Remus has earned his place in our trials team at last!
For some time now I've been looking for a good dog to replace Kay in sheepdog trials. Now that she's getting older, Kay seems to be finding the finesse of sheepdog trials a little tiresome. If the outrun's quite long, by the time she reaches the shed and pen sections of the trial these days, it's obvious she's really tired.
I'm tempted to try Jody or Dave, but Jody's nervous of strangers so she's likely to be alarmed at the top of a trials field when she suddenly encounters the "letters-out" - and although Dave's work is exceptionally good, he's just a tad "laid-back" for my taste. He'll really suit a beginner because he gives you a little more time to think, but I'd like a bit more "zip". Dave would make a superb farm dog.
Being home bred, Remus has been an obvious candidate for some time. He has plenty of power and speed, but he's been hard to stop. His parents Ezra and Kay have both been hard to stop too - and I couldn't get his grandmother Mel to actually stand still near sheep until she was four years old!
Just recently though, Remus has really improved. He's driving quite well, and the stop has improved. The stop's by no means perfect, but when I worked him yesterday afternoon Remus impressed me very much. He was stopping well, flanking beautifully and driving confidently - in fact he reminded me very much of Mel when she was younger.
Today we were gathering sheep for our landlord, John Richards at Dean Farm, so I used the opportunity to take Remus along. He's never done any real flock work, but I know he's very good at pushing sheep up in a pen so this was his big chance to make an impression.
When I arrived, the sheep were scattered far and wide across no fewer than eight fields, so we started at the very far end in a small field where around a dozen sheep were reasonably close together. I sent Remus off and he went out well, but only brought half the sheep so I sent him back for the others; he brought them all with no problem.
Next we had a fairly large field to gather. I sent Remus "Come-bye" - not his best side - and he did a splendid job of gathering the main body of the flock, but I noticed a ewe and lambs under a dark hedge at the very far end. I walked some way towards them and then sent Remus off and, once more, he brought them with no problem at all.
I had Kay with me as a backup, in case Remus was struggling, but so far she hadn't been out of the 4x4. This would change later but, for now, Remus was coping very well. He brought the small flock into the yard by a different route to the one the sheep are used to, so a certain amount of manoeuvring was inevitable, and his worst fault (bringing the bunch of sheep nearest to him rather than the whole flock) was certainly in evidence at times, but he responded well to my "Look-back" commands, and certainly improved each time.
Remus had worked well under fairly difficult conditions, but for the second stage of the gather I thought Kay would be better suited. The sheep have a habit of splitting and heading off in opposite directions, so the dog needs to be quick to keep them together - something at which Kay excels.
Indeed, Kay was in fine form. John's brother-in-law Colin (a recently retired sheep farmer from South Australia) was with us and, to be honest, I was really proud of Kay. Working off the whistle while I drove along in the 4x4, she was in her element. A lame ewe with two lambs was hanging back, so I got Kay to bring the flock back to her, and then she nursed them all along at the lame sheep's pace. That's the sort of thing a good sheepdog should be able to do.
With all the sheep in the main yard, I used Remus to push them into a smaller area so that they could be put through the sorting race later on. He was nothing short of excellent - and I noticed the sheep showed him great respect. They can often be fairly awkward when they're being pushed into a building, but not one of them seemed to even consider challenging him today.
Today's gathering experience has further convinced me that Remus is the right choice for my next trials dog. Of course, I have one or two others here in reserve, but I'm absolutely sure he has what it takes.
How fitting that Kay's replacement in our trials team should be her son - and of course, Remus is Carew's nephew! He has a long way to go before he'll be ready to run in a sheepdog trial, but we'll keep you informed about Remus' progress along the way.
Carew's performance is vastly improved at Evesham SDT
I've got quite a soft spot for Evesham Sheepdog Trials. The "Open" at Evesham was the first sheepdog trial I ever attended (albeit as a spectator). It has a long history, is always efficiently run and has a friendly atmosphere.
Some of the top handlers in the world compete at Evesham and the trials raise a huge amount of money for cancer research each year. I understand that last year, more than a thousand pounds was collected for this excellent cause.
