On Friday, they gave us 4 head and 9 minutes, I think. The sheep were set about 450 yards out and deep in between 2 sets of trees. So deep, in fact, that the dogs running in the morning had the additional challenge of spotting sheep that were set in the shade making them all but impossible to see, even for the hands. I watched the first dog of the day, and when it was sent, had to make a concerted effort to find the sheep.
I wasn't worried. Star is a sheep-finding jesse, and just in case, has a tremendous re-direct. As it worked out, both skills were needed, but my little doggie did not disappoint. To send left meant he had to run around trees close to the sheep that would make them disappear to him, even if at some point he spotted them, and then him to me. An away-to-me outrun meant I could see my dog all the way, but he would have to go past the set-out pen.
Deciding that away was the lesser of 2 evils, that's what I chose. Star left my feet wide and fast heading for the farthest reaches of the field. About mid-way he seemed to pull in a bit, and I heard the words "trust your dog," then didn't. I knew he would kick himself out if he spotted his sheep, but many older, wiser dogs had not, and I decided sheep to my feet was better than a few points lost on the outrun. I blew the re-direct, and he took it so precisely that I had to cut it short so that he did not run out too wide. The instant I stopped the whistle, he stopped widening and together we were on the perfect path to sheep.
He did not stop short, but he did slow, which I am attributing to the 2 mounted set-out riders. I can't remember whether Star has ever seen horses at the top, but he persevered and came on to the lift. I blew a big walk-up, because I could see he was tentative, and it was just what he needed to boost his confidence. His lift was slightly off-line but a flank whistle or 2 had them coming straight to me. A little slow to react near the fetch panel caused us to miss it, but the running had been so erratic all day that Star was having one of the best fetches I had seen even without the panel.
All day the sheep had fought to avoid turning the post, and it was that spot that had me worried. There was a tight squeeze between the post, the judges trailer, and waiting handlers. The big, aged ewes had never been dogged, but successfully fought off coyotes and whatever else they have in the mountains of Utah all their lives. Star was not match for them, and they stalled around the post. To his credit, Star never quit trying, but after much shushing, here-here-ing, and watch-'em, watch-'ems, he was unable to shift them, and I retired, not all that gracefully. The scores had been dismal, a 58 was leading at that point, and I was reluctant to give up on what had been a stellar beginning.
I felt better about Sunday. The course was changed and they gave us 8 head of sheep to help them feel better about moving along, I imagine. They were happier in this bigger group. The drive was reversed to mitigate the sucking chest wound that was the draw to exhaust, and that worked well also. With 12 generous minutes to run, I thought we just might have a chance.
Earlier in the year at Zamora, Star had remembered perfectly the 550 yard, technically difficult outrun, and had navigated the entire uphill jaunt without losing so much as a point. On Sunday I trusted my dog, and was rewarded with a big, booming outrun of the kind I have come to expect. No hesitancy at the top this time, he was comfortable with the horses. A slight bobble on the lift, but nothing to get upset about, and Star brought his sheep straight through the heart of the fetch panel. OK, now I was having fun.
The turn at the post was a bit wide with some hesitation, but we made it and the drive started well. Unfortunately, it didn't go or end well, and we missed both panels, made ungainly, wide turns at both, and lost a lot of time with one ewe hanging back, one ewe leading the pack, and the rest of them taking their own sweet time about it. Star's drive was ragged, and I knew at the end of it that were would not be collecting a check.
The finish of this trial was split 4 and 4, put them through a Y-chute, re-gather and single. Star got as far as a stellar split, holding 4 away from 4 to the immediate satisfaction of the judge. Where many dogs struggled even to hold sheep in the ring, Star had calmly and decisively convinced them to go their separate ways, and it was been lovely to watch.
Once again, I have to remember what we did right with no more than that to hold me over until New Mexico, and the Free to Be Trial coming up. Nicomodes was a great test of the dogs, and I was pleased to see that my 2 year old nursery dog could stand his own in good company. Just a little more maturity please.