I scribed for judge Linda Tesdahl for a few dogs. I nearly always have outer wear for three seasons in the car with me, but for some reason, I did not bring my warmest coat. It was quite cold because of the wind, which was strong, and seemed to rarely let up. Linda finally put on her warm coat and loaned me her fleece jacket to add a third jacket to my layers. It sure helped!
While scribing for Linda, I had a best-seat-in-the-house view of the rough going in Ranch. The sheep here typically run hard for the exhaust—or any other of several gates on the field—and this year was no exception. The holding pen is far up a hill in the top right corner of the field, while the exhaust is to the bottom left. When the set out had been moved down the field to the Pro-Novice distance, the pressure at the top wasn’t quite as bad, but the sheep were still willing to try to beat the set out team to get back to the top. Once they were on the move down the field, it was often a race for them, trying to get to the exhaust. The turn at the post in P-N and N-N was counter clockwise to a right hand drive, and when through the drive panels, turn right (out of the field) back to the pen. There’s a gate on the right hand fenceline that the sheep are familiar with, so the turn out of the drive panels required a quick come-bye flank from the dog to turn them from that gate and fenceline, which had to be followed immediately by a fast, big away flank to cover the exhaust pressure and keep them coming to the pen. All this didn’t bode well for me and my Novice-Novice dogs, though I thought Dot would probably handle them reasonably well as long as I held up my end of things. My sheer jangling nerves had me making funny choices; I went to ask Scott how he thought I might try to handle the top of Seamus’s outrun. An odd thing for me to do, considering Scott hasn’t worked the dog in two years, and had only seen us at one lesson last year. Asking Gene’s input would have been a bit more logical. Either way, all advice probably went in one ear, and out the other at the post.
Dot and I ran about halfway through the class of two dozen dogs that went to the post in Pro-Novice. I sent her to the left, and she went out to the fenceline for a bit, but then came in very flat. I had thought she was deep enough but she probably wasn’t. The sheep had been getting harder to settle throughout the day, and they broke to the right before she was really anywhere close to them. I couldn’t get her around them; she just trailed along behind them as if mesmerized, not taking my many flanks. Finally they started coming towards me; that is, towards the exhaust, but me and the post happened to sort of be in between them and the exhaust. Now I needed to flip Dot around on an away to get them around the post, and the turn was horribly wide. I can't really recall the drive or the panels, but our drive points tell me it was pretty wiggly. The sheep got around the pen at least twice, and time was called. Gene said that my timing was off; that I was asking her to flank or stop too late and too early—probably true. On top of that, I did not feel that we were teamed up very well at all that day. She didn't eat much of her breakfast, which I think is the first time since I've had her that she hasn't finished a meal, so perhaps she didn't feel well, although she seemed perky and normal in every other way. I knew our score would be awful, so I did not even look until there were only about two dogs left to run. The breakdown was Outrun 15, Lift 7, Fetch 5, Drive 13, Pen (T): Total 40 (of 80). Half our points gone; a 40, and some top hands in the class. I knew we wouldn’t be in the ribbons, and when the awards were announced, my mouth was engaged and my brain was not. Then I heard someone say, "Megan, that's you!"—Dave had announced Megan and Dot in 10th place. A real surprise!
The Novice-Novice class was very small; only five dogs, and two of them were mine. I am very grateful that Dave continues to support the Novice-Novice dogs, when many trials are dropping the class. His sheep and field are pretty difficult for Novice dogs, nearly as tough as Finality, in my opinion: although his sheep are better acquainted with dogs than the Finality sheep, they also like to run, run, RUN!
