First Trial of the Season ~ Part 1 of 2

First, a heartfelt Thank You to those folks on-hand for mine and Jig’s debut in the Post Advanced field at Purina Farms over the past weekend. I want you to know the outburst of applause and cheers at the conclusion of our short run was heard. It was also totally unexpected and very much appreciated. It certainly helped ease the sting of disappointment at our less than stellar performance.

For those of you who have never been to Purina Farms this is the Post Advanced field.

Given that Jig and I have never worked in a field this large, I suppose my expectations were a bit unrealistic. I told myself I only entered to see how Jig would handle herself. After all, the entire weekend was meant to gauge where we’re at and if a run for the 2020 Finals is even feasible. Secretly, I wanted us to succeed and, if not qualify, at least lay down a respectable run.

By the time I made the walk from the gate to the center pen, however, my brains had abandoned ship. My guess is they were sitting in the shade under the pavilion with everyone else. The sheep were set out and held near the back fence-line of the sheep arena. The judge and timer were in a gator not far from the set-out point. Not only were Jig and I in a new setting, working unfamiliar stock, for the first time ever there was another dog in the arena and I had no idea how Jig was going to respond to that.

I took a few deep breaths ~ trust your dog ~ and gave Jig a go-bye. She started off at a steady lope but instead of the pear-shaped outrun she usually gives, she went out wide like a BC. Slower of course, and with her head low. For a moment I thought she was exiting stage left. As I watched her, I realized she was sizing up the situation. She saw the sheep but she also saw the gator and the people. I knew exactly when she spotted the set-out dog because her head came up to the same degree as her ears lifted. I admit, I panicked a little and gave some sort of correction which she took, bypassing the dog lying in the grass. Then, quite honestly, I lost sight of her. Black dog in the distance against a dark background and other critters, so I gave another command because, you know, the whole no brain thing. The sheep turned and ran back into the area next to the trial arena and I figured our run would end there.

Here’s where I have to say, we may not have been ready for this, but the things Jig did, she did well. She re-gathered those sheep without a word from me and soon they were headed my way. Every now and again, Jig would lean out to look around them at me as though asking if it was all good, and I managed to keep my mouth shut and let her work.

The sheep veered up the hill in a counterclockwise direction and Jig covered and brought them to where I stood near the back of the center pen. Here’s where I could have maybe saved the run, or at least gotten a better shot at it. I should have had Jig hold the sheep to me and let everything settle for a bit. Perhaps my brain would have made a reappearance. Instead, I allowed them to merely slow down and skirt past me, while telling Jig to walk up.

via GIPHY

The sheep headed toward the first panels, which also happened to be the draw direction as beyond the panels were the gates they were brought through daily. They weren’t bolting. Just moving along at a nice, steady trot, with Jig keeping them grouped. As they neared the panels, I called out something. I have no idea what. It may have been a command. More likely it was jibberish. I really can’t fault Jig for ignoring it, and the whole group bypassed the panels without slowing.

Realizing we were out of our depth, I threw up a hand to call my run about the same time the judge gave us a Thank You. From all reports, Jig deposited the sheep at the gate, held them there, and looked back to me as though wondering why I wasn’t there to open it. All with calm, quiet, and confident control.

“…calm, quiet, and confident control.” I’m going to count that as a win even though it was not a successful outing. It was a test. One we weren’t prepared for, so we failed. I guarantee we’ll be taking steps to be more successful the next time.

Now, who around here has a ginormous field I can practice in?

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