On November 19th, a cold, wintery morning at 7:00am and the temp is 14 degrees above zero, we start out for Pine City, MN and Ellysian Farm. We are entered in two herding trials. When we entered it was not believed to be this cold. The farm is beautiful and quiet. Only the owners, Kim and Joe Schneider were out feeding stock, moving stock or making sure everything was in position for the herding trials today. The coffee was on, the wood stove was stoked and the smiles were in abundance.
As folks arrived, we all were anticipating what the day would be like. Would we qualify? For some of us, that was a Pass or Fail, at the level of testing we were at. The trial started at 8:30 am with a handlers meeting by the judge with the exhibitors for that class. The first judge was Canadian, her name was Tonya Wheeler. We were #6 in a class of 7 dogs competing for a leg, or qualified run.
The JHD means Junior Herding Dog. At this level, one enters the pasture with your dog on leash. I believe the pasture was 100' x 100'. You proceed to within 15' of the sheep or as close as you can without the sheep running away. With a German Shepherd, I can only come within 50' of the sheep, or they tell me we are too close by stomping their feet or moving away. We put our dog on a sit or down stay. We remove the leash. We walk calmly to our sheep and turn around to face the dog. The dog must remain in the stay position until the handler gives the command to move. My command to Natalie is "Steady Walk", we start walking with the sheep. The dog gets up and hopefully does not charge in and scatter the sheep. It is with anticipation that she herds them calmly.
The pattern has three panels that the sheep have to go through. It is your choice which panel you choose to start the course. Once you go through one panel you proceed through the other 2 panels. All 3 sheep do not need to go through each panel but it is nice if they do. Then you proceed to the pen where the handler puts the dog on a stay command. Ideally the dog is between the gate and the sheep. This part entails the dog holding the sheep off the gate so that the handler can open it to let the sheep go into the pen. Once the sheep go through the gate, the handler closes the gate with the dog is trotting slowly behind the sheep. Then the exercise is complete. It is a timed event and you have 10 minutes to complete the course. You need to do this same pattern 2 x under 2 different judges to get your title. It is a PASS or DID NOT PASS event.
Our first leg or run was really nice and calm. Since I had never penned sheep before, getting Natalie to sit between the gate and the sheep was a little difficult. I soon realized the sheep ended up behind the gate. Which meant when I opened the gate, the sheep had to go around me, in front of Natalie and go into the pen. It worked for us as I opened the gate and stepped back to allow the sheep to run around the gate and into the pen. Natalie did not move until I was closing the gate.
Tonya Wheeler wrote comments on my sheet "Very nice handling. Excellent!" She told me, "we looked like we were in harmony working towards the same goal and it was the way it should be done". My time was 2 minutes 5 seconds.
Our second leg or run was under Judge, James Bergert from Iowa. We walked calmly through the course. For the 2nd run we stopped the sheep about 2 or 3 fence posts away from the gate. I put Natalie on a sit stay, turned and walked to the pen. As I walking slowly to the pen I noticed the sheep were walking with me. I was surprised to see them at my side. I got to the gate and opened it. To my good fortune, Natalie was sitting and watching us, she never moved as I penned the sheep. As I was closing the gate I told Natalie to "walk up", which she did slowly. This was our 2nd leg or run and we were done. We qualified for our title. YEAH!!!. Natalie was awesome. The time was 2 minutes 1 second.
James comment on my sheet: "Nice dog". I thanked him for the visual of how to pen the sheep during the handlers meeting. James told me, "You did a really nice job and the two of you were very calm together".
All 7 JHD and 1 HCT competitors qualified.
The only part that was not positive was the temperature, which dropped to about zero with a windchill or lower, as the day went on. It was not just cold, it was freezing. We were at the farm, in the cold, from 8:30am until 4:00pm. At this time the awards were handed out and we all shared a wonderful potluck with Joe Schneiders' Beef Stew/Soup in their warm house.
Natalie and I returned home around 6:30pm.
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