NOTE: Guest blogger Mark Johnson
Labor Day weekend is surely the busiest time of year in Heber Valley’s picturesque town of Midway. This is thanks in part to the popularity of the Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship, a homegrown festival that has gained world renown.
Now in its 14th year, the Soldier Hollow Classic is recognized as being one of the sport’s toughest competitions. While many sheepdog trials occur on relatively even terrain with farm-raised sheep, the Soldier Hollow course places competitors and their herding dogs on steep hillsides with numerous natural obstacles.
“Not only that, but the sheep at the Soldier Hollow Classic, those big Rocky Mountain range ewes, are notorious for being hard headed,” said Mark Petersen, the founder of the event.
Competitors direct their herding dogs using whistles and calls from distances of up to 400 yards, with the goal of maneuvering a small flock of sheep through gates like a ski run, before penning them to stop the timer.
Petersen started the Soldier Hollow Classic in 2003, with little idea of just how successful the event would become. In 2015, nearly 30,000 people visited Soldier Hollow on Labor Day weekend to enjoy the festival. And, over the years, dog handlers from 17 different countries have competed, hoping to take home their share of the $30,000 winning purse.
Some of the best names in the sport will be returning to the Soldier Hollow Classic again in 2016, including Nigel Watkins, a three-time Welsh National Champion; Amanda Milliken, ranked as the current number one in North America; and Scott Glen, the only handler to win all North American majors. Each continually work with their herding dogs and build an almost telepathic ability to communicate quickly over great distances.
“It’s a sight you have to see for yourself,” said Petersen. “The way these competitors, some of the world’s best, can direct their herding dogs… it seems as though they’re on remote control.”
Along with the sheepdog trial, the Soldier Hollow Classic hosts numerous other shows — including Wild Wonders, K9 Kings, Earthwings, Splashdogs and local food vendors — all adding to the festive atmosphere over Labor Day weekend.
The 2016 Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship will take place on Labor Day weekend, Friday, September 2 to Monday, September 5. For more information visit www.soldierhollowclassic.com, and to save with early-bird ticket specials, visit www.soldierhollowclassic.com/tickets.