Trials go South in Shropshire – and Carew’s wobbly at Obley

Carew has mixed fortunes while Kay's consistently impatient.

A sheep misses the drive gates at a Shropshire Sheepdog Trial
One of Colin Gordon and Maid's sheep dodges outside the second drive gates

I mentioned in my last blog that I was running in the South Shropshire Sheepdog Trial at Asterton on the 17th of May.

I did indeed go to the trial, but only Carew came with me because Kay's hormones had got the better of her. In the interest of any entire male dogs running (and to avoid embarrassment to their owners and myself) I thought it was wiser to leave her at home!

South Shropshire SDT
Saturday 17th May 2014

Morning Session

Judge: Cyril Roberts
Open Class (Points lost)

  1. Paul Tomkins - Dash 10
  2. Kevin Evans - Jim 14
  3. I. Jones - Tom 18
  4. Hugh Francis - Mist 19
  5. Stan Harden - Bob 20
  6. I. Jones - Ted 22

Novice class

  1. Paul Tomkins - Dash 10
  2. Stan Harden - Bob 20
  3. David Williams - Bob 26
  4. Mervyn Lewis - Moss 27

Afternoon Session

Judge: Kevin Evans
Open Class (Points lost).

  1. David Evans - Moss 10
  2. Cyril Roberts - Roy 16
  3. Glyn Jones - Cap 17
  4. John Lightfoot - Cap 18
  5. Yvonne Abrey - Meg 20
  6. Pennant Williams - Sweep 21

Novice Class

  1. Alastair Gilchrist - Jock 25
  2. Harcourt Lloyd - Nip 29
  3. Colin Gordon - Maid 30
  4. John Lightfoot - Spot 32

South Shropshire was a "pre-entry" trial. By the time I'd entered only runs one and four were available, so I planned to run Carew at number one, and Kay at four. Running first can be daunting because you don't get a chance to "read the sheep" on the runs before your own - that's probably why the first run was still available.

We arrived in plenty of time, and were treated to the spectacular view of the sun coming up over Shropshire's wonderful Long Mynd hills, on a most beautiful morning! I was fairly relaxed about running first, despite being warned that the sheep at Asterton can be "challenging". To be honest, Carew seems to excel with difficult sheep, so when I sent her off (at 7.30am) I was fairly hopeful of a good run.

As Carew went up the field to my right, the sheep began to make their way down towards the fetch gates, but they stopped as she approached them. Suffice to say they were very difficult, but Carew managed to bring them close to the fetch gates.

If anything, Carew wasn't applying as much pressure as I wanted so I wasn't expecting the sheep to suddenly split - with two of them galloping off to my left, while the other two headed off equally fast to the right hand side of the field!

There's not an awful lot you can do when this happens at a sheepdog trial, other than to gather the errant sheep back together and try again.

Carew brought the four back into a bunch, but they slipped past the fetch gates and then galloped off in opposite directions again! Poor Carew bunched the sheep up again, but they were being very stubborn.

Time was slipping away, and as we'd not even managed to get the sheep around the post at this point, I decided to "walk" (retire).

For the next few runs the sheep continued to be difficult but, as so often seems to happen at sheepdog trials, they gradually settled down and appeared to become more manageable as the day went on.

Obley (Novice) Sheepdog Trial

Vehicles spaced out in a row across a sheepdog trial field
Despite a bad weather forecast, the day was mostly dry.

Sunday's Obley (Novice) trial seemed a much more inviting prospect. As I understand it, a novice trial is restricted to dogs that have not won an open trial, but the Obley trial goes a step further by disallowing handlers who have won an open trial too. Add to this Obley's reputation for excellent sheep and for anyone keen to get placed in a sheepdog trial, this would seem to be an unmissable event.

I must add that since making a "comeback" to trials this year, I'm determined to not allow the quest for places and points to detract from my enjoyment of the sport. I have excellent dogs, and I don't need trial results to prove that (but they would be nice).

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The weather forecast for Obley was not good, suggesting there would be heavy rain all day, so I made sure I had plenty of reliable wet weather gear with me as Kay, Carew and I set off for Shropshire.

In the event the morning was very dull and damp, but it stayed dry most of the time and brightened considerably for the afternoon.

We arrived in time for the first run, but I didn't rush to get my entries in because I'd decided to let Carew watch some runs first in the hope it might inspire her. Unlike Kay, who I'm holding back all the time on a trials field to stop her pushing too hard and upsetting her sheep, Carew has to be urged on to keep her properly in touch with her sheep.

Obley (Novice) SDT
Sunday 25th May 2014

Judge: Sophia Pugh
(Points lost)

  1. David Williams - Bob 8
  2. Jamie Garland - Tess 10
  3. David Williams - Non 11
  4. Lesley Jones - Sian 12
  5. Andy Nickless - Carew 18
  6. Danielle Jones - Gus 19

Young Handler

  1. Danielle Jones - Gus
  2. Jamie Williams - Katy
  3. Ben Owen - Dot 23

Because of this, and her tendency to hesitate at the top of the field (where she collects the sheep) I've been "winding her up" at home by making "shushing" noises whenever I send her on an outrun. It seems to be working too.

After a while I went to the secretary's trailer to register Carew and Kay, and we were allocated runs fifteen and twenty. This suited me nicely. I didn't want to stay for the full day, but it gave us plenty of time to watch other runs.

4x4 Vehicles lined up with a stock trailer (office) and catering tent
Car park, secretary's "office" and catering tent at Obley Novice Sheepdog Trial.

