I don't breed, I buy, and I always buy for the outrun. Proving himself over long distance, and challenging terrain this weekend at the Free to Be Ranch in New Mexico, I know I acheived my goal with Star. Where many failed, he added the bonus of a successful lift and completed course during all 3 days of open as well, on hungry, long-yearling lambs that were set on hay, and pulled toward a strong draw during the 3rd trial. It wasn't easy pickings, and my not-yet-3-year-old boy handled it all with maturity and good nature beyond his years. He took it all in stride.
Day 1 brought us what was rumored to be between a 550 and 600 yd outrun. Coming from dought, the lambs were poor and hungry, and just as happy to ignore the dogs all together for a good meal. More than half the dogs that day were either disqualified or retired when they gripped, couldn't find sheep, or could not lift them. I admit that I was surprised when Star's outwork was perfect. He ran out confidently, and took my blast of a walk up as encouragement to bring them on. The finish was an any-two shed/pen, and we completed that by taking 2 off the back on the nose, because we could. Star flew through and held them to the judge's immediate satisfaction. No gimme considering we were running under Dennis Birchell, an Irishman who knows a thing ot two about a good run.
Day 2 was more of the same, but the drive was reversed, and, oh did I mention that it was big? I don't know how big, but every bit of 300 yards, I would wager. It was a long way on the cross-drive, and nearly impossible to hit a panel in that flat expanse of prarie with no more for landmarks than a bit of scrub here and there. Star ran wider on day 2 even though I sent him in the same direction, but made another quick lift. The lambs pulled to the left, and so far from me, Star was reluctant at the top to take my whistles and hold the line. The whole top of our fetch was off line, and the fetch panels slid by unbroken. That mammoth drive brought the same consequences, missed panels, zig-zag lines, and lots of encouragement necessary to shove leaden lambs around the course. They were heavy on day 2. At 6,000' feet elevation, I was breathless upon completion of that run, especially after having to lift the pen gate to open and close. It was not hung, and with no wheel underneath, rested heavily on the ground. It was a relief to finish, and I kept joking that I wasn't getting paid enough to work that hard.
One of the best things about the trial this year was the weather. After being frozen at Zamora, CA in February, soaked through at Sonoma in March, it was so nice to have the weather man smile of us. July is monsoon season in the Southwest and huge thunder stroms swirled all around us, only occasionally pelting us lightly with the warmest rain. The rest of the time was spent under high, dark clouds that kept temperatures, dogs and hands cool and happy.
We moved to the South side of the ranch on day 3, and things got tricky. The course was shorter, but plenty big enough at about 450-500 yards. 2 difficult elements were added; a rolling dip through the middle of the fetch that obscured dogs on the outrun, dogs and sheep on the fetch, and a powerful draw. It was a clinching 45 seconds waiting to see where dogs fetched sheep on the near side, and there was very little time to recover to make the panel that was set quite far back. Star drifted way right, and was again reluctant to take my come-bye flank. We brought the sheep back on line, but just slid past the panel.
The 1st leg of the drive was almost directly toward the pen where the sheep overnighted. It was a mighty draw requiring the dog to hold sheep from bolting all the way across. Some groups were nicer about it than others, and Star listened intently to do his best just losing them short of the panel. Again we missed, and the shoving began. With their overnight pen behind them, the lambs were not happy on the cross drive, and we were agonizingly slow...but successful. Unfortunately, our single was messy, taking it off the front with a little uncertainty, but the judge called it and we went to the pen. This one had a wheel and rolled easily. The lambs are well tended, and penning was a gimme all weekend. So, why did I let them get around it? Because I faded. I got to that point, decided it was going to be easy, and lost concentration. That is not how trials are won, which we weren't in contention for anyway, but that's no excuse. Those lost pen points cost us, and we won't find consistent success at this level with work like that. Lesson learned.
Leaving the ranch, I was consumed by Mirk's shoddy performance in the double lift. That's another story, but I lost sight of little Star man. It wasn't until I saw the overall scores posted that I realized how strong he had run. I did not enter him in the double lift, and without the double lift scores, Star finished 3rd overall, and even with them, he was 5th. He was only 1 of 5 dogs that scored in all 3 open trials. In a field of only 31 dogs that may not seem like much, but on those huge courses, he is a Gold Star in my book, and I'm looking more confidently towards the finals in a few weeks.