Kay shows her true potential at Slindon Sheepdog Trial

Kay's excellent performance at Slindon SDT is in stark contrast to that of her handler

I cannot recall when I last competed in an Open sheepdog trial. It must be at least five or six years, but I can't even remember which trial it was.

Jim Cropper completes the single with Shirley Cropper's Ricky
Jim Cropper had a good run with his wife Shirley's Ricky - apart from missing the last drive gates. Here Ricky completes the Single

Last year I competed in the Local Novice class at Powick with Kay and, later in the year, both Mathon and Evesham trial local novice classes with Carew and Kay, but an "Open" trial is a different matter.

In an Open trial you can find yourself competing with world class competitors. Indeed, twice World Champion Aled Owen was the first to run in yesterday's trial, and later, Jim Cropper (runner-up in the 2002 World Sheepdog trials) competed too. The morning trial was judged by Gus Dermody of BBC's "One Man and His Dog" fame.

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At Slindon (near Eccleshall, Staffordshire) yesterday, Aled took first and third places with his dogs Cap (1st) and Roy, while Jim Cropper was fifth with Ricky. David Wood took second place with Sal, Paul Johnson fourth (Bo) and David Huddleston sixth (Udale Orla). Amongst the other notables in attendance were Richard Montgomery, Alastair Gilchrist, Shirley Cropper and Nij Vyas. The event consisted of two sheepdog trials, one in the morning and another (with a different judge) in the afternoon. I only competed in the morning trial as I wanted to get back home in time to do some work. Full results of the trial appear at the bottom of this page.

If I was to say that Kay came thirteenth (26 ran) with sixty-seven points, while Udale Orla (in sixth) scored eighty one, it would suggest that Kay's performance was poor, but bearing in mind that it was only Kay's fourth sheepdog trial (ever) and that her sheep missed the last drive gates (through no fault of her own - it was purely my bad judgement) the eight points she lost for her sheep missing those gates would have put her up to a competitive seventy five.

This shows the importance of getting the sheep through every stage of the trial. If your sheep go off line you'll lose a point here and there, but if they miss an obstacle, you lose a bundle. In fact (along with quite a number of other competitors) Kay was timed-out at the single losing a further handful of points. It's easy to dream that if she'd managed to save just four or five of those points for the single, she might have been "into the points" (not to mention prize money) but that's not why we were there.

Sheepdog enthusiastically looking out of it's trailer at a sheepdog trial
Shirley Cropper's Danny eagerly awaits his turn to run. He was placed 5th in the afternoon trial.

To be honest, I had no aspirations of winning, or even getting into the points; I simply wanted Carew and Kay to perform well, and they certainly did that. Carew was unfortunate to get a bunch of black-faced sheep (renowned for being stubborn) but under the circumstances (she's only three years old and this was only her third sheepdog trial) she did remarkably well. At the beginning of the drive the sheep stopped to challenge her, stamping their feet and quite determined to face her down, but Carew kept the pressure on until eventually they turned away in submission. I can't claim that Carew was faultless - far from it. On several occasions she failed to flank when asked, and she was sometimes reluctant to stop, but these are signs of her inexperience. Knowing what she's like at home, I'm sure Carew will settle down at sheepdog trials if she's given the opportunity.

Kay, on the other hand, was at her best. With the exception of not coming through quickly enough at the single (it's a couple of years since she had any practice at this) she did everything I asked, precisely when I asked it. Her stop was particularly good - something that amazed me because little Kay is not renowned for stopping well. I seem to have found the secret to this though. For some reason, if I say "Lie Down" or "Stand" Kay can be slow to obey, but if I say "Stay There" she's down instantly. It's something we've noticed only recently, and I'll certainly be making use of it at sheepdog trials in future.

So with all this praise, you may be wondering why Kay didn't win the trial at Slindon yesterday! Well, sadly, one side of the team showed a lot of room for improvement.

Me...

Two sheepdogs looking out from their cage in the back of an estate car
Carew and Kay watching the proceedings at Slindon Sheep Dog Trial yesterday.

My performance, particularly with Kay, could be politely described as "rusty", but I can think of better descriptions. Maybe I'm being a little harsh on myself though, after all, Kay's improved stop was rather like having driven a car with sloppy brakes for a long time, and then finding yourself in a brand new sports car with disc brakes. But no excuses, if I'm going to take sheepdog trials seriously, then I really must practice more. When Kay missed those drive gates it was purely my bad judgement. I got it wrong.

The cross-drive has never been my favourite section in a sheepdog trial, though I'm not the only competitor who finds it difficult to judge the distances involved when the dog is going across the field (rather than away from or towards me). Yesterday, I took the trouble to arrive well before the start of the trial and walked up the course to take a good look at where the sheep needed to be in relation to the fetch gates, to help my judgement. On Carew's run we managed it (just) but with Kay I was miles out.

Never mind, there's always next time, but before then I intend to get in some cross-drive practice, and Kay will be concentrating on her shedding and singling.

Slindon Sheepdog Trial

Morning Trial
Judge: Gus Dermody

  1. A Owen (Cap) 91 of 100
  2. D Wood (Sal) 89
  3. A Owen (Roy) 85
  4. P Johnson (Bo) 83
  5. J Cropper (Ricky) 82
  6. T Huddleston (Ola) 81

Afternoon Trial
Judge: Paul Johnson

  1. J Cropper (Nidd) 85 of 90
  2. T Foster (Mist) 84
  3. R Montgomery (Meg) 83 (OLF)
  4. J Cropper (Rock) 83
  5. S Cropper (Danny) 81
  6. N Vyas (Mac) 80

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