Patrick Shannahan

Patrick Shannahan, the 2010 USBCHA National Champion, has been working stockdogs for nearly twenty years—and raising sheep even longer. Hailing from Caldwell, Idaho, Patrick runs a commercial flock of Katahdin hair sheep. In addition to giving clinics and lessons at his Red Top Kennel, as well as around the country, Patrick is a regular contributor to the Working Border Collie magazine. He notes that his main goal “has been to provide good practical work dogs for the livestock industry.” As we close out this series, we’ll hear about how the current National Champion has been preparing to defend his title at the 2011 National Finals!

Each year, I plan on going to the National Finals. It is a trial that is unlike any other. Great sheepdogs are confirmed, and handlers are tested each and every run. It is different than some of the other large trials, as this is the trial that all the great dogs and handlers make a point of attending. There is a heightened sense of pressure, as each of the contestants are working hard to make the final day.

But success at the Finals does not start at the Finals. It starts many months, even years, in advance. Having a great dog is one thing; knowing what to do with a great dog is another. Experience in both handler and dog can play a large role.

Riggs, the 2010 National Champion, at Heppner earlier this year. Photo by Carol Clawson.

Riggs, the 2010 National Champion, at Heppner earlier this year. Photo by Carol Clawson.

Since the 2010 Finals in Virginia, life on my farm has been about the same. I am still doing many of the same things I do each and every year. The older dogs got time off from training; the well-started dogs got even more training. And, the pups got their first taste of what the purpose of their lives may be.

There aren’t many trials in our part of the country in the winter or spring. We had some local trials, and I chose to run only my young dogs in those so I could help with judging and setout. Our first trial came in March, and I didn’t get to another until the first of May. June was busy, going to three trials, and, finally, one last trial in July.

It isn’t that we wouldn’t love to trial more; it is that difficult to attend the trials and earn a living at the same time. Since the dogs help me earn a living, I must be gone most weekends to give lessons and clinics. Sometimes the dogs are able to travel with me, but most times they must wait until I return to get to practice and work.

Since last year, I have continued to try to keep the dogs in excellent shape. Even though we weren’t seriously training on sheep, keeping the older dogs in shape is important to their physical health. It is also a great way for me to spend some individual time with them while I work and focus on the younger dogs. Sharing large amounts of time with my best dogs helps develop the teamwork that is needed for success.

A few times a week, I take the Open dogs running with me. Usually it is on the road, near my home, but occasionally I get to trails in the area for our runs. I like to have the dogs running right next to me at a fast trot or a slow lope. The distance varies, but I like to have them running from thirty-five minutes up to an hour and a half.

Patrick taking Andi and Riggs for a run.

Patrick taking Andi and Riggs for a run.

So, our 2011 trial season is about to end. With Riggs, who has experience and enough points to get to the Finals, my goals were to run him and continue to develop as a team. I will try to work on my handling and hope to get into a few double lift competitions to improve our skills in that area before the Finals. Riggs is eight and will start to change as he gets older. I will have to keep my eyes open and make necessary adjustments in my handling if he slows down or changes because of his age.

With the two inexperienced Open dogs, my first goal was to get them qualified. Neither had a large number of points in May when I started to go on the trial circuit. Java had only been in one Open trial, so we needed to work especially hard with her development. Andi got some great experience last year, and I think she is ready to make her way to success this year in the Open. Hopefully, they both can get into a few more trials and place with some points. Both Java and Andi made it into the double lift finals at Big Willow this year. It was great experience for both.

Andi checking in. Photo by Carol Clawson.

Andi checks in. Photo by Carol Clawson.

When it was time to send in my entry, it was a relief to have three dogs qualified for the two Open spots. At this time I entered Andi, as she has the most practice of the two younger dogs. She has the best shot of success pairing with the experience of her father, Riggs.

Nursery is also a big part of the Finals that I really enjoy. I personally love training young dogs, and most of the dogs I start usually end up making Nursery prospects. Occasionally, one needs more time than their Nursery year to develop, and, if I think they might fit me as an Open dog, I am willing to wait on them.

This year, I have one Nursery dog, Abby, and she happens to be a dog that isn’t from my breeding. She is working well at this point, but she needed those trials in June and July to get some experience on the trial field. She looks to make a nice Open dog someday, so the Nursery program will help build her experience and training to possibly fit into one of my Open dogs. Abby belongs to LJ Estes, an old friend, and will be staying here at our home after the trial.

Abby is well on her way!

Abby is well on her way!

My plan for the past fifteen years of competing at the National Finals is to try and peak at the Finals. That means having the dogs in their best shape, mentally and physically. So, it means going to some trials, getting experience for both the dogs and myself, missing a few big trials (as it might cause them to peak too early), and then working to make each run at the Nationals count toward getting into the final day.

I am sure one of the big questions that people might ask when reading this might be, “Do you feel more pressure this year, since you won last year?” I can honestly say that I do not feel more pressure. Certainly, it would be great to repeat last year, but winning a National Finals is something that no one can take away from you. Winning the Nationals was a goal when I first started, and winning it again will continue to be a goal for many more years.

When I arrive in Carbondale, my objectives will be the same as in past years. First, make it into the semi-final round. If I am fortunate and get into the semi-final run, my next goal would be to make it into the final run. I don’t look too far ahead, as anything can happen. At the Nationals, I take each day and try to do my best.

I look forward to the time at the Finals. I hope to get reacquainted with many of my old friends and hopefully meet a few new ones this year as well. I really appreciate the camaraderie of our sport, and the appreciation that we have for our dogs, livestock, and fellow competitors. Hope to see you in Carbondale this year.

After making it into the finals at Soldier Hollow over the Labor Day weekend, Patrick is currently home getting the dogs a bit of rest and working on a few last-minute changes before heading south to Carbondale.

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Joni Swanke

Joni Swanke, of Bowman, North Dakota, has been in the top ten at the National Finals six times. She and her well-known Lew dog were fifth in the National Finals at Sturgis in 2008. Chip was in the Nursery top ten twice before he was killed. Meanwhile, Griz and Kep were each in the top ten of the Nursery Finals, and Joni’s first Open dog, Ty, was tenth in the Open Finals at Oregon. That was the first year Joni ran in Open, a year in which she won several major trials. She’s hosted one of the toughest trials in the country for the past fifteen years, currently called Slash J. She credits her ranching background with her quick success.

In 1991, I went to work at a big cattle ranch in the rough country of southwestern North Dakota. Doing a large part of the work there taught me a lot about livestock. I had trained horses, and rodeoed in college, and my stepfather had a small ranch, so I’d been around cows and horses my whole life. But when I went to this ranch, I thought, “I need some help.” After seeing my first good working dog, I decided that was for me, so I bought an expensive, well-bred pup, got a videotape to learn about raising and starting a pup, and got to work.

Lew working cattle. Photo by Mindy Bower.

Lew working cattle. Photo by Mindy Bower.

With the size of the ranch, I quickly found that my dog needed to be able to go all day as well as have enough guts to handle the job. Eventually, I needed a second dog for the job, so I put a pair of dogs together. We moved a lot of cows on that ranch, taking bulls from ranch to ranch, going miles cross country, pushing across the Little Missouri River. That rough work gave me a real-world foundation for what I expect the dogs to be able to do.

