|Staying Cool at Kelly Creek|
We had one last practice before leaving home for the summer, and for Kelly Creek, the 1st of 7 dog trials this summer. It was a hot day, so I didn't plan to put any pressure on the dogs. I wanted to simply remind them of a square flank, stretch them out as far as I could and tune up the finesse work of driving straight lines by taking whistles precisely. Star and Mirk worked beautifully, and Star had an epiphany. Timing is everything, right? We;re leaving for a dog trial, and Star passes a milestone. Sweet!
Star has always been reluctant to hold the shed or single if any sheep tries to break back. Until today, it always made him nervous, which resulted in his glancing to the cast off sheep, and so losing the sheep I mean to hold. It always frustrated me, but I know better than to correct a puppy in the shed ring when what you need more than anything in there is confidence. So, I made a decision early to stay the course, and just keep working at it. Today was pay off day.
As we practiced shedding, not only did Star hold the shed and the single, but he balanced the drive taking the shed off sheep away from the cast offs, and it was a simply gorgous site. I could see the light go on today, and his confidence multiply. OK, now we're ready for the summer trials.
Kelly Creek Dog Trial
From my experience this year, if you don't like Kelly Creek, you don't like dog trialing. Developed by an architect, and his now widowed wife, Patsy, the place is a virtual sheepdog wonderland. Patsy and her husband created it for sheepdog and agility dog training on acreage with huge specimen trees, meandering pathways, gurgling brooks, diverted waterways, 2 huge ponds stocked with cutthroat trout, and a small, but oh-so-treacherous trial field.
Star was 3rd on Saturday, and I retired with him on Sunday. From local Forest Service grazing leases, the fine wool ewes really were range ewes such as you see at much bigger dog trials, but we are in sheep country after all. They were big, strong, and used to fending for themselves, so the dogs didn't provide much of a challenge compared to mountain lions and coyotes that they're used to. Star was overmatched and made his way around the course slowly and very cautiously. On Saturday, his outrun and lift were perfect, and we sliced the fetch panel in two. Space was tight between the post and the fence and the turn was made more difficult by a poorly placed pen obstructing the first drive leg, but my dog was strong there on much "shush, shush" from me. All weekend long these bad girls refused to line out, and precious few runs occurred where all 3 panels were made, but it was the cross drive that laid us bare.
Set on the lip of 1 of 2 terraces running horizontally across the field, if you were high on the cross drive you lost sight of both sheep and dog. If low, the points were slashed, and in either case the unpredictable ewes made the panels almost impossible for most of us. In addition, it was a long way across, and Star had to hold untractable sheep while using every ounce of power he could muster to keep things moving forward. His work was halting and careful, but he never quit trying, never quit listening, and never lost his precarious nerve. He was slow, but he made it to the shed ring with a clean, fast, 2 - 2 split off the back on the nose, and we timed out at the pen for 3rd place on a dismal score of 67. I hate to place well by being the best of the worst, but we could just as easily been at the other end of that spectrum.
Sunday was a different story, Star and I both were wrong from the minute we set foot on the field. At this trial I had 3 dogs running, Star, Mirk, and a student's dog named Buff. What I discovered through the process is that you don't try as hard to win with each dog individually when you have more chances. In the short time I've been running Star, I have come to take him for granted, especially on the outrun, but I forgot to factor in the size of the field. It is small, the outrun only about 250 yards, and it is fenced, which can often make solid outrunning dogs run tight. I learned that lesson the hard way, and completely forgot it at Kelly Creek.
Star was looking to my right while I set him up on my left, which is always a recipe for disaster, and he was wrong from his very first step, and then he pulled in even more. He ran tight to the extent that he required a stop and re-direct to prevent a cross over, and we were off to a bad start. Star was slow to lift sheep which were far more comfortable standing up to the dogs on day two. The sheep immediately drifted off line to the side of the field which was home to the exhaust, and my usually precise nursery dog wouldn't take the come-bye flank. We barely made the fetch panel, but the entire top half of the fetch was way off line.
His best work on Sunday came at the turn. Over 2 days of trialing, our sheep hated the tight space between the post and the fence, but Star had them dead to rights here. To keep them moving forward I flanked him come-bye on a clockwise turn, then back away-to-me to keep the sheep moving forward, and then allowed him to drift on his own to cover and hold them tight to me. He handled it like a seasoned pro, and had a clean, tight turn that started us a dead-straight drive away. I can't remember whether we made the drive away panel, because all I can think about is the tortuous cross-drive. We were high, we were low, we disappeared below the terrace, and popped back up with sheep coming straight toward us. I couldn't really blame Star for just wanting to give them back to me. He was struggling.
In front of the cross-drive panel, and at the last minute, the sheep zigged torwards the exhaust pen low of the panel, and Star had to make a run for it to block them. Just accomplishing the block, it became a stand off between him and sheep, and I walked away from the post deciding to help my dog, give him a shot in the arm, and promote confidence in my good, young dog. Some said I should have continued on, but with the finals just around the corner, no one will ever convince me that fighting recalcitrant sheep for a probable finish out of the points and money is better than retaining and promoting precious confidence. I was right to retire, I just know it.