We sat down with Event Founder, Mark Peterson, to get an idea of what it takes to put on this wonderful Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship & Festival event every year.
- What was the inspiration behind starting the Classic?
I went over to the UK to get a Border collie pup and to see a sheepdog championship and was blown away. I thought if it was done right, people in America would love it. It took another eight years until Soldier Hollow was built for the right place to exist. But as soon as I saw Soldier Hollow, the first thing I thought when I got out of the parking lot was Sheepdog Championship.
We held the first Sheepdog Championship in 2003, and our event has grown over the years to become the biggest event in the world. In terms of how many people attended, the next closest show is about half as big. It’s something to be proud of.
- What is something that people generally don’t know about the classic?
Lots of people still don’t know that it exists, so we’re still getting the word out. And a lot of people don’t have any idea what a sheepdog championship is. This annual event tasks the dog with herding sheep by completing a number of tasks (similar to what a dog on a ranch or farm has to do on an everyday basis). The competition judges the dog on its ability to perform those tasks efficiently with its handler and without overstressing the sheep.
New spectators don’t know what to expect and many people who plan to come for a couple hours often stay much longer. You don’t have to be educated in the sport to appreciate that it’s a special relationship between the dog and its handler.
- What's happening between the dog and the sheep?
When the dog first approaches the sheep, it has to communicate with the sheep and let them know it isn't going to hurt them. The sheep’s initial response to the canine is “Am I going to fight or am I going to run?” and the dog has to communicate a third choice - "cooperate and you will be safe."
- What draws the competitors to come to Soldier Hollow?
All people who compete are obsessively committed to the sport. It’s an opportunity be in front of thousands of people and showcase a difficult technique and skill set. Winning or placing at the Soldier Hollow Classic, is a real honor. Those who do well rank among the best in the world. Plus, winners take home the biggest purse money in the world.
- How many sheep do you get for the competition?
We have about 320 sheep. Some fun facts - you probably get about 6 pounds of wool from each sheep - so that's about 1,800 pounds of wool total. That’s a lot of wool. That would probably make close to 600 sweaters. That’s a lot of sweaters!
- How many different breeds of dogs compete? What makes Border Collies the dominate breed at the classic?
This event is designed to show what a Border Collie is bred to do, but the competition is open to any dog breed. Any dog that can do the work and come prove itself in the field of competition can earn an invitation. We don’t look at pedigrees. We’ve had quite a number of rescue dogs that have come along and proven themselves. We’ve had one dog in the history of the trial that hasn’t been a Border Collie - it was an Australian Kelpie.
- Why is Soldier Hollow a great venue for the competition?
Sight lines are a big deal. Most trials are held on flat fields. The fact that this is a hillside trial allows everyone to easily see what is going on. It’s great for competitors and spectators. The combination of heat, altitude, and hillside is a real test on the dogs. The handlers love coming to the scenic Heber Valley, and love that the valley has deep roots in sheep culture. It's a special place to have this event.
- Is this a good event to bring kids?
Yes! We have all sorts of fun activities for kids, in addition to watching the dogs do their thing. There is a petting zoo, face painting, corn hole toss, animal and bird demonstrations, and more! Kids love this event. Plus, being an outdoor venue, kids can walk around and explore outside in a safe setting.
- Can I bring my dog?
No, due to the nature of this event, spectator's dogs are not allowed at the venue. Only animals registered to compete in the Sheepdog Championship are allowed access. This is strictly enforced for the safety of the competition animals, handlers, staff, and spectators. So, please leave your pets at home. We appreciate your understanding.
- What are some frequently asked questions that you get each year?
- What should I bring with me to the event? We recommend you bring a full water bottle, sunblock, hat, walking shoes, and sunglasses. You may also choose to bring a chair pad for bleacher seats or your own lawn chair. Binoculars are not necessary, but allow for a close up view of what's happening on the hillside.
- Is there food at the event? Yes! We have lots of great food and beverage vendors at the event venue. Heber Valley has excellent food truck options and we're bringing several to the event, including a beer garden.
- Do I need to bring my own chair? There is bleacher seating provided. Some bleacher seating is covered and some is open. You can also bring your own lawn chair. There is a seating section for lawn chairs as well. There is also a very small area for spectators to bring smaller popup canopies. All seating - bleachers, lawn chair, and popup canopies is on a first come, first served basis. Please be courteous, share the seating area with others, and do not block the view of other spectators.
- Do I have to pay for parking? Parking is included with your ticket purchase. Discount tickets can be purchased in advance. Full price tickets can be purchased at the event gate entrance.
- Is the event still held if it's raining? This event happens rain or shine. No refunds are issued for inclement weather, so plan and dress for the conditions.
- Can I volunteer at the event? Absolutely! Contact the Festival Manager to inquire further and learn of volunteer opportunities.