Joni and Lew at the post.

Joni and Lew at the post.

I needed a dog that was both biddable and tough, but I had a hard time finding the right balance of the two. Then, when the balance was right, I’d find out they lacked stamina and wore out faster. For me, looking for the right dogs is a lifelong process. Day-to-day work made me pretty fussy because the wrong dogs made more work for me. Now that I spend more time trialing, biddability is more important than it was on that ranch, but I continue to search for that perfect combination in my breeding program. I know first hand what these dogs are really for, and I breed with that in mind. I also select for quick-maturing dogs. These dogs have a fairly short working life. If they’re five or six before they’re really broke, we’ve lost a lot of good use from the dog.

If I breed a litter, I’ll train several in that cross. I have an exact type in mind and it takes training several to know what works for me. If I’ve done a cross a couple of times, I’ll have started six or seven pups, so I have a pretty good idea how the cross will work out. I want to know about them. You’re never going to know everything, but you can get a pretty good feel for how they’re going to be and who they’ll fit. My goal stays pretty consistent, but I keep trying to refine how I get there. For example, I have a new bitch in my kennel that has changed things. The cross with her took a lot of the tension out of my dogs and put some biddability in them, which I was definitely needing. I don’t know where it’ll go from here, but I like this new group of youngsters that I’m working with now.

I’m always protecting my breeding program. Some might say I’m obsessive, and I probably am, but I’m just funny about who I sell to and how that pup’s going to get bred down the road. I want to keep control if I can. I feel we should really breed carefully and with a lot of thought.

I’ll be running three dogs in Carbondale that are third generation of my breeding. I imported Spot from Bobby Henderson, and he produced my Lew as well as several other very successful dogs. Lew is the sire of the three dogs I’m running at this Finals, as well as several dogs owned by other handlers in both the Nursery and Open.

Joni shedding with Lew at the 2008 National Finals in Sturgis.

Joni shedding with Lew at the 2008 National Finals in Sturgis.

Griz is my four-year-old Open dog and has a huge heart and motor. Unfortunately, he’s not really what I was after in my breeding program, as he’s also a tense, tightly wound kind of dog and therefore neutered. He needs a lot of work to stay settled, but an injury last year has made that difficult to manage. With the help of his chiropractor, Lise Anderson, I’m hoping he stays sound through the Finals. In 2009, at the Oregon Finals, he had the highest Nursery score of the first two rounds, and he finished fifth overall. When he is running and he is sound, he’s a good dog.

Griz walking up.

Griz walking up.

Sage is two years old, and this is the first of her two Nursery years. She’s been a lot of fun for me. I don’t really school her hard; I like to do real jobs with her, while trying to keep her flanks correct. Mostly I’ve been letting her just grow. Because she’s so young, she can be a little unpredictable. But that’s my plan with her, to take my time and let her develop, and get her out to get her used to going other places.

Joni moving sheep with Sage. Photo by Mindy Bower.

Joni moving sheep with Sage. Photo by Mindy Bower.

Possum is a year older than Sage, and this is her final Nursery year. She’s owned by Mindy Bower. She’s a really good team player and a real tryer. She sometimes loses confidence driving, so I have been mostly working on just building confidence with her.

I don’t really like to drill to get ready for these big trials, but I’m always checking a short list of things that I expect from the dogs when I’m training or using them. I think what keeps the dogs kind of fresh and crisp is to not pick on fifty different things—I pick four or five and let the rest not be that important. I want my dogs listening, but when I’m not talking they need to be able to sort things on their own. I kind of go back and forth between obedient and natural. I give it to them, and I take it away. I try to walk that fine line, which is really tricky because if a dog starts working really naturally, they don’t want you to tell them what to do, and if you tell them too much what to do, then they don’t want to work on their own.

After trialing a bit in Colorado and the Dakotas earlier this year, Joni has spent much of the summer just training her dogs and working them on her ranch.

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Lee Lumb

Lee Lumb lives in Coldstream, British Columbia, in the scenic Okanagan Valley with her husband, Brian Revel, and twenty-two-year-old daughter, Carly. Together, they farm forty irrigated acres in south central British Columbia. They have forty hair sheep that are primarily used in their year-round training facility. Besides the farm work, Lee is involved with custom training, lessons, and hosting field trials and clinics throughout the year. In addition, she is also self-employed as a social worker.

Lee takes a break with some of her current and future trial dogs.

Lee takes a break with some of her current
and future trial dogs.

I had a border collie on my parents’ farm in Manitoba, but my start in training a stockdog began about fifteen years ago with Stirling, a five-year-old “rescue” border collie. I soon grew to appreciate how much help a stockdog can be—even with the small flock of sheep we had at the time. I started to compete at local trials, and from there my fascination with the breed and training just continued to grow. I attended clinics and read lots of books to help me along the way. I have trained all my trial dogs and have been fortunate that they have taken me to top levels of competition.

I will be taking three dogs to the Finals in Colorado this year. It will be a long trip—over 2,200 kilometers—so the dogs will be keen to get to sheep! Chica and Nan are my Open dogs. Chica is out of my Mac (Whiterose Kep) and Shae (D. Gauthier’s breeding). She has been a pleasure to train, with natural balance, a strong ability to read her stock, and a keenness to please. Her precise movements and steady, firm style have led to considerable success on the trial field. She competed at the USBCHA National Finals in 2008 and 2009. At the 2009 Finals, she was eleventh in the qualifying round. Chica placed sixth in the Double Lift Western Canadian Finals in Saskatchewan in 2010, after a very successful trial year. My challenge this year with Chica is getting her conditioned after she weaned her litter of ten pups.

Chica flanks around her stock. Photo by Spring Photography.

Chica flanks around her stock. Photo by Spring Photography.

Nan is by Peter Gonnet’s Moss and L. Blade’s TK Nook. Moss was the 2003 Canadian Border Collie Association (CBCA) Champion. Norm Close’s CV Joe, the 2005 CBCA Champion, is Nook’s sire. Nook is a working dog on a cattle ranch in Nanton, Alberta. Nan is a fast, intense little female with tons of desire. She had a great Nursery year, culminating in an eleventh place finish at the 2008 USBCHA National Finals. Nan competed in the USBCHA Finals in 2009, just missing the semi-finals. She has placed in a number of Open trials and last month won the double lift at the Gellings’ trial in Dawson Creek. She does have a bit of a temper when sheep don’t cooperate, so I have to keep calm with her, especially during the shed and pen. Nan is definitely coming into her best work.

Nan at Stirling Acres SDT, the trial Lee hosts each April. Photo by Kristi Oikawa.

Nan at Stirling Acres SDT, the trial Lee hosts each April. Photo by Kristi Oikawa.

Cass is my Nursery dog. She turned two in March. Cass is out of my Nan by Lynne Schweb’s Dex. Dex is a littermate to my Chica. Cass is quick and eager to learn, with a strong desire to work. Like her parents, she is confident in her work. For her age, she is very serious and sensible about her work—she’s a real pleasure to train. She has competed well at the few trials I have entered her in—learning a great deal about being on different types of sheep. The range ewes will be a new experience for her, but I know we will enjoy the challenge!

