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.
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...
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...
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 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'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...
This morning we headed to Hollywood. Big white letters up on the side of the hill. But wait, there's sheep grazing around the letters. No, this wasn't Hollywood, California, but rather Hollywood, Ireland. There is an amazing little local fair held in Hollywood every year, where many locals dress in period costumes of the early to mid-1900s. There are antique cars, steam tractors, horse-drawn buggies, old time Irish music and it feels as if you've gone back in time. True to form, there is also a sheepdog trial.
Mary Lou and I were some of the earlier ones to arrive (around noon, very laid back around here). We had to jump a barb wire fence after throwing our dogs over it to get to the path that took us to the field. Through a cemetery, over a stone bridge crossing a small stream, walk through another small stream, you get the idea. The field was small, but the sheep were set out of sight behind a [berm]. You couldn't see the sheep and the dog had to get directed out through a gap in...
Starting right makes all the difference...