Sunday, September 26, 2010

All Creatures, Part I

As is our wont, we have spent a lot of time with animals lately. I'll do a series documenting our adventures.

Part I: Soldier Hollow Classic International Sheepdog Championship

In my opinion, this is one of the best events ever. It lasts three days, with the final championship trials occuring on Labor Day.

Ok, so I'm biased by my absolute love of dogs and the fact that I own a Border Collie, far-and-away the best sheepherding dogs on Earth. By the way, my Border Collie equally owns me.

Our young family has few traditions, but attending the Soldier Hollow Classic is one of them. I'm sorry to say this is the first year in three we've been able to attend (for obvious reasons), but it was also the first year Bridgette could join us. With her in tow we couldn't stay as long as usual, but we tried to pack a lot into a few hours.

That wasn't hard because the festival grows each year.

This year, besides lots of food vendors and artisans and bagpipes, they had duck herding demonstrations, dog agility contests, police & military K9 unit demos, Bow Wow flying dog show performances, splash dog competitions, and a special appearance by Mally Lewis, all in addition to the actual championship.

Below: Some of the herding action occurs in the field behind us, namely, the splitting of sheep in the shedding ring. We took this photo between trials because sheepherding is a little like golf. The spectators are expected to stay fairly quiet until there is something to gasp or clap about.

We would never consider sitting this close to the fence during an actual trial and accidentally distracting the dogs or the sheep. Well, not the dogs -- they can focus like wolves. But sheep are stupid. You could easily distract or scare the sheep.

This is Bridgette intently watching the shedding.

So, here is how it works:

1) Eight free-range "wild" sheep are placed high on the mountainside.

2) The dog has to run up the mountain, find them, and drive them down through a set of white gates where s/he deposits them at the base of the mountain.

3) While this occurs, eight more sheep are placed on the mountainside. These eight sheep have been fitted with red collars.

4) Again the dog has to run up, find them, and drive them down through the gates.

5) Then the dog has to join the second herd to the first herd (which has, by that time, often wandered off to find greener pastures), drive all 16 around a series of bends, through some more gates, around a pole where they are "presented" to the judges, and finally into the shedding ring. This is hard work. By now the dog is very, very hot & tired.

6) In the shedding ring (a wide circle denoted by small cones), the handler works in tandem with the dog to separate the herd. They must keep only 5 sheep, all with red collars, and drive the rest from the ring, a tricky proposition as (have I mentioned this before?) sheep are stupid. They mindlessly stick together. When they are being separated from each other, they can get feisty. (One year we saw one panic and charge the crowd.)

Note: Once they are parted, the sheep immediately go back to eating grass, forgetting about everything else around them.

7) The dog and the handler must then drive the 5 red-collared sheep into the holding pen. But because they are free-range sheep, they have never been penned. The sheep must decide which fate is worse... being stalked by a predator or being trapped in a small fence.

Note: Neither the dog nor the handler nor the handler's props nor the gate can touch the sheep at any time or the run is disqualified. It takes a great deal of patience.

(How much patience, you ask? Watch the video below.)

However, they can't be too patient because if the trial runs over 30 minutes, they are disqualified... and this happens regularly, even in the finals. The skill to do it right and in the allotted time is laudable.

The first place team was from Canada, the second from South Africa, and the third from Idaho.

This team, Haley Howard & Ross, were sitting in second at the time we had to leave for home. In the end, they tied for 3rd place out of 15 teams but the other team was awarded the medal due to prior scores on prior days. Of those final 15 teams, 4 went over the required time and 2 were disqualified.

Here Bridgette and Jeff are watching the discarded sheep pen. New sets of sheep are placed on the mountain for every trial, and by the end, there are are... let's see... 15 x 16 = 240 discarded sheep. That's a lot of sheep.

Duck herding is amusing.

Here is some video that Jeff took.

And here are the guards.

Then we were off to see the splash dog competitions. Bridgette got to ride around on my shoulders a lot that day. She tried to walk up the steep hills, which was cute, but she usually only made it a few steps before she was exhausted.

Splash dogs at a distance. We stood for a while at the far end of the splash pool (right side). Bridgette would hold onto the edge, dipping her hands in the water, and yell, "Whoa!" as the dog ran the approach and then leaped toward her. Then she would laugh when she got, well, splashed.

This dog was an amateur. Really. This was the amateur trainer competition.

Last in the day's activities, allow me to introduce you to Mally Lewis, Shari Lewis's daughter. You remember Shari Lewis the ventriloquist? And her puppet Lamb Chop? She had an Emmy-award winning kids' show on PBS called Lamb Chop's Play-Along?

Well, Mally, her only child I believe, has taken up the show after her mother's unexpected and somewhat early death. And she was at the festival! In fact, Hush Puppy made his first ever appearance since Shari died, and we were there to see it.

We may have all been there for Hush Puppy's big debut, but Bridgette was more "there" than anyone else in the audience. She stood right at the edge of the stage, watching the action. And then Mally turned and pulled her up ONTO the stage!

Bridgette stood on her feet, but when Mally squatted down to get on Bridgette's level, Bridgette got down too, copy-cat fashion.

When it was time to put her off the stage, I said, "Wait! Can I get a picture?" And this was the result. Classic! Got to be one of my favorite photos of all time.

Hello, Mally, veteran performer. Meet my candid, confused, and slightly annoyed kid.

And to end, I leave you with the view out our car window on the drive home and a dog joke which is funny because it is true.

How many dogs does it take to change a light bulb?

Border Collie: Just one. Then I'll replace any wiring that's not up to code.

Golden Retriever: The sun is shining, the day is young, we've got our whole lives ahead of us, and you're inside worrying about a stupid burned-out bulb?

Rottweiler: Make me.

Lab: Oh, me, me! Pleeease let me change the light bulb! Can I? Huh? Huh?

Dachshund: You know I can't reach that stupid lamp!

Malamute: Let the Border Collie do it. You can feed me while he's busy.

Jack Russell Terrier: I'll just pop it in while I'm bouncing off the walls.

Greyhound: It isn't moving. Who cares?

Cocker Spaniel: Why change it? I can pee on the carpet in the dark.

Doberman: While it's out, I'll just take a nap on the couch.

Boxer: Who needs light? I can still play with my squeaky toys.

Pointer: I see it, there it is, there it is, right there!

Australian Shepherd: First, I'll put all the light bulbs in a little circle...

Old English Sheep dog: Light bulb? Where?

Basset Hound: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Poodle: I'll ask the Border Collie to do it. By the time he finishes rewiring the house, my nails will be dry.


Lore said...

How fun!!

Dogs, sheep, ducks, water, and an onstage performance with Mally Lewis - what more could a girl ask for? Maybe a dog joke.

Thanks for the smile.

Heidi said...

That's funny that the ducks are in "jail." :) ... I watched Lamb Chops Play Along as a kid, it was fun. And to prove it, let's sing "This is the song that never ends. Yes, it goes on and on, my friends! Some people started singin' it not knowin' what it was, and they'll continue singin' it forever just because this is the song that never ends! Yes, it goes on and on, my friends! Some people started singin' not knowin' what it was, and they'll continue singin' it forever just because this is the song that never ends! Yes, ..."