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I wasn't born to herd sheep

Posted On
Sep 05, 2014
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Introducing Guest Blogger Arlene Hutchinson.

My husband and I moved into Heber Valley 11 years ago. So in some respects, we are new comes or transplants or whatever.   Since we were not raised here we have been totally amazed at the beauty of the valley but, more significant, the people and the many opportunities to be with them. One of those special occasions we all have is the opportunity of being a part of the annual World's Sheepdog Championship.

We read about it for 10 years and always thought we would love to go, it does sound interesting, we have never been...... but we really don't have the time. Well this year, with the encouragement from a friend, we decided this would be the year. So Friday, August the 29th, we made plans to put on hold all our business appointment and commitments and make a day of it. So early Friday morning, after attending to some last minute details that always slow you down, we daunted our vehicle and swiftly drove over to Soldier Hollow.   

Were we surprised!

The bagpipes were there to greet us. Many of the booths had wonderful fragrant of sweet and juicy things to eat. Many others had wonderful demonstrations of cooking, rug weaving, jewelry making, plus the dog splash, I'll tell you more about that later, and, the main event, the sheepdog championship.

As we hustled up to the sheepdog event we saw a streak of black shooting up a hill.... it was the border collie shooting up the 400 yards to the sheep.  As we grew closer we heard the whistle of the collies handler giving signals as to what direction to go.  Setting ourselves on the top seat of the bleachers, we saw this small dog very slowly at first ,but  very firmly move 5 wild range sheep down  back down the 400 yards  to where the handler was.

Now these sheep are not your ordinary sheep you see at Smith's in the petting exhibit or at the zoo.  These sheep live in open range here in Heber where they must fight to survive in a world of coyotes, bears and cougars.On the journey down the 400 yards, the collie must herd the sheep through a gate. After reaching the 400 yards, the collie herds them around a poll, back up the hill through another gate, across the field through another gate, down back to the bottom of the hill.

The sheep are marked.  Three of them have the letter E on their backs. The collie then has to separate the three marked sheep from the two unmarked.  From there the collie takes all 5 of them across the yard to a small pen and he must corral the 5 into that small pen.   All this has to be accomplished in 13 minutes.   

Absolute amazing.

He does not scare the sheep off.  He moves very slowly at first and get's the sheep's trust but he is firm enough with them to keep them moving in the right direction toward the goal. When one of the group decides to go astray the collie whips around the sheep and get's him back in line.  

At times a sheep would stomp the ground in protest of not wanting to follow the collie's directions, but the collie never challenged or ran from the sheep.  Instead he would just squat quietly down and give the sheep back this intense stare to let the sheep know he didn't have a choice. 

The collie never snapped or got cross or inpatient with the sheep, even though they were very hard to manage..... it was more  like trying to herd cats than sheep.  He never lost focused. He never got distracted. He never lost hope or gave up and said "You know this is really not for me. I was never born to herd sheep."

The final task was getting the sheep to go into the small pen and it was the most difficult one.  The collie was insistent and wouldn't give up even when the sheep all started running different directions.  The collie soon had them rounded up and slowly, ever so slowly moved them toward the pen.  Slowly, ever so slowly the sheep moved forward into an area they were not comfortable  and with the right amount of pressure,  patience, persistence, focus,  and determination the collie was able to reach his goal of having 100% of the sheep in the pen in the time allotted.

But wait, there is more!

The dog splash.

The dog runs down a 5 foot ramp and jumps into a large tank filled with water.  Along the sides of the tank distance is measured in feet and inches.  The contest is to see which dog will jump the furthest.  The judges also look at the height of the jump and the dogs form.

Sounds easy?

Not so, The dog has to be brave enough to   run down a 5 foot track that is 8 feet off the ground and throw himself into the air and land in a pool filled with cold water. It was very interesting to see how some dogs climbed the ladder to the track, how they waited patiently for their handler to give the signal to run and how the dog would stop short just as he reached the edge of that 8 foot drop off into the water. 

Again an amazing experience.

But wait, there is more!

We heard tear jerking stories from the native Navajos as they told their many stories that were woven into their rugs. And then there was the cooking classes......and all the food.... need I say more? Don't become so complacent to all the beauty that surrounds you with all these wonderful experiences that you just let the years go by and say "someday" like we were doing....... Say, "This is the day!" You will never regret it.

Thanks for coming with me as I re-lived my exciting adventure.