Thursday, July 16, 2009

Calgary Stampede

July 5 & 6, 2009 - Calgary, Alberta. The Calgary Stampede is known for being a cowboy extravaganza. They do everything big there and the purses in the competitions reflect it. In the dog trial, the winner gets $10,000. The whole $10,000. However, it isn't a field trial, but an arena time and points trial. (fastest dog to complete the course wins) The only other time I had been to the Calgary Stampede Stockdog Championships was in 2004. I had been told that better handlers than me had tried it and failed, but I was pretty sure that with my five year old Bob-dog, I could get it done. Almost did too. In the first round, we played it safe and just made sure we finished, but in the second round we sped it up and ended up with the fastest qualifying time ever. In the final round, with the crowd cheering in the Saddledome,Bob made one mistake and it cost us the 3 seconds we needed to win. Still, we got $4,000 for reserve champion, plus the $500 we made for winning the second round, and two new jackets.
I hadn't been back to the Stampede until this year. Bob is retired now and at ten, he moves alot slower than he did when he was a five year old. Pulling him out of retirement didn't seem wise, but his cousin Lad is only 4. Lad doesn't have the experience in an arena like Bob did. In fact, he's only been in one arena trial and he didn't find the sheep. However, I thought it might be fun to try it again. So I dusted off the old buckle Bob won me years ago in a different arena trial, and put it on my belt for good luck. Lad and I hitched a ride with Louanne Twa and Lisa Wright who were competing in their first Stampede.

Me and Lad, Louanne and Isla, and Lisa and Hope
Scott is a definite threat at the Stampede having won it the first two years they had it, but he stayed home this year. There is no parking on the grounds and that means there is no place for all our dogs - we live too far to commute each day so he stayed home and continued training his dogs for the National Finals.
With one exception, (the last time I was there) the sheep at the Stampede have a reputation for being no fun to play with. They are not dog broke and have never seen the inside of an arena. They can be very cranky and take it out on the dogs. However, even if they attack your dog, it is not allowed to grip. The Stampede committee has discussed this every year, and with the amount of people that watch this competition, they don't want them to witness a dog hanging off a sheep's nose. So, if you get a grumpy sheep, even if it is no fault of your dog's, you will likely be called off.
This year the sheep were just as angry to be there as usual. I drew up at the end of the day which was fortunate for me, because Louanne noticed how the dogs who were careful and tried to walk the sheep around the course of figure eight barrels, Y chute and pen, were rewarded with a head butt from the sheep and a whistle from the grip judge as the dog bit one back. The dogs who came in a little fast and kept the sheep moving, got more respect from them.
Lisa and Hope tried this method out early in the day, and although the sheep had no interest in challenging him, Hope got a little too excited and gripped anyway.

Lisa and Hope wait for the sheep to be put in the arena.
A couple of practices the week before with Lad had convinced me this might be my fate too.
Soon enough, it was time for us. We set up in the chalk circle and I sent him as soon as the sheep entered the arena. The jumbo-tron, flashed our names and the camera men stayed focused on Lad as he streaked down to the sheep.

Our names on the jumbo-tron while they filmed Laddie.
Lad took every whistle and the sheep obeyed his every move. It was almost like I was working old Bob again. When he got to the Y chute, I stopped whistling and started talking to him. This was where the sheep gave the dogs the most trouble but a few adjustments and Lad had them through. As he stood in the chute, pushing the sheep through, I flanked him to hurry them to the pen, but with the cheers and the announcer on the loudspeaker, he couldn't hear me. I asked him 3 times as loud as I could but he didn't move until I whistled to him. I ran to the pen and we stopped them in the mouth. I slowed everything down then and eased them in. At the close of the pen gate, our time was 2 minutes, 27 seconds.

Lad and I working the sheep into the pen
Good for second place behind Randy Dye and Sweep (a grandson of Scott's old Dan - who had won it once before). Donna Smith filmed the whole thing and put it on her blog.
Louanne and Isla ran shortly after and although she didn't get a pen, her dog listened as well as Lad and she had no trouble with the sheep.

Isla and the sheep make the turn around Louanne
They were tricky to get in that pen and there were only 19 who did on the first day. The next day there were even fewer pens. Anyone who got a second one was guaranteed to make the final round.
Lisa slowed it down in the second round and was rewarded with no grip from Hope, however, with no score the first day, she couldn't make it to the last round. Louanne had another good go and even tho Isla has a reputation for reprimanding sheep in an arena trial, she kept her mouth shut and made it to the pen. Disappointingly, time ran out before she could finish and two days without a pen kept her from moving on. By this time, I was convinced Lad wasn't going to get that pen. Perhaps there is something to positive and negative thinking because that is exactly what happened. However, he was once again good around the course and we were one of the fastest runs of those who didn't get a pen. They based it on what your time was as you completed the Y chute. With no mistakes, his chute time earned us a chance to play in the finals.

Lad's chute time advanced him to the finals
They took 15 dogs to the final round that night. The slowest dog ran first and the fastest ran last. Lad and I were 6th up to make our attempt. I could see from his first contact with the sheep, we were in trouble. All they wanted to do was run to the exhaust and every time he tried to stop them, they gave him dirty looks. As he was taking them around the barrels, you could tell that these sheep had obviously attacked a dog in a previous round and figured they could do it again. They turned to look at Lad but since he kept walking forward, they thought better of doing anything about it. He got them to the chute but he'd had enough with the challenging sheep and the excitement of the day. He launched one of his patented "chest bumps" and got called for a grip. Although Lad loves a fight and will grip if a sheep turns on him, when they are just hard to move he will throw himself at them with his mouth shut. Sometimes we get away with it, but this time we were called off.
We had done better than I expected and came away with $400 for our first round 2nd place and a new jacket for making it in the finals. Not bad. The winner was Pam Boring from Pink Mountain, BC who had the most exciting run. She and her dog, Mirk, ran last and moved those sheep so pretty. They closed the gate one second faster than the previous leader. The crowd and I went wild. Pam had the biggest grin on her face.

Pam Boring and Mirk enjoy their win at the Stampede -photo by Lisa Wright
Her first comment when she realized she had won was,
"This is so fun!"
Well said, Pam.


Joan said...

I've been waiting on pins and needles to hear about Lad's run at the Stampede! He did good! Winning isn't everything and getting into the finals is an accomplishment by itself. I'm sure he made his cousin, Bob, proud. And you too! Congratulations!

Sarah said...

Very cool! I would have loved to come and watch! the video is great, i can't imagine how fast you must have to think out there.