Cass is the spitting image of her dam, Nan. Photo by Kristi Oikawa.

Cass is the spitting image of her dam, Nan. Photo by Kristi Oikawa.

I do the majority of my training in about a ten-acre pasture area on our farm. We get three cuts of hay off of our fields, so they are not useable for most of the summer. During the winter I train in an outdoor arena, where I keep the snow packed down by moving my sheep around it. I am fortunate to have a great training partner in Chris Hanson, who also has access to some large fields on the Coldstream Ranch. We haul sheep to those fields whenever we can to stretch our dogs out. My biggest challenge when I attend the Finals is the sheep and my timing on them. I raise Katahdin/Dorper cross ewes and have a couple of Suffolks and a few Barbs for training variety. We don’t have access to range ewes in British Columbia. I travel lots of miles to get to trials where there are sheep from large commercial flocks, but even these aren’t quite the same as range ewes that we will encounter at the Finals.

One of Lee’s training fields. Sure is pretty up in Western Canada!

One of Lee’s training fields. Sure is pretty up in Western Canada!

The altitude may also present some difficulties for my dogs, as we are a mere 1,500 feet above sea level here. Quite a difference from a mile high! I try to keep my dogs fit by running them with the quad or my mountain bike, but we live on a busy road so it does get pretty boring going round and round the ten-acre field! I feed my dogs a raw diet (have for years and love the results), plus a few supplements like fish oil, alfalfa, and kelp. I use Angie Untisz’s Glyco-Gen product for my dogs before and after tough runs or training sessions. Our temperatures here vary between –10 and +30 degrees Celsius (14–90 degrees Fahrenheit) on the average, so my dogs get accustomed to working in different conditions. But, of course, the high heat is hard on dogs, handlers, and stock, as we well know, so I’m hoping for cooler temps.

This will be my first time to Colorado, so I am looking forward to seeing new country and some great dog/handler teams as usual!

You can read more about Lee and her dogs, as well as the upcoming clinics and trials she is hosting, at her Stirling Acres Border Collies website.

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Cheryl Jagger Williams

Cheryl Jagger Williams has been involved with sheep and sheepdogs since she was a child. Her father, Walt Jagger, was a pioneer in sheepdog trialing in this country with a special interest in developing younger dogs, and today the Walt Jagger Memorial Trophy is awarded to the top Nursery dog in North America at the USBCHA Finals each year. Cheryl has won such trials as Oatlands SDT in Virginia with Andy; Rural Hill double lift finals with Toby; NEBCA Fall Foliage finals with Spot, Kim, and Nell; Kingston SDT at Grass Creek, Canada, with Toby, and many more. She lives in Hop Bottom, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Dick, also a formidable competitor. Between them, they had four dogs in the top twenty USBCHA points last year.

My father, Walt Jagger, gave me a dog named Freckles back in 1980. She had been turned off to sheep due to some rough handling and he thought she “needed a woman’s touch.” Though I fought the idea kicking and screaming, I took on Freckles and working sheep, which I had never done. We always had sheep, but my brothers, sister and I were “the dogs” who herded them until we all went to college.

Cheryl and Spot at the double lift finals of the Bluegrass Classic Sheepdog Trial in Kentucky.

Cheryl and Spot at the double lift finals of the Bluegrass Classic Sheepdog Trial in Kentucky.

At this time, there were no videos, very few books, no clinics—just people who would tell you “you will work it out.” It took us a short time to figure out that most of these folks did not actually know how to train, as they had always purchased trained dogs. Bruce Fogt was my mentor at that time. I shadowed him and learned a great deal about trialing and training.

The first Finals I went to was with Nell in Kentucky. Nell qualified third on the first qualifying run and then ended up eleventh overall in the Finals. Though I had never done an international shed before, Nell and I came very close. I was thrilled and determined that I would no longer miss the Nationals if I could in any way get there. Oregon is just so far away for next year, however, so we’ll have to see!

Preparing for the Finals is always a real tough thing, being from “the East.” Since we do not have large fields, we do a lot on close work, such as penning, getting close to sheep in small areas, taking wide flanks, close flanks, pen and barn work, and so on. All of this work helps the dogs in their confidence to work other kinds of sheep unlike the hair sheep we usually see at trials.

I am lucky in more ways than one that I met and married Dick Williams, who also is a very strong competitor in the sheepdog trials. I always say he is my “best student.” We can work together on outruns and checking each other’s training.

Dick, Cheryl, and Cheryl's father, Walt.

Dick, Cheryl, and Cheryl's father, Walt.

We try to get to larger fields as many times as possible. Since we have only hair sheep, we try to go to other people’s farms and work their wool sheep, especially if they have been lightly dogged. We always try to get to the Canadian trials at Kingston, as the island wool sheep are a great challenge. It is a good preparation for the sheep out west. Spot and Toby have made the double lift finals at the Bluegrass several times, in Kingston, and at the Canadian Nationals, as well as Rural Hill in North Carolina. We do practice the double lift, but not too close to competition time, as they will attempt a look back prematurely if we are not careful.

Though nothing we have even resembles range sheep, we try to get our dogs to have a better pace on the sheep and stay off further than they are used to here in the east. They will need wider flanks on western sheep and will need to walk directly into them. This work takes a different kind of practice.

Toby, my “younger” dog at eight-and-a-half years of age, has qualified for the Nationals each year he has run. I purchased Toby at a year of age. I saw him and was sure he was a dog I would like to work with. He is by Rowdy out of Meg. He has several siblings that have run on the circuit for years. He has won several trials for me and has been a consistent dog in the top rankings of the USBCHA. We have been to several Finals and have found that he has a bit too much eye for the range sheep. Therefore, I’ll do many exercises to loosen this eye before we leave. Though he was hurt a couple of years ago at a trial, he still has a great deal of heart and works through his somewhat painful body.

Cheryl penning with Toby at the Bluegrass. Photo by Cathie McClure.

Cheryl penning with Toby at the Bluegrass. Photo by Cathie McClure.

Spot is a Beechwood Bob son. He came from Arthur Mawhinney in Ireland. Mary Brighoff bought him at four years of age and couldn’t keep him. I wanted him immediately and have never been sorry for one moment that I purchased him. He has been in the top five in the USBCHA standings many times and has always been a qualifier. Spot at nine years of age has qualified for and run in several Finals. He has always done well, including qualifying for the second go around in Oregon. Spot is a bit lacking in power but makes up for it in finesse. He needs to work at the farm many days working lambs and ewes to prepare for the task in Meeker and the Finals.

He won the “unluckiest dog” in Meeker one year, as he had the best outwork of the day, made a beautiful turn around the post, and then one sheep outran him to the other end of the field resulting in him losing the sheep. What a sad ending!

Spot walking up on his sheep.

Spot walking up on his sheep.

The same day, at the same Meeker trial, however, Dick and his dog Lass made the top twenty and finished in eleventh place overall. This certainly made the day!

