A sweet and sour performance from Carew at Ivy House SDT

A sheepdog watches one of the runs at a sheepdog trial

And it wasn't just the Red Arrows that were jet propelled - WAS IT, KAY?

I’d heard about the challenges of Ivy House Sheepdog Trial, and was (cautiously) looking forward to it as I drove to Shropshire on Sunday morning.

The handler stands at the post while his dog brings the sheep into the field at a sheepdog trial
Austin Bennett's Jan brings her sheep through the gate and into the main field after gathering them from the far end of the third field. (Click any image to enlarge it).

At Ivy House, the letting out pen is two fields away from the post. If it's sent to the right, the dog must go through at least one gateway - and two gateways if it's sent left. This is further complicated by the exhaust pen being next to one of the left hand gateways. If the dog should see the sheep in the exhaust pen, it could easily mistake them for the ones it was intended to work - something to avoid if at all possible! In all the time I was at the ground, I didn’t see one dog sent to the left (but I'm told one or two were sent that way).

The sheep seemed perfectly manageable - at least until they reached the pen. For some reason few competitors were able to get their bunch into the hurdle pen, even though there was no gate on it (meaning the handler could stand wherever they liked to assist the dog. If the pen has a gate there's a rope attached and, once the gate is open, the handler must not let go of the rope until the sheep are penned.)

Ivy House sheepdog trial is set next to Shropshire's glorious Long Mynd hills.
You couldn't wish for a nicer location for a sheepdog trial than Ivy House Farm in Shropshire.

Ivy House Farm is set alongside Shropshire’s wonderful Long Mynd hills, so as with the South Shropshire Trial a few weeks ago, we were able to enjoy stunning scenery. Add to this, an unexpected low level fly past (directly over the field) by the Red Arrows soon after I arrived, and it was altogether shaping up to be an exciting day. Apparently, the aircraft were due to perform at the Shropshire River Festival in Shrewsbury before moving on to Cosford Air Show during the afternoon.

A dog guides the sheep through the second drive gates at a sheepdog trial.
Arwyn Davies' Meg guides her sheep through the second drive gates. At the far right is the gateway through which the dogs ran out to collect the sheep from the far field.

The sheep were good; lively enough to be a problem for over-enthusiastic dogs, but responding calmly to dogs that treated them with respect.

Generally, though, they were tricky to pen and needed firm handling to push them in. For the afternoon session the gateless pen was converted to a chute - in the hope of making it less intimidating to the sheep.

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Carew was booked to run at number nine, which gave me time to study the way the sheep behaved. As I hadn't run at Ivy House before I was also looking for the best way to get the dog to the sheep across three fields. Preparation proved to be far more difficult than usual.

Try as I might, I couldn't seem to get Carew or Kay to look further than the confines of the field they were standing in - and this proved costly to their runs.

As each dog set off on its outrun I brought Carew out of the car to watch. I hoped that she'd watch the departing dog all the way to the sheep but, as soon as the dog went through the gate into the next field, it would disappear behind trees and Carew immediately lost interest in it.

At first she didn't see the sheep until they came into the main field, but I persevered with each run (taking her away before the sheep reached the post so that she didn't see the rest of each run) and gradually, she seemed to catch sight of the sheep earlier and earlier until I was fairly sure she'd spotted them in the letting out field.

A handler and Sheepdog attempt to coax the sheep into a small pen at a sheepdog trial
Andrew Houghson and Fay were surprise visitors from the Shetland Isles. They finished fourth in the morning trial.

I was quite hopeful when it came to our run. Carew's at her best on tricky sheep - and these were very testing if the dog didn't give them plenty of room.

I sent Carew off to the right, and all seemed well. She was heading straight for the correct gate but, just before she reached it, she bent inwards to follow the hedge. She was clearly expecting the sheep to be in the first field. I stopped her and sent her back quickly, but she took me too literally and went shooting past the gate in the opposite direction.

I stopped her again and tried to redirect her, but Carew was clearly confused. Convinced that the sheep must be in the field, she went this way and that before eventually realising what I wanted and disappearing through the gate. The rest of her outrun went well except that (typically) she stopped before the point of balance. (I'm working on this with Carew at home.)

On the positive side, Carew responded well to my whistle commands, lifted the sheep well, and brought them nicely to the gateway into the field with the fetch gates. It's a great feeling when your dog's responding well to your commands and bringing the sheep in a straight line. Straight through the fetch gates, the sheep then continued straight through the gateway into the main field. It was looking really good; the sheep were coming quietly and headed straight to the red cone that was serving as the post.

Wide view of the trials ground a Ivy House Sheepdog trials
An ultra wide-angle shot of the Ivy house trials ground in Shropshire.

