The Real Time Canine II

After spending 2 years writing the Real Time Canine, the adventure continues with The Real Time Canine II. Read along as I look for just the right puppy to continue the experience. After false starts with Tim and Jed, I am currently training young Tam, and Spot, which are both off to a strong start. Please visit the RTC II to read about training sessions as they occur.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Second at the Wooler Trial

I attended the long-running Wooler Trial in North England while I was in the UK for the 2005 World Trial and experienced the unbelievable excitement of fininshing second. Running against a few of Great Britain's best at a 55 dog trial, it was the last thing I expected, I assure you. The very last thing! Leaving Roslyn, the small Scottish village near Edinborough where I was staying and being hosted by Bobby Henderson, we drove a few hours through the countryside to Wooler and the huge English manor owned by the sister of Camilla Parker Bowles and her husband. They are landed gentry in every way and their estate is spectacular. Directly behind the trial field is the imposing edifice that they call home and in front is an idyllic pond complete with swans swimming. The field is broad and flat and the outrun was big, maybe 500 hundred yards with tarped pens for let out and a talented crew performing the job admirably. There were other Americans entered there as well and we ran under the late Johnny Wilson, may he rest in peace. That's him to my right in the picture above with his wife, May and Bobby Henderson on the left. It was a perfect day for a dog trial, a bit cool with no wind and the sun was shining. At most of the trials in the UK, you enter when you arrive and run whenever you can squeeze in. There was a course director of sorts and Johnny's wife, May, was scribing. She and Johnny sat in their car just behind the post. My friend Jo Woodbury, from Buffalo, Wyoming was there entered with Drift, a dog that had come originally from Johnny and she was, understandably, a little nervous about running him there. The course director had asked us if one of us would like to run and Jo suggested that I go first, which I did. I found competing over there a bit nerve-racking. I know Americans are not overly respected as hands and I didn't want to further that with a poor showing. This was my 3rd trial though, and I was getting more comfortable. I ran Price and this was his kind of course, long, broad and flat with a big drive and a pen, shed finish. He loved the Scottish Blackface sheep. They're testy, flighty and independent thinkers and they brought out a caution in him that I had never seen before. He had to work hard to keep everybody together and it caused him to be more thoughtful, careful and stylish than ever before. Price is very kind to his sheep and sheep like him. That attitude curried him favor with these tempermental ewes and he got on well with them. Price is a great out-runner. Wide, confident and deep and today was no different. He left my feet with intention and widened out beautifully, running easily on green grass. My thought at that point was schooling for the Irish World Trial coming up. I had no idea that I might be competitive running against the likes of Bobby Henderson and Bill, Bobby Dalziel, with Spot and Del, America's Tommy Wilson, Paul Turnbull, Johnny Robinson and others for whom I have so much respect. I blew a re-direct to reinforce the wide out run. I didn't need it as my dog was on a great path, but remember, I was schooling, not competing. Price came around beautifully at the top, gathered himself up and tested the blackies. They lifted easily and trotted forward, heads flicking back and forth, always looking for an escape. I kept my dog well off and guided rather than pushed my sheep down the field. Price flanked cleanly and willingly off the pressure, took every down and steady and the sheep moved nicely. There was a slight bobble at the fetch panel as the ewes had a look, but we sliced cleanly through and brought them in a tight turn around the post. Here is where things got a little tricky. As we began the drive away, one ewe simply decided that she had had enough. Repeatedly, she sourly broke way from her sisters, while they moved benignly away. Every time my dog flanked efficiently back to get her and after 3 or 4 attempts, she gave up and joined her buddies to stroll through the drive away, but the line had been a bit off. I don't remember much about the cross drive except the panel was at a weird angle and not many had hit it. A friend of mine, who was watching through binoculars, later told me, that my line was straight for the middle and we made it. I do remember a tight turn afterwards. I'm really picky about the line from the cross drive panel, because so many people don't think about that one and I can make up a lot of points on the competition there. Also, the way the sheep are treated here sets up whatever is next. I like my sheep nice and settled when I get them back to me and they were when we went to the pen. I found the Blackies to be very touchy at the pen and these were no exception. The slightest move will send them flying. The slightest blink it seems when you've got them in the mouth and so close to success. There can be no stick waving or yelling here and when you see pictures of UK and Irish hands poised like statues with crooks on the ground, this is why. They absolutely won't tolerate it and are unbelievably unforgiving. Price is a great dog at the pen. He can hold pressure all day long without losing his temper and there's no grip in him here. He will give you one quiet step at a time and will keep coming forward, no matter what. I found that with these sheep all you could do was slowly continue to improve your position until you had them. As good as Price is at the pen, it's shedding where we're a little light, but the trialing Gods were smiling on us that day. He came through the first time and took them on the nose. Johnny called the shed but I didn't hear him and Price, being a little unsure in there, looked back to the cast offs. Someone sitting nearby alerted me , so that gaffe hadn't cost us and I walked off happy with my dog. I watched Bobby Henderson and Bill draw recalcitrant and unyielding sheep. He finished, which was a testament to his talented dog, but had not drawn the sheep to win with. Bobby Dalziel drew as badly with both dogs. I know he retired with one, maybe both, I can't remember, but the sheep beat him that day as well. Bill Edwards had a glorious run, but it was Tony Iley with Chester who I was sure had won the day. I had seen all but the fetch and it was flawless from my perspective. Chester is a powerful and stylish dog of the type that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up and I watched most of that run transfixed. What I hadn't seen was his brief break from the sheep when he turned on the fetch to go back on a second gather. That momentary lapse cost him the trial. The land owner (Camilla Parker Bowles brother-in-law) appeared to hand out the prizes looking very noble, red-faced with a wee dram in his hand. I was milling around listening for the winners and Johnny called the names. Bill Edwards was first, and that didn't surprise me. Then he said my name......suddenly the light changed and my heart skipped. My ears got hot and some funny little sound came out of my mouth. Then I stupidly asked "ME???????" and turned to look at Bobby Henderson. Surely there was some mistake. I could not have possibly beaten Tony and Chester, but Bobby stepped nearer to me and told me to be quiet. He, of course knew that Johnny didn't make mistakes from the judges seat. I shut up, walked up, shook hands and said an astonished "thank you." His dog's momentary lapse had cost Tony the win, or at least second place, and he came third. Later I asked Johnny how he had scored my drive and the sheep that tried to break back. He said it had been no fault of the dog, and the dog had handled it correctly, so no points off. He also asked me W H Y I had given the re-direct on the outrun and said "I could have killed you when you did that. You could see that the dog was widening." I lost to Bill by 2 points and that's likely where they went. There were other Americans and 1 Canadian running that day and I was very proud that out of 6 places, 3 went to Americans. Besides my 2nd place, Tommy Wilson and Pearl finished 4th with Emil Ludecke and Ben in 6th. The Scots are very stoic about their wins and losses and so the ride home carried conversation about everything but my success. Between my ears, though, I was re-living every step of that run. When we got home, standing in his kitchen with a cup of tea, Bobby very quietly told me that he was happy for me. He also informed me that had I been Scottish, I would now have enough points to run at their Nationals!

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