Traditionally, the trials consist of a local novice event on the Saturday (for eligible competitors living within a sixty mile radius of Evesham church clock tower) with the main Open trials taking place on the Sunday.
With both Kay and Carew being novice dogs(never having won an "Open" trial) and living well within the required distance, I entered them both (some months ago) for both trials but when Carew went lame recently, I was very worried that she wouldn't be able to compete.
Poor Carew couldn't understand why suddenly I didn't want her to do any sheep work, and only took her out with the other dogs towards the end of their run when they were quite tired. It paid off though, because by Friday she seemed perfectly fit and I decided to run her in the trials.
As regular readers will know, I've been trying to put more "pep" into Carew's trials performance recently by giving her all the encouragement I can to speed up when she's working at home. The problem lay with her outrun (she would often stop on it - losing a lot of points) and then, particularly at the top of the field, she was indecisive - lifting and bringing the sheep too slowly.
She showed quite an improvement at Mathon Sheepdog Trials in mid July, so my efforts appeared to be working, and I've been further encouraging her on a lot more since (until she injured her foot, that is).
Carew's shown so much improvement in fact that I was a little worried she might go too fast in her next trial, but I decided it was a risk worth taking.
The Local Novice class at Evesham begins on the Saturday afternoon, and it was in glorious sunshine on the ninth of August that Carew and I walked out to the post for her run. I'd made certain she knew where the sheep were and duly sent her off to the left.
To my delight, she did a superb outrun - coming in nicely behind her sheep (perhaps stopping the tiniest bit early if I'm brutally honest) then smoothly lifted the sheep and brought them down the fetch and through the gates in superb style. Her pace was vastly improved compared to previous trials, but still a "teeny" bit slower than I would have liked. Never mind though, this was excellent progress.
Carew brought the sheep around the post in tidy fashion and set off on the first leg of her drive - still very neatly. The sheep passed through the gates, but the "duffer" giving the commands mis-read the situation and (not realising the sheep were clear of the gates) allowed Carew to drive the sheep on further, thus putting them well off-line for the cross-drive.
As though this were not enough I over-compensated, and by the time the sheep reached the right-hand drive gates they were too far to the right. Fortunately I was able to get Carew to bring them back onto line and all went through the gates. She turned them reasonably well and brought them to the shedding ring without further incident, but here the five North Country Mules proved very difficult to part. Eventually though, we created a gap and Carew came through instantly when I called her.
I ran to the pen from the shedding ring because I realised we must be getting short of time. This was a good run compared to the others I'd seen so far, and I was determined to get as many points for the pen as possible but the sheep just didn't want to go into the pen. We tried everything - taking pressure off, putting pressure on, staying out wide, coming in close - all to no avail. The judge called "Time" and all our pen points were lost.
Never mind though. I was very pleased with Carew's performance. When I'm training sheepdogs I like to see some sign of improvement (no matter how tiny) each time I take a dog out. In Carew's case, the improvement had been dramatic, and convinced me that encouraging her to work rather too fast at home was having a good effect on her trial so this was special.
Carew still has an excellent stop, so I'm confident there are no detrimental side effects to her training programme - and most important, she seems to be fully recovered from her foot injury.
Later in the trial, Richard Smith who was judging and who is also the chairman of Evesham Sheepdog Society kindly let me take a photo of Carew and Kay's points from each section of their runs. I was so proud to discover that Carew lost just one point off each for her outrun lift and fetch. My misjudgement had cost us eleven points on the driving section, and then we lost a further four when the sheep wouldn't part for the shed, but worse still, all ten points disappeared when we failed to pen the sheep in time.
Carew's seventy two points still amounted to a competitive score for a local novice trial though, and I look forward to finding out how close she came to being amongst the leaders.
Kay's run was quite typical of her. She has such a great talent, but I really think she's finding sheepdog trials a little too much for her now that she's getting older.
It seems the more tired she gets, the more her enthusiasm gets the better of her. She proved difficult to stop for much of her run, and wasn't flanking as wide as I wanted either. Her points lost for each section don't read too well: Outrun 2, Lift 3, Fetch 5, Drive 14, Shed 6, and Pen 10 (timed out). Kay was left with a total of sixty points - a whole twelve behind Carew.
Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the field on Sunday to find that Carew's Saturday run had earned her the Christian Salvesen Perpetual Challenge Trophy for Outrun, Lift and Fetch! What better confirmation that she's responding well to her special training?
Sunday was a completely different day to Saturday though. The weather forecasters told us that the remnants of hurricane Bertha would bring heavy rain and high winds, and they weren't wrong. During the morning, torrential showers drenched everyone and if the afternoon, the wind coming straight down the field caused handlers to struggle at times to remain at the post. I spent much of Carew's run holding my peaked hat on with one hand and holding the sheepdog whistle with the other!
Carew had a wonderful run though. I thought her outrun lift and fetch were as good as the day before, and the drive was the best I think I've ever achieved with any dog since I've been competing in sheepdog trials. Carew took the sheep straight to the first drive gate, turned them quite tightly and kept them on a good line right through the second gates and bringing them nicely up to the shedding ring.
Evesham SDT Sunday 10th Aug 2014
Judge: Bob Powell Open National (with Single)
Thomas Longton - Maya, 95 (OLF)
Adrian Hall - Gwen, 95
Richard Smith - Glen, 93 (OLF)
Jenny Atwell - Alice, 93
Val Powell - Cully, 92 (OLF)
Eamon Lawless - Niamh, 92
Novice National Class
Jenny Atwell Alice, 93
Angie Blackmore - Charlie, 91
(OLF) means that in the event of a tied score, the place was decided by the number of points scored for the "Outrun, Lift and Fetch" sections of each run.
A total of seven points were lost on the drive which might seem a lot, but on the day it compared very well with some of the very best runs. The sheep were hungry and kept getting their heads down and eating - causing most dogs to lose a point every time this happened. On the shed we lost just one point, so I was very optimistic as I ran to open the pen gate, but here, once more, we failed.
I can't blame Carew - she did everything I asked, just the way I wanted it. I don't even blame myself on this occasion. For some reason, most handlers struggled to pen these excellent sheep and although I'm determined to get lots more penning practice in at home, I think Carew and I worked well together.
Unfortunately, not only did we lose the ten points for the pen, but for this open trial, there was a single(where just one sheep must be parted and held away from the others) too. By running out of time, poor Carew lost a whopping twenty points from her total. There was no chance of picking up a place after that loss - except possibly in the novice class, but we must wait for the full results to appear before we know that.
Was I disappointed? Not at all. I was overjoyed.
Carew had once more done a good outrun, lift and fetch. It seems she's got out of the habit of stopping on her outrun (something I was once told you couldn't train a dog out of) and she's now working the sheep more fluidly at a distance - marking a vast improvement on the very faults she's shown in the recent past.
Added to that, I was more than happy with her drive; her control of the line was nothing short of remarkable. Even though the sheep did stop and start a little, she was able to get them moving again without them going off line. The shed was near faultless - just one point dropped is highly competitive. Carew has demonstrated superb sheep control skills in all sections of an open sheepdog trial. Now all we have to do is string all those sections together - regularly.
We're not there yet, but I'm convinced Carew has what it takes to become an excellent trials dog.
Kay, on the other hand was (putting it politely) less than helpful. It seems she just doesn't have the stamina to run in sheepdog trials on consecutive days. After a good outrun - losing just two points - she rushed at the sheep and lost three more on the lift. Then she didn't want to stop or respond to flanking commands, so all the sheep missed the fetch gates. It was obvious she was tired and impatient, so I retired - and she then drove the sheep to the exhaust pen beautifully - but that's little Kay for you!
Apart from Carew's performance, for me, the highlight of the day was provided by International Sheepdog Trials competitor Thomas Longton from Lancashire. Thomas and his dogs not only won the Open class of Evesham Sheepdog Trial, they easily won the "brace" competition with what may be best described as a near perfect run. Knowing how difficult it can be to work two dogs together, I'm envious of anyone who can work a brace properly, but this was a masterclass!
Thanks to the organisers Richard Smith, Jenny Atwell - and everyone else from the Vale of Evesham Sheepdog Trials Society who worked so hard to arrange and run such an excellent trial under difficult conditions.