In September of 2011 we hosted the first National Sheepdog Finals at Strang Ranch and it was such a huge hit we had another go at it in 2014. Again, a huge hit!!!. The handlers loved the event, the valley, the towns, the volunteers and the ranch. The spectators also loved the event, and are eager for the next installment. It seemed such a good fit for the valley and for Aspen Valley Land Trust, that we formed the non profit "National Finals Sheepdog Trials" to be the organizing/fundraising arm of the finals.
With our personal mission to conserve ranch land and educate about sustainability in tandem with showcasing the western heritage we hold so dear it was an easy decision to bring this wonderful event back to the valley. We look forward to welcoming back the handlers and the spectators to the National Sheepdog Finals at Strang Ranch in September of 2016.
About the Dog Handler Teams
After a year of trialing around the country, the top 150 open dog and handler teams will earn the right to compete in the 2016 USBCHA National Sheepdog Finals.
The Nursery dogs will be dogs under 36 months of age who have won or placed in enough trials to have qualified for the right to compete for the title of National Nursery Champion. These handlers and their dogs represent the best that the United States and Canada have to offer in terms of stockmanship and stock dog handling.
Spectators will have a rare opportunity to observe seasoned veterans in the Open Class, as well as the finest of our young prospects in the Nursery Class.
What is a Sheepdog Trial?
The first sheepdog trials were in the United Kingdom in the 1870's. They arose from the natural admiration of the great dogs working the flocks, and a natural desire to prove one's own dog against the fine dogs from neighboring farms. Early trials in the United States were mostly auxiliary events to agricultural fairs. Over the years the trials became more organized and well attended.
Not all trials follow the exact set of elements in the order below, but most will use these elements.
Outrun (20 points)
The outrun begins with the dog at the handler's feet while the handler stands at a post placed to mark his position. The dog is sent to gather the sheep from the far end of the field. The dog flares out from the handler's side, widening as he goes. The dog's path should go wide and deep around the sheep so as not to disturb them before he is behind them and in position to bring them straight towards the handler.
Lift (10 points)
The lift may last only a few seconds, but is a critical moment in the run. The lift is where the dog makes his introduction. Sheep can read a dog well, and will quickly and quite accurately decide if the dog can be trusted, and if the dog must be respected. The dog should lift the sheep smoothly, neither rushing them nor allowing them to dawdle.
Fetch (20 points)
This is the trip from the point where the dog picked up the sheep to the handler's feet. The objective is to move the sheep quietly in a straight line. On a farm you don't want your sheep running, or traveling any further than needed. There are usually a set of panels about midway along the fetch that the sheep must pass between. Sometimes the panels are deliberately set off the line from the lift to the post. In this case the dog must take the sheep on a straight line from where they were lifted to the panels, then turn and continue on a new straight line to the handler's feet.
Drive (30 points)
When the sheep reach the handler they are taken around the post and started on the drive. This is generally a triangle, with the corners defined by two sets of panels. Like the fetch, the perfect drive moves the sheep quietly and steadily between each point. Sometimes the drive is shortened to 2 legs and the points dropped to 20 points.
Shed (10 points)
Once the sheep are returning to the handler's post on the last leg of the drive they are taken into a marked circle. The dog and handler must keep the sheep in that circle and split 2 sheep off the main group. Sheep do not like to be divided from the flock, but sometimes it is necessary to select certain animals out. Some trials will have collars or marks on some of the sheep and the handler will be directed to choose the sheep to separate based on those identifications. For example if two of five sheep are wearing collars you may be directed to take off two of the uncollared sheep. This shows how well the dog and handler can sort the stock without the aid of chutes or pens.
Pen (10 points)
The sheep must be brought into a small pen. The handler may not enter the pen, and must stand at the gate holding a line attached to the gate.
Single (10 points)
The single is much like the shed above, except that a single sheep is removed from the flock and held away. This is work that must be done with enough authority that the sheep does not try to beat the dog and get back to the group, and enough tact that the single sheep does not panic and bolt.
Double Gather/Double Lift
In a double gather the dog picks up a lot of sheep from one side of the field and fetches them to a designated point. At this point the dog leaves the first group of sheep and is re-directed back to a second group of sheep on the other side of the field. The dog casts around this second group and fetches them to the point where the first group was dropped. Then both groups are put together and taken through the drive.
The international shed generally starts with 20 sheep, 5 of which are wearing collars. The dog and handler must work together to carefully allow the 15 sheep without collars to escape, while never allowing the 5 sheep with collars out of the marked ring. Once the team has "shed" the 15 uncollared ewes the remaining 5 with collars are taken to the pen for the last phase of work.
PLEASE LEAVE YOUR PETS AT HOME AND LEAVE THE HERDING TO THE PROFESSIONALS!! ;)
Volunteers are the backbone of any event, and, the National Sheepdog Finals competition is no exception. These volunteers, working mostly behind the scenes, provide services ranging from parking assistance to sheep care. If you are interested in volunteering please fill out our volunteer form or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Set Out Crew
Mark Henderson and Sean Casey have been setting sheep together for quite some time including the last two finals at Strang Ranch. Their standard for consistent sets is unparalleled as they are one of the premier set-out crews in the country. They’re up before the sun, and don’t unsaddle until the last sheep is safe and fed for the night. There’s never any shortage of laughs to get them through the long days.
Ray Crabtree, from Kuna Idaho, will again be the voice of reason at the Finals. Ray has announced at most of the major dog trials in the country including the Soldier Hollow Invitational, The Meeker Classic as well as every finals since 2012 in Belle Grove Va. His knowledge of the sport is fantastic and he keeps the audience informed all the while educating the layman to the nuances of the sport. We are very excited to have Ray on the mike for 2016.