Seamus was first in the class. I sent Seamus left, despite that being the side where the pressure was, which can cause dogs to be tighter. His right is not nearly as good as his left so I preferred to take my chances. His outrun wasn't great, but I was okay with it. As expected, the lift was a horserace: They were off and running! Here was my first mistake; for some reason, I didn't have my whistle in my mouth (or even out) when he got up to the top of the field. So he was up there, approaching, then lifting, the sheep like a runaway freight train. I had no whistle, and I found myself frozen and tongue-tied! It took me a few heartbeats to even think of at least calling up the field to him as I scrabbled to get my whistle out from under my jacket, but the yelling (and then whistling) didn't matter. There was absolutely NO attempt on his part to lie down or slow down or acknowledge my existence. My original plan was to ensure that he listen to me at the top, even if I had to retire, but I found in that moment that although he was WRONG in his approach to the sheep, once they started zig-zagging, I couldn’t make myself go demand that he lie down while I allowed his sheep to run away. Although he was causing them to zig-zag and run by being too close and pushing on them too fast, he was also trying to control them and prevent them from escaping. Somehow he did manage to straighten them out and they ended up more or less coming directly to me for probably about the second half of the fetch, although they were coming down the field in a hurry. They may have been a bit off line a little to my left, but in my memory, the line wasn’t terribly off. And finally, he lied down…and I made my second big mistake. I thought I'd hold him there a little bit to try to get both him and the sheep a few seconds to settle down, but the sheep had no intentions of stopping just because the dog had stopped; they ran like hell for the exhaust. So I sent him away to try to cover the exhaust, but of course it was already too late. What a stupid mistake, especially because at the core, it was very similar to a mistake I made with him at Finality last year (although I think at Finality I had at least gotten him down while he was behind the post and supposedly should've been able to cover the exhaust). The sheep got down in the corner, and he took them out, but they headed up the rear fenceline (to what was now my left as I faced backwards down the field). He wasn't being bad with them and he was making an effort to get them, but they split and I saw that one was starting to consider really challenging him. I think he has enough courage to deal with it, but for a Novice-Novice class, it was NOT worth it to keep trying, since he was behaving reasonably towards the sheep. I didn't want to risk things getting out of control (having lost them to the exhaust wasn’t in control, but at least he was trying to gather them without getting crazy). I retired him. His outrun was given an 18 and his lift a 7, before our RT.
The fourth team, right before Dare, was my friend Judy with her young dog Finn. They had a VERY nice run, but at the very end while at the pen, two went in and one slipped around the side. She closed the gate on the two, and DQ'd herself. From my point of view it almost looked like maybe she didn't see that the third one was not actually in the pen. She said later that she'd intended to leave it open just the width of one sheep, but that the wind had slammed it shut; it had been very windy all day. I felt so bad for her. It was a very good run, and she really would have deserved the win.
Dare and I were last. She ran out to the left pretty tight. Sheep off and running again, sort of down the field and kind of online, Dare not particularly taking my stops either. We got around the post, and the drive wasn't great. By this time I had made a plan for the turn from the drive panels back to the pen. Because we were turning the sheep right out of the panels, and there was a need to flank come-bye for the turn and then cover the right side of the field, then flank the dog back almost 180 degrees to cover the exhaust, I thought I'd push them through the panels and have her walk up on them just enough to try to turn them right, but not be so close to push them hard to the right. My thought was that if they weren’t moving too fast out of the panels they might not be thinking as much about the gate on the right side fence, and they might pull back to head towards the exhaust. If that worked, then Dare wouldn't be so far out of position as to have to flank far to the come-bye side, then race 180 degrees to the other side to cover the pressure of the exhaust. It was a plan (I so rarely have a plan, other than trying to not have my dogs “punch” the sheep on the lift and chase them down the fetch!), but it didn't work out. The sheep turned right out of the panels but didn't pull back left as I expected, so then I had to try to race Dare clockwise just to catch them, then back counter-clockwise to keep them from getting to the exhaust and headed to the pen.
I try to go to the pen as soon as I can, but I also try not to pick up the rope until I have to, so that I'm not committed to the pen in case there's some way I can help the dog by moving around a bit. But these sheep were running, and I should have run to the pen myself and flung the gate open. I should have taken into account that as soon as Gene could leave the post in his Pro-Novice class, HE ran to the pen. That may have been the first time I have ever seen him run! But I waited too long before realizing I should open the gate, and they went past me. Dare was able to cover the exhaust well enough to prevent an escape, but didn’t get around far enough to pull them back to the pen. They went way behind it, in a big hurry, towards the gate on the right side of the field. She turned on the afterburners and started to chase. Thank goodness she responded and checked herself when I yelled her name! She gathered them, we penned, and we were done. Whew… Outrun 15, Lift 8, Fetch 16, Drive 11, Pen 5. Total 55 (of 80). One other dog completed the course, and with a much lower score; I had retired Seamus, and the other two runs were DQs. So, Dare and I won with a 55, basically by default since my friend had the bad luck mistake. I am happy that Dare and I managed the best run of our class, but I sure hope we can turn in better quality runs this season. We can do nice work; we just seem to defeat ourselves at trials.
Our next trial is at the PA State Championship in June. I hope that I will be able to get them enough exercise and time out of their crates, as we'll be there helping out several days before our classes, which will likely add to their excitement and stress.
Dot 10th in Pro-Novice, Dare 1st in Novice-Novice