I must say that it is not without my dear husband Dick that I am so lucky to be able to attend all of the trials and the Finals. We travel together and work together and support each other through all of the trials and tribulations.

Dick with Mirk in the double lift at the Canadian National Finals 2010.

Dick with Mirk in the double lift at the Canadian National Finals 2010.

Dick will be running Lass and Mirk in the Finals as well. Lass and Mirk are both by my Andy, whom I ran for many years in open trials. His nursery dog Mick will also be running and is one that I think people will want to watch!

Find out more about Cheryl and Dick’s dogs, sheep, and farm activities at Cullymont Farm.

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Suzy Applegate

Suzy Applegate lives in Plymouth, California, in the Sierra Foothills above Sacramento with her husband, John, and five-year-old son, Bryce. Suzy has been successful on the trial field with lots of different types of border collies and was the Meeker Classic champion with Buzz last year.

I train my own border collies, train dogs for others, and give lessons daily in order to make a living. I feel very fortunate to be in this sport and around these dogs daily. I grew up riding horses, starting at six years old, and began showing in the hunter/jumper circuit not too long after that. I dabbled in dressage and three-day until phasing out of horses and becoming very hooked on these dogs in my mid twenties, a little more than twenty years ago.

I run two separate flocks of commercial fine wools ewes and white-headed dorpers. I like the fine wools to work the older dogs with, but I really like lambing out the dorpers and starting pups on them. We live on a forty-five-acre place with most of the sheep and also own a large ranch right around the corner, where we run the cattle, keep the horses, and in the late spring/summer run some of the sheep after lambs are pulled. This is where I haul out and put the bigger outruns and scope on the dogs that are ready to trial. I can use many challenging areas, which is nice. All the rest of my training is done at home, in the fields around the house.

It can be very hard to prepare for the Finals every year, though, as we peak in May, when trialing season is done in this area. The heat can be one hundred degrees or more here, so it’s necessary to work dogs only before 11:00 am and in the evenings. In the summer, the fields are littered with deadly stickers called foxtails, among other dangers. We are limited to pastures that are mowed or irrigated, which are hard to come by, as I have all dryland pasture. It can be frustrating getting dogs tuned up properly, especially for the big outruns I will need. It has also been tough to go to more than a handful of trials the last couple of years due to family and work commitments. So I feel like my dogs don’t have the miles and experience that my dogs in the past have had. I am very lucky to have such talented dogs to overcome some of this.

Buzz is most certainly one of those talented dogs! Photo by Bonnie Block.

Buzz is most certainly one of those talented dogs! Photo by Bonnie Block.

I fooled with a few dogs before purchasing a nice young dog, Guy, from Patrick Shannahan, and then getting an Open dog, Tug, from George Grist not long after that. Tug propelled me into the Open after a few years running other dogs in Pro-Novice. I would say my mentors, Patrick and George, helped me the most, along with a few clinics with others here and there that got me over that “hump.” I am very grateful for their help!

I have run numerous dogs in the last twenty years, and they have taught me so much. Tug, Brock, Bet, Hap, and Lyn have been the special ones; they’ve brought me a lot of success. Now Buzz, who is by Hap and out of Bet, has won the 2008 National Nursery Finals, and he was voted the Most Promising Young Dog Award that year. He won the Meeker Classic last year in 2010 as a four-year-old, and I have to say he is the best dog I have run to this point. He suits the Western range ewes and has worked them daily since he was a year old. Dot is my other open dogs this year. She is Buzz’s little sister—a year and a half younger than he is but bred the same way. She was last year’s Nursery dog for me, but I did not go to Virginia, as it was just too far away for me. I’d have had to be gone too long from family and all my responsibilities around here.

Dot’s not missing out this year! Photo by Morgen Magnuson.

Dot’s not missing out this year! Photo by Morgen Magnuson.

One of my Nursery dogs this year is Tru, by Hap (his last litter) x Lark, whom I bred, a Gramm (Moel Hemp x Bet) x Twig (Tug x Rita daughter). She has a lot of dogs in her pedigree whom I absolutely loved. She has been a huge challenge to start, but she seems to be training up and trialing well. I really enjoy working her every day—she is one of my most favorite dogs ever, as her work ethic, guts, and attitude are hard to find.

Tru showing some style. Photo by Carolyn Harwell.

Tru showing some style. Photo by Carolyn Harwell.

My second Nursery dog is Coop, by Alasdair MacRae’s Nap and out of Kathy Scott’s Lyn, whom I first trained as a pup for Morgen Magnuson, until he was sold to another student, Erin Swanson. He is a very good listener and seems to suit the range ewes well in the few trials I ran him in at the beginning of the season. He has been a very consistent trial dog and is also fun to run. He needs a bit more scope in his outruns, and if we can get that he will be very competitive this year. Both dogs were born in July, so they are as good as it gets as far as age!

Coop flanking around the sheep. Photo by Carolyn Harwell.

Coop rounding the post. Photo by Carolyn Harwell.

I always feel a little panicked during the summer months getting the dogs ready for September. I mainly condition them on the four-wheeler, do a lot of chores, and drill once or twice a week when I can fit that in, depending on the dog. Hauling out is almost nonexistent, so this year I entered a couple of trials in Oregon, and I will go up to Oregon (eight hours away) and work dogs with friends on alfalfa fields to work on double lifts for Buzz and Dot and bigger outruns for the Nursery dogs.

I feed Champion Pet Foods’ Acana, a no-grain dog food; give some supplements; and use Glyco-Gen before and after grueling runs in the heat. I also have the dogs adjusted by a friend that is a great doggie chiropractor as much as I can or when needed.

Finally, I have to thank all my support system: my husband, son, parents (who stay here while I am gone), students, and the friends who are so supportive. I could not do all this, or go to Meeker and the Finals, without them. John calls them “Team Suzy”!

You can read more about Suzy’s farm, her dogs, and her Hoof and Paws training facility on her website.

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Herbert and Alison Holmes

Herbert and Alison Holmes have been involved with working border collies for decades. In addition to keeping sheep, cattle, and goats on their sprawling Texas ranch, both are accomplished handlers with consistent placements at some of the country’s most prestigious trials. As most trialers know, Herbert is also the current president of the United States Border Collie Handlers’ Association.

Herbert and I live on a ranch deep in the West Texas country, near Sanderson. We live two hours from the nearest grocery store. Our road in from the highway is only seventeen miles, but it takes about an hour and a half to negotiate with the truck and camper (on a good day)! All of our electronics, TV, computers, and telephones are supplied by satellite. If we have medical emergencies, we have to call the medi-vac helicopter, as the ambulance cannot negotiate our road.

Herbert and Alison at home on the ranch.

Herbert and Alison at home on the ranch.

We raise corriente cattle, some dorper cross rambouillet sheep, and a handful of boer cross goats. Ranching has changed dramatically in the last ten years or so, in west Texas. Ranches are being divided and sold as hunting parcels to absentee owners. No longer are sheep raised in large numbers, so no longer are ranchers in residence, being vigilant about predators. Ten years ago our ranch supported a few thousand sheep and some goats, with just a few cows. When the coyotes finally infiltrated the area, they, the bobcats, and the occasional mountain lions decimated the lamb and goat kid crops. We sold most of the sheep and goats six years ago and increased the cattle numbers. Accordingly, the type of work we do with dogs on the ranch has changed considerably.

