Wednesday, August 10, 2016

First judging assignment - Kelly Hill Sheepdog Trial

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 services.

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. 

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