Well, I'm getting organized for another trial this coming weekend, but this time as a regular spectator. This past weekend, though ... well, that was something pretty wonderful. My dear and wise friend, Teresa Yamamoto, invited me to come judge her Kelly Hill sheepdog trial up there north of Kettle Falls. Spectacularly beautiful country, wild and remote, and a trial to match.
It really was a wonderful
experience. To have the privilege to watch and offer my opinions on the
work of some 38 dog/handler teams was amazing. (And yes, that's a
fairly small trial but my little hobbit brain worked very hard!) I knew
in the abstract what to watch for: gauging influences of the field, the
sheep and weather against whatever the dogs may be doing, maintaining
fairness across all runs, striving for consistency, weighing point
deductions against whatever's happening on the field throughout the day,
etc. etc. etc.
But honestly, watching that many runs that
intently is a heck of a learning experience. Every run has a lesson to
offer. From the dogs and how they handled the field (a long mowed fetch
after a mostly-blind hill outrun) to the handlers and how they ran their
dogs, there was a lot to learn. So much to evaluate and weigh and
consider, from things I could let slide to things I had to nix as
unacceptable to my idea of good sheep work.
To my surprise, I
found I honestly enjoyed the whole thing. There's a heck of a lot to
keep track of and I maintained a crib sheet of shorthand-ish notes for
every run. Sue MacDonald
was my course director and did a fabulous job of cracking the whip to
keep things going plus diplomatically offering support if I needed it.
She also showed me a clever new way of keeping notes more efficiently,
in the unlikely event that I ever judge again - super cool! And though I
had to work to keep my focus sharp by Sunday afternoon, I found myself
drawn into the runs keenly enough to make the job enjoyable.
Overall, I think things went well. I did everything in my power to
maintain consistency across the board and to date, I haven't heard any
complaints. Maybe somebody somewhere is chanting my name over a voodoo
doll, but so far, so good! In fact, though the majority of people up
there were not personally known to me, they were a remarkably good
natured lot. When a nearby thunderstorm necessitated a halt to
proceedings, and when we had to pause again for escaped sheep or moving
sheep up from exhaust, the folks over in the peanut gallery never lost
their senses of humor. That was pretty cool.
But perhaps the nicest thing of all was this: Kelly Hill was a tough
trial with tricky, challenging sheep and rather variable weather. Dogs
got lost on the outrun, hung up on set out, or outsmarted by runaway
sheep ... and yet virtually every handler ended their run, whether a
retire or a DQ or success, by taking their dogs to the water tank and
offering their partner words of thanks and praise. I think that speaks
very well of the folks out there in the Pacific Northwest, and it
certainly made me even more glad to be offered the chance to lend my
Many thanks to everyone who helped keep this trial on its wheels, including but not limited to Ron Green,
who judged Friday's Pro Novice, Nursery and Ranch classes, (and who
thus gave me the chance to get my mind situated while acting as his
course director,) Norm and Vickie Close who stepped in countless times
to help in many ways, Jan Staroski my tireless and organized scribe, Sue and George MacDonald for being my course directors and moral support, and especially our amazing, super-human setout crew including, Alison Deilke,
Susan Crocker, Sue McLean, Cam Lefler, (the only person I've ever seen
jog up and down hills in 95 degree heat with a cast iron post pounder
over his shoulder - Semper Fi!) - plus Lee Lumb and Noelle Williams, and
everyone else who braved the heat, hills and wiley sheep to do their
jobs ... and a dozen more people I can't think of right now. Plus Gaynor
Edwards who drove me up to Tea's place and Cam who drove me back to the
airport. It takes a village and my pal Tea gathered an awfully good one
to pull off the (hopefully) First Annual Kelly Hill Sheepdog Trial.
Thanks, everyone, for all you do. This was a weekend to remember.