Not only have the sheep/goat predators increased, we also have to be very vigilant about rattlesnakes and rabies. We have already had a horse bitten by a rattler this year. Last year, we had two dogs bitten by rattlesnakes. All three animals survived. We give the rattlesnake vaccine to all of our dogs to help them cope with the venom reaction, in the event they get bitten. Rabies is also rampant here. Any varmint or critter acting oddly gets shot immediately, no questions asked. These factors make it risky to exercise the dogs with the four wheelers. The whitetail deer and rabbits are plentiful and we constantly come upon them on our exercise runs, and it is very tempting for dogs to take after them. Herbert has repaired and set up a horse walker that we can use to fit the dogs, by walking and trotting them in a circle. This method works well for us. The dogs must be started slowly and gradually built up to long term trotting, and must always be monitored when the machine is in use. Anybody up for the merry go round?!

In the beginning of the year, there is a great series of trials here in Texas, during February and March. We start gearing up the trial dogs aiming for this series of trials. Our preparation is done with the hopes of gaining enough points to make it to the National Finals later in the year. So really, our whole year revolves around the National Finals, not only with the dogs, but with Herbert on the USBCHA business end of things.

I am running Chip and Rhys in the Open this year. Chip came to me as a yearling for training, from our neighbor Charles Stegall. Charles purchased Chip’s mother from us, and he later bred her to Jet, who we owned at the time. Chip was extremely precocious and trained quickly and easily. I asked Charles if I could trial him, instead of sending him back home for a ranch dog. Much to my delight, he gave me the go ahead. Since Chip came to me three years ago, Charles has only had possession of him for a few weeks! Poor Charles! Chip is all business when he is working and is usually very cool headed. He and I have made a good team. I really appreciate going out and working him, especially after starting and training the young dogs. I think Chip and I earned nearly enough points to make it to the Finals at our first trial out this year. Last year, Chip and I won the overall award at the North Dakota trials: the Slash J and The Big One. This was especially pleasing for me, as we rarely get to work on range wool sheep anymore. In 2009, Chip and I placed third at the National Finals Nursery Trial in Sturgis, on very difficult fine wool ewes.

Alison and Chip, showing off the platter they won at the 2010 North Dakota trials.

Alison and Chip, showing off the platter they won at the 2010 North Dakota trials.

Rhys (I call him Ry) is a totally different story. He is distantly related to Chip, although they are nothing alike in looks, character, or working styles. Rhys came to me a barely started two-year-old. We fought tooth and nail for a while before I realized a better way to handle and train him. He can be very tense while working, and this is his major downfall. If his nerves do not rattle him, he can be quite good. If his nervous edge overtakes him, he really tightens up and our runs get messy or worse. He has been a great training education for me. He needs a lot of exercise and training miles to wear down his brain. Last year was his first trialing year; he ran Open Ranch in Texas for five trials or so, and then I moved him to Open. His first Open trials were in North Dakota, and I believe he made the top twenty in each. I was very pleased! Although they are very close in age, he is at least a year behind Chip in experience and his training. I have to keep that in mind when I am working him. I hope to earn enough Open points with him this year to get to the Finals.

Alison penning with Rhys at the Bluegrass in 2010. Photo by Christine Koval.

Alison penning with Rhys at the Bluegrass earlier this year. Photo by Christine Koval.

Britt is my Nursery dog. She ran Nursery last year and made the cut for the second run at the Nursery Finals in Virginia. I have been careful not to let her get scared, hurt, or placed in a situation above her abilities on sheep. She is a delightful little bitch and is super obedient, willing, and an absolute treat to work, train, and live with. She qualified for the Nursery Finals in our first weekend out this year, so the pressure is off. I can take it easy with her and keep her keen and fresh. She is a quick learner and does not need repetitive schooling. Chip is similar to Britt in that they don’t need grinding or drilling every day, so I ease up on them when there are no trials on the horizon. Rhys, on the other hand, needs calm, repetitive, and demanding work almost on a daily basis.

Herbert will be competing with his experienced older bitch, Juno. He bought her as a three year old, and she has won/placed consistently in the years since. She already has plenty of points earned toward the National Finals. She is a high-drive, forward, and big-hearted bitch. We had hopes of getting similar-type puppies off her, but unfortunately we only got one puppy from her before she had to be spayed. Juno is also a nervous and tense type of dog. Hub will work her on square flanking and look backs a bit, in preparation for trials.

Hub at the post. Photo by Christine Koval.

Hub at the post. Photo by Christine Koval.

Hub’s other Open dog is his Nursery dog from last year, Cap. Hub bought Cap in January of 2010 as a well-started Nursery dog. Cap is very stylish and obedient and a real eye catcher who handles his sheep professionally. Cap and Hub placed fourth at the 2010 National Finals Nursery in Middletown, Virginia. Cap is a young dog, so still a work in progress, but he is very capable of doing well in Open competition.

Hub also has a very young Nursery bitch, Emmy, who is a daughter of my Britt. He is not pressing her to qualify, as she is a two-year Nursery dog, and he doesn’t want to get her in situations that she is not prepared for or mature enough to handle.

Hub’s next Nursery champ?

Hub’s next Nursery champ?

We work our dogs mostly at the ranch. Although we do not have a big training field, we can do a lot of complicated work: look backs, blind outruns, and so on. We also have the opportunity to train on bigger fields, to test and stretch the dogs’ outruns and obedience on redirects. We also use our dogs for some ranch work, although that does not lend itself to trial training. The brush is very thick, and the dogs need to be tighter rather than wider when going after livestock in the brush. However, it certainly helps the dogs use their heads and, hopefully, their talent!

We will continue to work/train dogs and use the horse walker, as the spring and summer heats up in Texas. Usually we can work in the early mornings until August. Then we have to be quite careful, due to the heat. We do specifically accustom the dogs to working in some heat, so hopefully they can handle the heat if the weather gets hot at the Finals. The heat has certainly been a factor over the last few years. We are hoping that the National Finals in Carbondale, Colorado, will be a much cooler event, weatherwise, and we really look forward to getting there.

Alison and Hub will no doubt be very busy over the next six weeks in the run-up to the Finals! Find about more about their dogs and their farm at Holmes Border Collies.

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Elizabeth Baker

Born and raised in Northern California, Elizabeth Baker moved to the Medford, Oregon, area in 2003 and shortly thereafter bought her home and ten-acre property in Eagle Point. She has worked in commercial and agribusiness lending for eighteen years, and she is currently employed as a vice president/senior business relationship officer at a regional bank headquartered in Medford. Her current menagerie includes seven border collies, a flock of fine wool sheep (plus a few hairies), some cats, and a guard llama, Tupac.

Some of Elizabeth’s crossbred fine wool ewes with their lambs.

Some of Elizabeth’s crossbred fine wool ewes
with their lambs.