As Carew turned her sheep tightly around the post to begin the drive I remember thinking that I couldn't ask more from a dog. The sheep barely deviated off line before passing through the first drive gate and Carew turned them just as well onto the crossdrive.

Regular readers will know that the crossdrive is often the part of a trial that I find most difficult, but on this occasion the drive ran parallel to a nearby hedge - which acted as a perfect guide towards the second gates. Carew's sheep duly passed through these and, again, she turned them nicely towards the pen (whatever happened to shedding, I wonder?)

Once more, I cannot fault Carew at the pen; she did everything I asked. Carew kept out when I wanted, applied just enough pressure as required, and was supremely accurate with her flanks but, try as we might, we just couldn't persuade the woollies to go in. I must take full responsibility for this failure because just as with Kingsland trial last weekend, those who penned most successfully seemed to "muddle" the sheep in.

So engrossed was I with the precision of the run (after such a disastrous beginning) that I'd forgotten my mental note to try "hustling" the sheep in if they wouldn't pen quietly. I'd also lost track of time. We'd wasted quite a lot of our allowance while I was redirecting Carew on the outrun and, quite quickly after reaching the pen, the timekeeper sounded his car horn. Another ten points lost.

On paper the run was terrible, but for those watching, and more especially for me, it was a mixture of inexperience (Carew's done very little gathering from another field) and my own failure to keep track of time and to try to push the sheep harder at the pen. The obvious downside of hurrying the pen is that the sheep are more likely to dodge away and even circle the it, but if they simply won't go in after having time to settle and patiently applying pressure, it's worth having a go!

What can I say about Kay's run?

I completely failed to get Kay to see the sheep in the far field but, being more experienced than Carew, I hoped she'd turn through the gateway on her outrun.

Ivy House SDT
Sunday 8th June 2014

Morning Session

Judge: Karin Haker
Open Class (Points lost)

  1. Arwyn Davies - Floss, 14
  2. Idris Morgan - Scott, 20
  3. Lorna Owen - Dot, 21
  4. Andrew Hughson - Fay, 22 (OLF)
  5. John Wheaton - Ros, 22
  6. Aled Owen - Llangwm Cap, 23

Afternoon Session

Judge: Huw Francis
Open Class (Points lost).

  1. Aled Owen - Llangwm Cap, 5
  2. Karin Haker - Rob, 6
  3. Aurwen Price - Lyn, 8
  4. Angie Blackmore - Moss, 10
  5. Gwyn Lightfoot - Mari, 17
  6. Sheila Lewis - Jill, 18 &
    Charlotte Russell - Bob

Thanks to South Wales Sheepdog Trials Association for these results.

As we walked out to the post after Judge Huw Francis had kindly wished us luck, I was alarmed to see that Kay's focus was firmly fixed on the exhaust pen at the bottom left of the field. I set her up on my right to show her that she was going that way, but for some reason I said "Come bye" and Kay (quite rightly) shot to the left.

Realising my mistake, I stopped her immediately and sent her "Away" but she was convinced the sheep were in the bottom left of the field and crossed again. For the dog to cross over once on its outrun is a cardinal sin (some judges will disqualify the dog for this) but twice is unimaginably embarrassing!

I decided to abandon the run altogether and raised my stick to show the judge I was retiring. It's the responsibility of all competitors at sheepdog trials in the UK to take the sheep off the field after their run, so I sent Kay off towards the proper gate to fetch the sheep, but she circled as she approached it - searching for sheep.

Eventually I managed to get her to go out through the middle gateway by the fetch gates, and sent her "Away" but she crossed over once more. Remember, although we'd retired, everyone else was still watching!

I was terribly embarrassed. Kay didn't help when she refused to stop, and she behaved just as though she was an excited young dog working at a task that she wasn't properly trained for. Fortunately the competitors had been asked to stay by the exhaust pen after their run, to keep the sheep in there while the next run took place.

A delightful view of the trials field (from the exhaust pen) at Ivy House
A delightful view of the trials field (from the exhaust pen) at Ivy House.

This gave me time to simmer down and reflect on Kay's behaviour (and my own terrible mistake when I sent her the wrong way) before I had to talk to anyone who'd been watching.

Kay clearly needs more preparation before her run and, to be honest, I hadn't been working her over the past few days. It was altogether one of those runs that every handler dreads - and most experience at some time or other.

Congratulations to Arwyn Davies and Floss - winners of the morning trial, and of course, Aled Owen with Llangwm Cap for winning the afternoon event.

We're booked to run at Clun next Saturday - let's hope for a much better run from Kay and a good outrun from Carew. If Carew can get the outruns right, I'm sure she will do well (and if I can remember "Come bye" from "Away" that is!)


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