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!...
I don't stand a chance...
No, I'm not talking about sheepdog trialling in general or the upcoming World Trial in particular... I'm talking about not getting sick in the next week. I am currently sitting in a doctor's office surrounded by sick children. We are here because Mary Lou developed a cold on the ferry ride over that has progressed to the point of fever, fierce sore throat and a deep chest congestion. There is Kleenex all over the house.
I've cornered the market on orange juice and am considering echinacea, although I can't stand the taste. Due to a completely plugged nose, Mary Lou is breathing through her mouth all the time and the resulting belches are of epic proportion...including the one she accidentally just let rip out on the street as we were paying for parking...much to the horror of the very proper English gentleman nearby... and to Mary Lou, who was mortified, as that is very out of character.
Surrounded by wonderful fields of sheep and one of the masters of...
As we left Ireland, we were treated to a spectacular rainbow over the fields of sheep. Although we didn't find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, we certainly felt that we had found as much of a treasure in good friends and sheepdog knowledge.
We headed to Thomas Longton's farm and his spectacular Shepherd's Barn, a five star self-catering accommodation that is second to none. It is a renovated barn that makes you shake your head about what is possible if you have vision!
There are eight gorgeous kennels for dogs, and fantastic fields to train on. Thomas kindly showed us around, and there was a variety of sheep from Herdswick and Hebridean to Mule sheep.
Our luck with the weather seems to have run out temporarily, as there was severe flooding at the bottom of the drive when the creek overflowed its banks with the driving rain and a neighbour's drive shed was partially underwater. On the other hand, perhaps our luck is still holding as we are on higher ground!
It's true that as your ear gets used to an accent, it becomes easier to understand. I think we are down to saying "What was that again?" less than 20 times a day. We are now huntin' dogs instead of working our dogs, and apparently the word "yoke" can be used for any item under the sun... I think it roughly translates as "thing" or "stuff". We were originally talking about drugs injected into animals and someone said something about injecting yoke and at first we thought they meant egg yolk...hmmmm, how does that work?
Phone calls might end with guh-lug guh-lug guh-lug (approximate phonetic translation, said at high speed) which we were finally brave enough to ask about... It is very Irish to wish someone "good luck" (with a repeat or two) at the end of a conversation.
We needed some luck as we were going to be "hunting" our dogs on the weekend. We started out by heading to a local Irish crook maker, Tom Kavanagh. We didn't risk flying our own crooks across the pond and had been...
It's quite a different lifestyle to get up, do some stuff around the house, and then drive 10 minutes to a trial. Saturday's trial was hosted by Denis in the big field, and is a popular trial - handlers don't get many opportunities to challenge their dogs with that kind of a long outrun. People were coming and going, trying to juggle their schedules and all the things they needed to do before heading to the International in a couple of days. When one lives on an island, one lives by ferry and airline schedules.
Although they had been calling for poor weather all week, the conditions were ideal. Mary Lou finished 7th with Dyna on 93 points, just out of the placings by a point (it is always to 6 placings, no matter the number of competitors and there were a sizable number at the trial), and Craig and I placed 4th with a 94! Talk about tight competition!
Denis won the trial on 98 points, not much room for error around here. Man, these guys (it is almost entirely men) can turn panels!
We headed off to the west coast to watch Denis do a brace demonstration and then planned to do some sight seeing and shopping. Denis did this incredible demo, and sheep quickly changed their minds about challenging a dog when a second dog came into view.
The highlight was when Denis worked one dog on sheep and the other on ducks... All the more impressive when you knew that he didn't practice doing it, the dogs were just that well schooled!
From there we headed to Galway, looking for clothing for a potential Double Lift final. Mary Lou tried on a few things, but I didn't think purple suited her and I was worried the hair piece might come off in high wind...
From Galway, we headed to the spectacular Cliffs of Moher (which we pronounced mohair quite incorrectly). There was the safe tourist area and then there was a small slippery trail right along the cliff's edge.
You had to pass several "Danger: Do Not Enter" signs and a number of memorials of people who had died at the...
We've decided that it is easier to tow a huge trailer in Chicago traffic during an Oprah Winfrey event than drive on the left hand side of a ridiculously narrow road that has a 100 km speed limit and a stone wall within inches of the side-view mirror. We've now had a few up close and personals with the brush on the "verge" (edge of the road), I hope the rental car isn't scratched. I think one road we were on through the Wicklow mountains was actually a sheep trod in disguise. The trial we were heading to was an hour and a half away which, when it feels like you are about to have a head-on collision at any moment, seems like a four hour drive. No wonder 30 minutes is more the norm.
There were about 35 runners in this local trial. Handlers with multiple dogs went first, and then when everyone is down to a single dog, they do a draw so that all the single dogs run on rerun sheep. The sheep were a mixed flock, and touchy only begins to describe them. It wasn't unusual for there to be a...
I can't believe how much we are learning... About sheep, about dogs, and about handling. Our dogs are flanking better, shedding better, going back better. Denis is truly brilliant with the dogs. It is incredible to watch how fast he can train a dog. The way he gets into their mind is amazing.
We decided to give our dogs a day off and go explore Dublin. After a bit of shopping, we went (where else?) to the Guinness Storehouse. Arthur Guinness was a visionary who signed a 9000 year lease for the land and water source for the famous beer. There is a lesson to be learned in his faith and belief in making Guinness beer the success it is today.
We managed to turn the wrong way out of the tourist attraction and ended up in a bad part of Dublin. Upon asking for directions, we were warned to watch our purses while walking back towards the public transit. I guess our shopping bags were a bit of a giveaway that we were tourists. After a stressful but uneventful walk to the transit, we safely...
We were invited to stay at Denis Birchall's for a few days, and today Denis suggested we go out to "the big field". He loaded up some Scottish Blackface sheep into his small (sized for Irish roads) stock trailer and we headed off.
"The big field" was an understatement. It was a massive field, wide with an 800 yard outrun and young cows bouncing around. Denis shooed the cattle away and trailered the sheep down to the far end of the field, where white sheep looked like bits of rice and darker sheep were pretty much invisible.
Both Mary Lou and I were able to send our dogs the distance, 800 yards being a first for both dogs, and it didn't take long before they were listening well at that distance, if only I had binoculars for eyes so I could give them the correct commands! Driving the sheep back up that length of field was great experience for the dogs.
Another first for me was setting out both groups of sheep for a double lift by myself. Trying to get the second group out in time was...
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