An animal lover since childhood, I grew up riding horses, training the family dog, and caring for an eclectic assortment of creatures. My start with border collies was accidental, beginning when I took in a border collie puppy, Megan, from an unknown ranch breeding shortly after I bought my first home. She was epileptic and an extremely high-energy, nutty border collie—an exhausting challenge.

In my determination to train the most difficult Meg, I happened on talented well-bred working border collies and witnessed their remarkable brilliance on livestock. I was hooked, and in 2000 I impulsively purchased a puppy off a classified advertisement by Amanda Milliken on the Canadian Border Collie Association website. Even in my relative novice ignorance, the breeding seemed pretty impressive to me. I named the puppy Rye.

Rye convincing a recalcitrant ewe to join her buddies. Photo by Bonnie Block.

Rye convincing a recalcitrant ewe to join her buddies. Photo by Bonnie Block.

Convinced by my mentors of the error of purchasing a puppy in lieu of a trained dog, I bought my first good Open dog, Imported Black, from Suzy (McAllister) Applegate. Black was a wonderful dog who gave me a good education in Pro-Novice and Open, and he provided the foundation experience I’d draw on to train future dogs. I was also fortunate to have good mentors—Suzy Applegate, Patrick Shannahan, Kathy Knox, and others have given me good direction and advice along the way.

Elizabeth and Rye prepare for their Meeker run, 2008.

Elizabeth and Rye prepare for their Meeker run, 2008.

My impulse puppy purchase ended up not such a bad decision. Rye was a genius and turned out to be a dog of a lifetime. He has taken me on a great adventure, trialing in some of the toughest and most competitive western trials and numerous National Finals and forcing me to step up my skills . . . ready or not, we began qualifying for double lifts and final rounds.

I will travel to the 2011 USBCHA National Sheepdog Finals with two Open dogs at opposite ends of their working careers—a final attempt for Rye (ten years) and a first for Ross (three years). Soot, a littermate to Ross, is an alternate.

Rye is out of Amanda Milliken’s Grace (Boy x Hazel) and ##Craig, 1995 International Supreme Champion with Stuart Davidson. He is the same-way bred as Amanda’s Bart and Ethel. Approaching his eleventh birthday, Rye has had an enduring trial career and has been particularly good at some of the toughest western venues, including Meeker, the Western States Regional Championship, Lacamas Valley, Zamora, and the Sonoma Wine Country. He has qualified for every USBCHA Finals since his Nursery year (though we haven’t attended them all). I am fortunate that Rye has produced well and his offspring are stepping up as my next generation of dogs: I am currently trialing three-year-old littermates, Ross and Soot, in Open and two-year-old Craig in Nursery/Pro-Novice.

Soot at the Lacamas Valley SDT. Photo by Kristi Oikawa.

Soot at the Lacamas Valley SDT.
Photo by Kristi Oikawa.

In preparation for the Finals, there is little left to teach this veteran. I will fine-tune his pace, remind him of precision in the close work, and toss in some sorting and a turn back or two. After a restorative winter break while I trialed younger dogs, Rye returned to trialing this spring and summer to assess his fitness and preparedness for another Finals . . . he has tuned up nicely, recently placing well in tough trials and appearing sharp and ready for one more go on the Big Field. My primary focus for Rye is conditioning and building stamina, and I’m much less worried about his stock work. I try to take him on long jogging runs on the bike or 4×4 several times a week. In addition, I maintain his overall health with premium food, a session with an osteopath prior to competition, and supplements and treatments to aid joint health and recovery after exercise.

My second Finals partner is Ross from my own breeding out of Mist (Dale Montgomery’s Tim x Lacey) by Rye. Ross is a large-framed scopey young dog with very good feel and a cool head. Ross (and littermate Soot) qualified for the 2010 Nursery Finals, but we did not travel to the East Coast. He has trialed in Open a year and grown in confidence this season with a number of strong placements in spring and summer trials. Ross is still learning the more advanced skills; however, I’m not keen to rush him out of respect for his age. Ross has also been joining Rye on our conditioning runs.

Ross grazing the flock at Big Willow SDT.

Ross grazing the flock at Big Willow SDT.

Both trial dogs receive added fat to their diet (I use Redpaw Balanced Fat) and take Glyco-Gen Engery Edge after working to aid recovery during multiday competitions. In addition, Rye has been getting periodic cold laser treatments by Angie Untisz, DVM, throughout the summer and during competition to repair tissue damage and help reduce inflammation.

With all that in mind, my main goal is to enjoy what promises to be an exciting, well-run event at a gorgeous venue. I look forward to seeing so many friends and great dogs in one of my favorite places to trial.

Elizabeth plans to run Ross and Soot at the Meeker Classic before heading over to Carbondale. Find out more about her dogs on her website.

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Ron Burkey

Ron Burkey hails from Boerne, Texas. He bought his first trialing contender, a pup from Susan Carpenter, in 2000, and then got Hank, with whom he had his first placings on the national level, as a puppy from Emil Luedecke in 2002. Hank was seventh in the Nursery Finals in 2004 and eighth in the Open Finals in 2008, as well as being a finalist at Soldier Hollow. Ron finished third in the Nursery Finals with a half sister to Hank at the 2009 Finals in Gettysburg. He has hosted the Top of the Hill SDT for the last seven years, and this year at Carbondale will mark his third time being on the trial committee for the Handlers’ Association.

I have attended many great trials around the country, and there are many more I would like to attend. However, the one I most look forward to is our National Finals. It must be the fact that we earn the opportunity to compete with the best in North America that makes it so special. Like me, almost everyone competing in our association wants to participate and have a successful run at the Finals.

My first experience at Finals (and my first trial outside Texas) was the 2002 Finals in Lebanon, Tennessee. It was a long way to go to find out my first-year Nursery dog was afraid of horses! However, it was not what we accomplished but what I saw that really affected me. So many great dogs and great handlers from all over the country, competing in a beautiful setting left me wanting to go back.

Ron and Sky watching the runs. Photo by Betty Gillis.

Ron and Sky watching the runs. Photo by Betty Gillis.

I did make it to Sturgis the next year with the same Nursery dog. This time my dog (and every dog since) was familiar with horses, and we made it into the second go. Thankfully, I have gone back to the Finals every year since with the exception of 2006, when I decided Klamath Falls was just too far to travel. I still regret not attending that year and have since gotten over the distance thing.

This year I will be running five-year-old Sky in the Open and two-year-old Shadow in the Nursery. They are brothers out of Eileen Stineman’s Star and Don. Though I’m having fun with them both, I have really missed my old dog Hank who retired last fall. Shadow is most often called “the red dog,” and he is the first red border collie I have owned. I bought both dogs as puppies and did whatever training they have myself. My goal is to train and run a dog as naturally as the situation allows, but who listens well enough for me to take full control when necessary.

Shadow moves the sheep around the post. Photo by Betty Gillis.

Shadow moves the sheep around the post. Photo by Betty Gillis.

My training fields at home are small but adequate to develop a young dog. I also have ranch about fifty miles from home where I can lengthen outruns and create situations that require a dog to look for sheep and learn to handle difficult terrain. This is where I try to get my dogs ready for the bigger trials, sharpening their listening and thinking skills.

