Although we talk often about the Border Collies of Boywood, there is a dog in the background who makes it all possible. He is the loyal guard of the flock, working 24/7 through harsh winter blizzards and humid, scorching summer days to protect the sheep from coyotes and other predators, yet asks no recompense except food, water, care for any injuries and illnesses, and a flock to look after. They give so much, yet ask so little.
We have been blessed to have had several outstanding livestock guardian dogs (LGD) over the years, primarily the Maremma, a graceful yet powerful beast with thick white fur to insulate him from cold, and to act as his disguise so that he blends unseen into the sea of wool.
Some LGDs are perimeter dogs, running to the edges of the field or to the fence to ward off danger before it approaches, and others are flock dogs, who stay with the sheep as their protector, not to be tricked or lured away by the wiley coyotes.
Henry has been our flock dog...
Both Mary Lou and Kathy were honoured to represent Canada at the 2014 ISDS World Sheepdog Trial, with their current dogs Dyna and Craig respectively. The event was held in the highlands near Tain, Scotland, and is the pinnacle of sheepdog competition for competitors around the world.
This is the second time both Mary Lou and Kathy have represented Canada, competing also in the 2011 World Sheepdog Trial in England.
Mary Lou and Dyna had a fantastic USBCHA National Finals, first winning the qualifying round with an incredible 201, beating 149 other top competitors.
Then they continued their outstanding performance by tying for second in the semi-final round and making their first appearance in the USBCHA National Double Lift Final!
What an amazing ride!
Well, we are finally back on this time zone, and the experience in the UK and Ireland still seems a bit surreal. We learned so much and I have been busily trying to write down all the lessons. I have been working my dogs with new eyes, and with a greater understanding and appreciation for what each dog brings to the table, instead of lamenting what they are missing. There were many dogs I saw across the pond that did beautiful work. Although the dogs had flaws, they were brilliantly handled.
The humidity in Ontario has been unreal, and is still limiting the amount work we can do with the dogs. Dyna is being watched closely to see if the Joe x Dyna breeding comes to fruition although realistically we won't know for a few weeks.
New life on the horizon and I think about the intertwined lives of sheep, sheepdogs and guardians on a farm. The end of an era is coming, with old Border Collies and guard dogs who have grown up together reaching their elder years. It started while we were...
We finally pointed our rental car toward Manchester airport, but not without a few adventures. We suddenly realized one of the crates we had acquired didn't have venting at the back, and would not be accepted at the airline. Thomas had gone off to market and we scrambled around looking for either a substitute crate we could use or a drill to put vent holes into the back. Finally, we phoned Thomas in a panic as our required time of departure was rapidly approaching.
Fortunately, Thomas was on his way back and with his typical friendly and gentlemanly demeanor calmly sorted the situation out for us by drilling some holes into the crate. It was a miracle of packing that got five dogs, five crates and all our luggage for the month into the Hyundai Santa Fe we were driving.
Naturally, because we were now running late the GPS took us on the worst possible route to the airport and we ended up stuck in morning traffic.
When we arrived, the rental company was also running late due to traffic...
Well, if you were going to have a bitch come into season, what better timing than the World Sheepdog Trial. Dogs had been sniffing at Mary Lou's Dyna for a couple of weeks so I took the liberty of enquiring about stud dogs in advance just in case the timing worked out. As it turned out, Bobby Dalziel's amazing Joe, two time winner of the Scottish National and the 2006 Supreme International Champion (won when he was only two years of age), had a free space on his dance card. We crossed our fingers that Dyna would be ready. It was going to be close.
In the meantime, we looked at several other dogs, and decided to bring a few back with us. A daughter of Jim Cropper's Reserve World Champion Sid, another young bitch who is a daughter of Denis Birchall's World Trial finalist Bill, and a pup that goes back to much of the great old Irish breeding were among our choices.
The big date between Joe and Dyna arrived, and the location behind cars in the large field car park felt like some sort of...
The day before the trial started, there was a big parade in the city of Penrith. Mary Lou and I elected to drive to the parade route instead of taking the bus as Dyna was in season.
However, we had no idea where the parade route started. By the time we found parking, we were running late, and since we had the Canadian flag, it was kind of important for us to be in the parade.
We saw a street lined with people, and deduced that was probably the parade route (duh). We ran to the road, but then weren't sure whether to run up the street or down the street. We decided to run in the direction everyone was looking on the assumption that they knew more about it than we did! People started cheering as we ran by. Handlers from several other countries who were in the same boat started to follow us on the mistaken idea that we knew where we were going. After sprinting through half the town we found the throng of handlers milling about waiting to start the parade.
It was quite a spectacular...
There almost wasn't a World Trial.
The remnants of Hurricane Katia's fury tore down tents and fences and left the World Trial site looking like, in Thomas Longton's words, a war zone. You can see the collapsed marquee and toppled fencing in the picture.
We could only get a quick picture or two as we were directed away, as the site is quite dangerous and no competitors are being allowed on the site for safety reasons. The line of flags you can see on the ground is a line of collapsed tents.
The weather is still poor today, windy and heavy rain and everyone is scrambling to salvage what they can. The vendors and large fair running in conjunction with the trial has been postponed until the weekend, which allows organizers scrambling to get the fields ready for the trials one less thing to have ready for Thursday.
Even so, spirits seem good around the trial site, and on the positive side, no one was hurt and there is enough time to recover. We'll see what tomorrow brings...
We spent the morning with Thomas Longton, who is not only a brilliant sheepdog man, but a gracious host. If you ever want to experience a piece of rural English life in luxury, even if you don't run dogs, check out The Shepherd's Barn at www.longtonsheepdogs.com.
Thomas talked to us about sheep behaviour, picking a dog, judging and lots about handling. It was obvious this man was from a family that was involved with sheepdogs for generations. These people have grown up with sheep and dogs to a degree it is difficult for us to understand, as their culture is so rural. There are large tractors driving down major city roads on a regular basis!
Both Mary Lou and I had a bit of cabin fever from Mary Lou's illness, and since we had lost some time last week, decided to go visit another master sheepdog man and good friend, Gordon Watt.
Naturally, we underestimated the driving time and the sat nav (GPS to you North Americans) took us over hill and dale (or was it a moor?). With Hurricane...
Okay, now we know why the cross of Blue-faced Leicester and Swaledale sheep are called Mules. Saturday's trial was on a nice sized field and as Mary Lou still wasn't feeling 100%, we decided to run early and get back to the barn, even though the sheep would likely be better later in the day when they were rerun.
The mule sheep were hard to gauge...they could run like the wind or turn and fight at the drop of a hat. Talk about touchy... These sheep sized up a dog in seconds. Wee Dyna went out and marched them around the field and other than a bit of trouble at the pen, had a very fair run that put her in the prizes.
Craig came on too strong at the pen and needless to say these shrewd ewes weren't having any of it! Mary Lou held up her end to put Canada in the money.
Thomas also ran his dogs in the trial, and it was a treat to watch such a seasoned competitor work the mules with his different dogs. I learned a few penning tricks in the process, to be applied the next time I see mules!...
Starting right makes all the difference...