that!” The whole experience was dialed up off the radar. Dorey and Howell made it with a couple of redirects. We didn’t mostly bring them but returned them to the set out after the lift. All the dogs got expanded imaginations after the experience and new trust in redirection. What a test. The young ones drove a little more. By the time we took our turns, the hot weather returned and put the kibosh on more. I would have loved to have been there all day in the cool. Sublime.
We left Clearmont for points south. The country was wide open, vistas twenty kilometres distant. Buffalo, Casper, where I lost Roz many years ago, Rawlins, overnighting in Rock Springs, with a final ride through the red canyons, for Soldier Hollow early this morning.
Let the games begin.
A dog-centric day
Joni woke me up, eager for her latte and an early start to use the cool of the day for the dog work. The coffee was not disappointing. and neither was the dog work. Joni had sixty fresh yearling finewools. Her neighbour Wendy Auzqui brought her horse and spotted on horse back, boon to the the eastern Nursery dogs who had never encountered such a thing. Quark, who is becoming confident, had several WTF moments, the horse and the range finewools combining to dispense with all her ideas of proper manners and convention. Zola thought she saw the devil in the horse. An invaluable training session, courtesy Joni Tietjen. Epiphanies left and right. The young dogs running with their eyes and mouths wide open, to take it all in. What a morning. The heat arrived and called an end to all reasonable ambitions with the dogs, and we drove back to Clearmont from Arvada. The dogs had a river swim in the Clear Creak that feeds the Powder River and miles of irrigated ground before it gets to the Powder. We went to Sheridan for lunch, supplies, and a stroll through the Dan King Rope Museum, with more antique saddles than anywhere else. Among the saddle collection were many side saddles, in which I take an interest. The shop, attached to a museum, produces most of North America’s rodeo ropes. Dan King is a celebrated Sheridan resident with a festival named in his honour. Later, it was Mexican, in Basque Buffalo with Auzquis and Tietjens, and dreams of running more worldly dogs, early tomorrow morning.