Not a bad place to train . . .

Not a bad place to train . . .

I’m sure each handler’s road to the Finals has many similarities and some differences. For me, living in south central Texas, one of the main concerns is that the Finals occurs near the end of our long, hot summer. Our trial season ends in early May and does not start up again until October. With morning temperatures in the high seventies to low eighties and daytime between 95 and 102 degrees, it can be a challenge to get a dog into good physical and mental condition. For me the answer has been to make several extended trips north (into New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and this year North Dakota) throughout the summer, trialing and working dogs. This has been great fun for me and has given my dogs the chance to get on big courses and challenging range sheep as well as getting often-needed qualifying points.

Ron sheds with Sky in New Mexico at the Free To Be trial. Photo by Laura Esterman.

Ron sheds with Sky in New Mexico at the Free To Be Ranch SDT. Photo by Laura Esterman.

Ron will be criss-crossing Colorado this summer, competing at the Steamboat Springs Stockdog Challenge and at the Meeker Classic before heading toward Mount Sopris in Carbondale.

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Linda Tesdahl

Linda Tesdahl lives in Mt. Airy, Maryland, about fifty miles outside of Washington, DC. She and her husband have been on their little farm for about fifteen years. She has trained about twelve of her own dogs through Open. They have placed at some of the biggest trials across the country, including the Bluegrass, Soldier Hollow, Meeker, Grass Creek Park, and the National Finals. Her dog Jaffe set a course record his first time at Soldier Hollow. Another dog, Peg, was the Canadian National Reserve Champion just two weeks shy of her eleventh birthday. A Jaffe son, Ryan, placed in the double lift at Bluegrass and Meeker as a four-year-old and was awarded the top-end award at Meeker. In addition to sheep and dogs, Linda and her husband have a cat, Dora; two miniature donkeys, Spunky and Milton; and a Halflinger horse, Nick.

I have been training and trialing border collies for about twenty years. I have been “bossing” dogs around . . . also called training . . . since I could walk. I competed in obedience trials for about fifteen years before I went to watch my first sheepdog trial, which was in Scio, Oregon. I ran a training school and now continue to train problem dogs for pet owners when time allows.

Suede and Ryan cooling off.

Suede and Ryan cooling off.

With the help of clinicians, I have always bought pups and trained my own dogs. I have been blessed with some very talented dogs and try to do right by them by giving them a variety of experiences on stock. The field in which I work is very small. My farm is twelve acres, and I lease about a fifteen-acre field nearby and keep most of my flock there. I raise Cheviot/Perendale sheep and keep about forty ewes. I keep back most of my lamb crop, so the dogs have something fresh and challenging to work, and then sell them off after the next lambing.

Juno fetching the sheep to Linda. Photo by Lynn Roberts.

Juno fetching the sheep to Linda.
Photo by Lynn Roberts.

This year, I am running two young dogs in Open . . . so anything can happen! Suede is four and has already accomplished a lot for me.  He was in the double lift at Bluegrass and Soldier Hollow as a three-year-old and has been placing consistently this year. Suede is sired by White Rose Kep. Juno just turned three. She has been improving since moving to Open in January. She has placed pretty consistently, and I have high hopes for her future. She is out of the very successful cross of Amanda Milliken’s Star x Ethyl.

Juno at work.

Juno at work.

In preparation for trialing, I try to focus on the skills each dog needs to put together a good complete run. So, I will work on clean flanks, releasing pressure, holding a line, fence work, shedding, sorting, and so on, focusing on one or two skills in a session. My training sessions tend to be fairly short. Then, I will create as much “work” as I can. About once a week, I will do some expanded work, doing longer outruns and lots of driving. This is when I evaluate how well the training is carrying over.

Ryan fetching the wily Meeker range ewes.

Ryan fetching the wily Meeker range ewes.

In preparation for the bigger trials, I try to go out west in the spring to several trials on range sheep. This is always quite a challenge for me and my dogs, with the terrain and the sheep being so different than what we are used to. I think this helps us all immensely. For a week or two before the Finals, I try to keep the work light and keep the dogs fresh, taking long walks to help with conditioning, which can be difficult when you are on the road. I am looking forward to the challenge of Carbondale . . . can’t wait!

Linda travels about 30,000 miles each year to sheepdog trials around the United States and Canada. Read more about her training and her dogs on her Lazy Ewe Farm website.

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Set-Out Crew

This week, we’re profiling the set-out crew and seeing what the four of them—Mark Henderson, Nancy Penley, Shawn Casey, and Jim Wotkyns—are doing to get their horses, their dogs, and themselves ready for the big week in Carbondale. Between the four of them, they’ll set some 300 runs, and they work hard to make sure everyone gets an even set. Good thing they’ve done this a time or two before!

Mark Henderson

Let me start by thanking the USBCHA Finals committee for hiring my crew and me to set sheep for the 2011 Sheepdog Finals. This will be our second time setting out for the Finals; our first year was at Sturgis, during the Finals of 2008. We had a fine crew of Shawn Casey, Nancy Penley, Greg Weitz, and me, Mark Henderson.

Mark, Shawn, and Nancy bringing the flags down the field  at the 2008 National Sheepdog Finals.

Mark, Shawn, and Nancy bringing the flags down the field
at the 2008 National Sheepdog Finals. Photo by Laura Esterman.

I have always had a love for dogs and horses. I have always had some sort of working dog but was introduced to working sheep with untrained dogs (and soon to be well-trained dogs) around 1985. I jumped in head-first learning to trial and found a “new rodeo.” I joined the local border collie club and got involved in clinics and trials. It didn’t take long to know that to have good clinics and trials, you had to have good help. Therefore, I (along with my wife and daughter) decided that I had to be willing to work all venues of the trial. My first opportunity to set sheep was at a trial we worked afoot and on three-wheelers. I learned that there had to be a much better way.

Now that Finals are among us, I will be bringing three hopefully steady dogs. Brynn, Talon, and Bob, my newly acquired dog that I got in the spring from Ray Crabtree. All three dogs have a full-time job this summer doing ranch work. I will be riding three different horses. As many are aware, I ride young horses and look forward to having these horses ready for the Finals. We will be well-prepared as we are setting the sheep for the Steamboat Sheepdog Trial (with Shawn Casey) and the Meeker Classic (with Shawn Casey and Nancy Penley). This year we are welcoming Jim Wotkyns to set with us at the Finals. We are very excited to have Greg Weitz and hopefully Pat Hughes handle the sheep and be in charge of the pens.

Nancy, Mark, and Shawn take a break from setting at Meeker, 2009.

Nancy, Mark, and Shawn take a break from setting at Meeker, 2009. Photo by Laura Esterman.

Good luck to everybody. See you in Carbondale!


Nancy Penley

I have been setting sheep for about thirteen or so years. The first years were not always pretty. In the beginning, I didn’t always have the proper dog, and we did a lot of setting with just the horses. As the years have gone by, I’ve learned that setting has become easier for me and a lot of fun with dogs who will listen and have more experience with different types of sheep. I feel that when I set, I’m setting for the dogs who are running. And that every dog deserves a good and fair set—it isn’t about who is running that dog, it is all about being fair and consistent for every run (a philosophy that has really been driven home to me by Mark, from whom I have learned a lot over the years). As we all know, sheep have their own minds, but when we get a set of sheep and one is just not a player, we always try to get that sheep out of the game and get a set that is more willing to play. Sometimes that means burning the entire set, and sometimes just getting rid of one sheep will do it.

