I didn't get a chance to blog the final qualifying day of the trial but as you probably saw from my Twitter feed, Don made it in the double lift. He did a really good job. It was a difficult time to run and there had not been any changes of the top scores since around noon. Nonetheless, Donnie ran well and got on there, launching himself into the final round.
This trial is top class. There just isn't anything like it. From the great handler's gifts (vests donated by Woolrich with the Soldier Hollow logo and the handler's name embroidered) to the fancy dinner on Sunday night right down to the free bug spray table to deal with the last few mosquitoes of the season. Every year, I am amazed at the people who come to watch. Last year, over the 4 days they had over 25,000 people and early reports say that there were even more this year. On the final day the spectators come with their umbrellas, their coolers and their chairs and they sit down in the early morning and they don't move (except to go eat some of the SUPER good food at the vendors) until the gold medal is on the winning dog. I think the biggest reason for that is the announcing of Ray Crabtree up in the booth. Having been a professional DJ, he's got the voice and also being a trialer, he has the information right. He gives the audience explanations about the course and why the dog running is doing what it's doing, and he puts a personal face on each trialer and their dog by telling the spectators about their accomplishments.
This year there was some extra fun with a film crew following the action. A documentary crew had been chronicling some of the competitors through their trial year and the climax of the film is at this year's Soldier Hollow. If you haven't seen the information on the movie, check it out at http://sheepdogmovie.com/
Donnie was first at the post on the morning of the double lift. We had a right hand outrun for the first and then turned back towards the left and the place where the dogs had picked up the sheep all week. On the right almost all of the dogs came in early where a dirt path crossed the field. Donnie was no exception and needed a blow out. There was one more place on that outrun where all the dogs tried to come in and then they disappeared behind the score board. They had told us at the meeting that we could wander 5 yards from the post and it was needed. Between the scoreboard and the trees the view of the dog and sheep was often obscured from the handler. As the dog walked up on the first set you couldn't really see them until they had lifted. Donnie had an easy lift and made his fetch panels but didn't turn back perfectly. He needed a redirect and Scott will be working on his turnback before the Nationals. After that, he had a very nice run, making all his panels and they had an efficient shed. The sheep challenged Don at the pen but they got it closed! In the end, they finished up in 4th place.
Laddie ran 4th up and although it wasn't the greatest run compared to everyone else's, I felt we had improved from the last time we did a double lift. Lad did need two redirects on the first outrun like most of the dogs, and made his first fetch panels. I stopped him for the turn back but he ended up hidden behind a grove of trees so I had to guess at what he was doing. I told him "Look" but I figured he wasn't ready for a flank yet. I was told he did look behind himself and probably would have gone but since I couldn't see him, I was afraid to send him. I tried one more, "LOOK BACK" and thought I saw his body swivel so I gave him a comebye flank and low and behold! He went back clean. He had a tough time lifting and from my buddy, Connie Fontaine who was holding the second set, I learned that Lad approached them kindly and politely asked them to move. Obviously, he didn't know the Baa Ram Ewe password because they didn't shift. By this time, I was telling Lad that he better get moving so Connie said he launched himself into them, hitting them with his chest as he often does when he's frustrated but this time, both Lad and the sheep shot into the air with all four feet off the ground. I could see that from the post and it looked funny to see Lad's whole body shoot straight up! Once he gathered up his mess he moved along on the fetch but our first set was still sitting at the drop off post and I missed the fetch panels as both sets rejoined. After that it was a slog getting them around the course. Laddie has just enough forward on most days but these heavy girls really tried him. Finally, we got them into the shedding ring. This shed is a little different than most international shed's as they have only 16 sheep in your group and 8 have collars. You have to hold on to 5 of those collars to pen. Scott said I had a great shed going which made me feel good with a nice "gate" that Lad and I were constructing but when I got down to the last sheep, I had trouble. The sheep had gotten broke to people and just kinda brushed me aside. While I was trying to dig that last girl out, one snuck around my back and rejoined. I tried again but never got the shed finished and we timed out. Still, I see our weaknesses and what we need to work on but I've got to say that I was pleased with both of us.
Scott ran Maid when the heat was awful. However, she wasn't too affected by it. It did make the sheep stay heavy but she marched them around anyway. Her turnback was perfect and although she was a little zippy, she took Scott's every command and made their panels, even if some of them were by the skin of her sharp canines (which she politely kept in her mouth). The shed gave them some challenges and there were a couple of join ups before they got it finished and moved on to the pen. The great distance between the shedding ring and the pen seemed like trouble with the sheep trying to split up and get around the dog but it gave Maid a chance to get them broke away from their companions and she kept her cool. The pen was still work and it took a little time to get it but they got it closed before the buzzer went off and ended up in 6th place.
The prettiest run of the day and the clear first was Bill Berhow and Pete. Pete is 11 years old now and every year we think he's going to retire and then he goes and lays down a great run. Scott's Pleat was 10 when he won it so maybe it takes some experience to tame the wiley sheep and tackle the complicated course. Congratulations to Bill and the reserve champion Amanda Milliken with Roz. Also a special mention that the third place spot was well run by Faansie Basson and Don.
As always, a special thanks to Mark Peterson for inviting us and putting on this classy event that promotes our sport.