The first thing I noticed was that the sheep were fine so long as the dog gave them plenty of room, but they pulled to the handler's right on the fetch - and again on the way to the first drive gate (it was a left hand drive).

Many handlers appeared to be misjudging the first drive gates because the sheep seemed to be pulling to the left, but when the dog was flanked left to correct this, the sheep dodged to the right of the gates and missed them. I watched this on several runs and made a mental note to keep my dogs on the right and not be tempted to flank them left just before the drive gates.

If you've read my earlier blogs you'll know that I always run Carew first. I have to shout at Kay, to keep her back, and my shouting upsets Carew! I intend to work on this, but for the time being I run Carew first.

In sheepdog trials it's common practice to run your best dog last. The sheep are often (though not always) calmer later in the day, so for anyone keen to achieve a good result, it makes sense to give the best dog the best chance of success.

Despite her quirkiness, Carew's showing potential to do much better than Kay so, eventually, I'd like to have the option to run her last if I want to (who said I'm not after results?).

Penning at a sheepdog trial
Promising young handler Ben Owen was timed out at the pen with Dot

Watching the runs still further, I noticed that the sheep seemed to shed easily enough if the dog was calm and gave them plenty of room, but they were difficult to pen. So much so, that quite a number of handlers were being timed out at the pen, including Ben Owen - a talented young handler from Penybont in Mid Wales.

In my effort to get Carew excited before her run, I stood with her in front of our car for several runs - even allowing her to watch the closer shed and penning operations. She sat reasonably quietly - possibly more quietly than I'd hoped - but she was watching intently.

I should add that this isn't common practice at trials. Often, dogs get so excited when they're allowed to watch the runs before their own, that handlers will go to some effort to ensure their dog isn't able to watch.

Of course, I had done my best to make sure Carew didn't see the exhaust pen during this time. With the peg being so far away up the field, and the exhaust pen (where the sheep are put after their run) comparatively close, it's best to avoid the dog seeing the exhaust pen until after its run.

Whether I'd been successful or not, just as she did at Felindre two weeks ago, Carew set off on her outrun, then suddenly veered back towards the exhaust pen. This time, though, I was quicker to correct her. I stopped her and re-directed her up the field, but the damage was done. As she sped off up the field, I shook my head in disbelief.

This may seem like a carbon copy of my blog on Felindre trial, because from the moment she doubled back and I corrected her, Carew performed wonderfully. She lifted the sheep beautifully, brought them down the fetch calmly, losing just one point when they stopped momentarily before passing through the middle of the fetch gates and on to the post where she brought them round so close that I felt I could reach out and touch them.

Off they went towards the first drive gates and remembering what I'd observed earlier, I resisted the urge to correct the sheep immediately before the gates, and as I held her back and to the right, they passed through beautifully (it worked)!

The cross drive was good, with the sheep moving steadily more or less on line, but, once again, the second drive gates somehow eluded me. Through no fault of Carew's I misjudged it, and as Carew flanked to correct the sheep, two of them dodged outside the gates due to "driver error".

Moving on, Carew brought the sheep nicely to the shedding ring where they amazingly separated into two groups of two. I could have called Carew through, but thought better of it as some judges will penalise the handler in cases like this for "not actually shedding". Instead, I moved towards the sheep at an angle that pushed them towards each other, then I flanked Carew and they parted nicely again and I called her through. (We didn't lose any points for the shed.)

Carew gathered the sheep back together, and brought them steadily to the pen - so steadily in fact, that they were nicely settled. With just a few small flanks either way, and lots of patience (hoping against hope that we wouldn't be timed out) the sheep eventually walked into the pen, and I closed the gate. We'd done it!

Of course Carew's error at the beginning cost us dearly, but otherwise it was an excellent run for a young, inexperienced dog. Carew went into second place on the result board with eighteen points lost (eight of them for her botched outrun). Better runs later in the day pushed her down to fifth place overall, but I'm really pleased with her.

What can I say about Kay's run?

Kay is such a super little dog. She's hard working, loyal and obedient, but she insists on pushing her sheep just that little bit too hard.

Basically, Kay had a pretty good run. She went out wide on her outrun, reached the point of balance, and then pushed too hard on the lift and fetch, losing six points between them.

She pushed too hard on the drive, too. My tactic of keeping her to the right before the first gates worked again, and the sheep went through nicely, but then I misjudged the second drive gates (again) and, just as with Carew's run, two sheep dodged around the outside.

I have no complaints about Kay's shed. It's not her strong point as she's done little shedding, but on this occasion she came through perfectly. However, for some reason, when I sent her "Away" to re-gather the sheep, Kay crossed over, so we will have lost points there.

Of course, when it came to the pen Kay was pushing too hard again. I feel as though I spent the whole ten minutes of our run shouting "lie down". With Kay too close and moving too quickly at the pen, the sheep were able to escape around it twice and they refused to go in. We were timed out, and Kay finished with twenty six points lost - ninth overall, I believe.

If that sounds ungrateful to little Kay, it's not meant to be; she's a wonderful dog, a great worker, and an invaluable assistant on our sheepdog training courses. We think the world of her. It's just that if those sheep had popped into the pen (as they so nearly did on several occasions) she might have lost only about twenty points - not far behind Carew...

And then, if Carew had only... (you could go on forever, couldn't you)?

Next Saturday (31st May) - Kingsland Trial in Herefordshire!

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