Nancy pauses for a smile in the pens during a setting clinic  she put on with Mark and Shawn last spring. Photo by Ellen Nieslanik.

Nancy pauses for a smile in the pens during a setting clinic she put on with Mark and Shawn last spring. Photo by Ellen Nieslanik.

I have also been trialing on and off for about as long as I have been setting. I have taken years off during that time to raise my family and really until about eight years ago I just dabbled in the trialing part. I had the pleasure of taking my Nursery dog, Sue, to Virginia last year to run in the Nursery Finals. That was a great experience.

It helps to be setting with people you work well with, who share the same ideas, and who are just fun to be around. Although I have to say, Shawn takes great pleasure in me being there to be Mark’s punching bag because it takes some of that off of him!

I have two dogs I will set with at Meeker and the Finals this year. One is my six-year-old dog, Hobbs. I have been setting with him for about two years. He just gets the job, and I feel he does a good job. He knows when we get to the set-out point, when to come with me away from the set, how to sit and watch the running dog take the sheep away, and, most importantly, will allow the sheep to be taken away. The other dog is three-year-old Emma. She is a lot younger, and I will spend the summer reminding her of things like allowing the sheep to be taken away by the running dog and not leaning too much on the sheep being set. The more work I do with her, the better she is.

Emma at work.

Emma at work.

I run my dogs on the four-wheeler when I am not working them to build up their stamina. We live at about 5,000 feet elevation, and Carbondale is about 6,200 feet, so the elevation change is not as great for me as it will be for some coming from the lower elevation states.

I will have two horses with me. As we will be setting Meeker prior to the Finals, I will be spending as much time as possible getting them in shape, as well as getting me ready for two full weeks in the saddle. I will have a fifteen-year-old gelding and a new mare, who just turned four. It is a great time for me, as riding and the dogs are my two favorite things, and I get to do them at the same time.

Hobbs convincing a lamb to move along at the Strand Ranch SDT, April 2011.

Hobbs convincing a lamb to move along at the Strang Ranch SDT, April 2011.

I live in Loveland, Colorado, with my husband of 27 years, Kurt. I have two children, Katie, 24, and Tyler 22. I have four border collies, four horses, a flock of about forty-five Dorper sheep, and, of course, Mikey, the fifteen-year-old Jack Russell who really runs the place, along with various other critters.

Good luck to everyone running in the Finals!


Shawn Casey

I have lived in Bennett, Colorado, with my wife, Annette, since 2000. I was born and raised sixty miles north of Boise, Idaho, so if you weren’t logging, you were chasing cattle and haying. I always thought that I had a good stock dog until I met Mark Henderson. My dog could go down in the brush and flush out cattle, and I would pick them up in the open horseback. Mark’s dogs would not only flush cattle out of the brush but would bring them back to you in a group. Seeing this, I told myself “I must have one of these dogs,” so I retired my heeler, Buckwheat, and got a border collie.

Maisey, Shawn, Ringo, Blue (horse), and Kit are ready!

Maisey, Shawn, Ringo, Blue (horse), and Kit are ready!

So, like roping horses, I am always looking for the next border collie superstar. Let me present the current gang: Maisey is four, and she is the pride of the fleet. I really enjoy trialing with this dog. Ringo is five now, and he is a tough dog. This spring while moving pairs, I have seen great improvement in his abilities. I’m looking forward to Ringo’s development through summer. Kit is eight. I got her as a pup from Jim Chant. I think Kit is out of one of the last litters from his Dot dog. Kit is one of the toughest dogs I have ever been around. I have not found any livestock that she can’t move. Kit will always be my favorite because we have learned so much together.

Well I’m complete with the spring dog trials and now moved on to rodeo season. I usually will maintain about 100 to 150 head of tying goats to send to twenty-five or so youth rodeos during the summer. However, when I was asked to set sheep at the 2011 National Sheepdog Finals two years ago, I reduced the amount of rodeos I will attend this year because it’s not every day you are able to set sheep at the Meeker Classic and National Sheepdog Finals. I can’t wait! I also buy and run lambs through the summer so my dogs can get use to the different pressures. Goats can get pretty heavy.

Shawn, Kit, and Mark Henderson setting sheep at Parker 2009.

Shawn, Kit, and Mark setting sheep at Parker 2009.

When I was asked how I was going to get ready for the Finals, my first reaction was that I’ll prepare like I always do getting ready to set sheep at a dog trial. A bag of clothes, tank of diesel fuel, load the horses and dogs! All joking aside, I am pretty fortunate through the spring and summer that I am able to help Mark Henderson ride, checking and working cattle. I am starting to ship goats almost every week to rodeos, so I use dogs a lot to gather, sort, and load. These activities will keep horses and dogs in shape. The only thing that I really prep for is setting for other dogs lifting the sheep. A few weeks before we head out, Mark will have me come out to his place and we will lift sheep off of each other’s dogs to work on control, so our dogs will not move during the lift and fetch. Also at that time, I will practice my low deep voice of “you better not move, Dog,” which comes in pretty handy! Most important is to prep a book full of one-liners for the group folks that I will be hanging out with up at the let out pens at the Finals!

Handlers, I look forward to seeing you all again. Good luck at the Finals! See you soon!


Jim Wotkyns

First of all I would like to thank Mark Henderson, Nancy Penley, and Shawn Casey for asking me to be part of the set-out crew for this year’s Finals here in Colorado. It is an honor and privilege to be working with them.

Jim and TP setting at the Outrun Ranch SDT in Durango

Jim moves the lambs along at the Outrun Ranch SDT in Durango last May. Photo by Carol Clawson.

I will be bringing at least two horses, possibly three. TP and Horse will be spending a good share of the summer on the mountain northeast of Durango with my son, who is working for a local outfitter. They will work alternating days and cover hundreds of miles over the summer months. They should be muscled and ready for mid-September.

I will bring one great dog, my eleven-year-old Riley. He is a proven trial dog but loves the work at the top at the set out. He, too, will spend some time on the mountain and down low on the ranch working day-to-day chores. We might even get a trial or two in. He will be in shape and ready to work. As for me, the oldest of the crew, I will get to spend a bit of time in the high country and day-to-day work in and around Durango. I will get forty to sixty miles in a week on a mountain bike, so I’ll be in good shape as well.

Jim gives Riley a pat.

Jim gives Riley a pat. Photo by Carol Clawson.

Good rhythm and good stock sense are the keys to a good set. Teamwork with riders, horses, and dogs for a quiet set is essential. The crew at the top can only hold things for so long; the handlers need to be ready to go to work. Let’s not forget a good ground crew—lots of moving parts and heartbeats to keep track of.

Good luck to all. See you at the Finals!


Sounds like the competitors at this year’s Finals will have a great team at the top!

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