MEEKER I Seven hundred and fifty sheep have been separated from their summer home and flock in the high country above Vail and are headed to Meeker. These Merino cross yearlings are known in the dog trialing world as tough and independent sheep that challenge even the best dog and handler teams.
The dogs and handlers attempt to work together to maneuver the sheep over a 550-yard course in a calm, controlled manner.
Starting Wednesday and running through Sunday, Sept. 13 is the 29th annual Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trials. The five-day competition features 130 Border Collies from the United States, Canada and South Africa matched against the famous Meeker sheep.
For 29 years, the town of Meeker has opened its doors each September to the world as sheepdog enthusiasts celebrate the Meeker Classic. This premier sheepdog competition draws on the area’s ranching/cultural heritage and creates a community event that provides a venue for education, information and communication.
A free outdoor concert, demonstrations, an art show and a craft and vending fair provide something for everyone.
Past Meeker Classic trial director Ellen Nieslanik reflected on the event, saying, “I’m in Oregon tonight, reading the program, and I have an appreciation for the magnitude of this event. It’s amazing, truly. I am humbled to have been part of this week-long showcase of volunteerism, sportsmanship and friendship, but more so the true sense of community it elicits.
“I speak not only of the countless hours by the board and the volunteers, but more so of the devotion to this entity, to this time where life stands still in this tiny little town, where spectators, handlers and volunteers revel in the moment,” she said. “Meeker is ‘something!’”
Celebrated for showcasing the elite dogs and handlers of the world, Meeker knows these folks and their black and white companions as friends and family that they look forward to seeing each year. Visitors to Meeker become part of the family that shares the journey to compete on the field, grow, train and develop the skills to meet the challenge of the course and the sheep.
There’s a common thread that pays homage to the dogs; it transcends generations, cultures and livelihoods and brings people together each year.
In addition to the sheepdog competition, vendors and artisans host a craft and food fair offering exquisite cuisine and hand-made wares while demonstrating their craft to all who are interested. One can watch spinning, Navajo weaving, felting and saddle making while kids can throw pottery or visit the FFA petting farm. Celtic musicians and story tellers, flyball and agility demonstrations and border-collie training clinicians offer educational opportunities for all interests and ages.
Award-winning cowboy entertainer Gary McMahan will be the featured entertainment for the free outdoor concert Sept. 12 on the Rio Blanco County Courthouse lawn. A singer, songwriter, yodeler, humorist and cowboy poet, McMahan is known for his songs, captivating stories, humor and national championship yodeling.
His songs have been recorded by artists such as Garth Brooks, Ian Tyson, Chris LeDoux, Riders in the Sky, Dave Stamey and Juni Fisher. He has received the most prestigious award in Western music: a National Cowboy Hall of Fame Wrangler Award.
McMahan’s poems have been published by the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev.
Sharing the stage with performers such as Doc Watson, Baxter Black, Ian Tyson, Riders in the Sky and Chris LeDoux, McMahan has played hundreds of cowboy poetry gatherings, banquets, festivals and concerts throughout the U.S., Canada, and Australia. He will be at the trials all five days to watch the competition, meet folks and share stories.
Long-time Meeker sheepdog handler and competitor from Georgia, Dawn Boyce will orchestrate her “Ducks in Space” production in Meeker this year. Showing off the border collie talent and instinct, Dawn will entertain the crowd with her dogs. In a rare display of partnership between handler and dog, Dawn invites kids from the audience and uses multiple dogs to herd the Indian Runner ducks. Her narration follows the progress of the crew across the “galaxy” of obstacles and safely back to earth.
Dawn, her dogs and ducks will be performing during the lunch hour on Sept 12 and 13, the semi-final and final days of the competition.
Complementing a week full of dogs, sheep, food, artisans and all things fun will be the annual Meeker Classic International Art Contest and Culinary Taste of Lamb Cook-off. Hosted on Sept. 10 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Wilber Barn on the Ute Park trial site, the evening is a favorite of locals and visitors, showcasing Colorado lamb and the finest original sheepdog art to be found.
The five-day competition culminates with a semi-final round on Sept. 12 and the finals on Sept. 13.
Judged by Johnny Robinson of Berwickshire, Scotland, each of the 130 dogs will be sent more than 550 yards to gather the sheep and bring them in through a series of obstacles in the infield. The top 30 advance to the semifinals and 12 of those will compete on the final day.
The sheep and the rough high altitude course have led many a competitor whose dog was flummoxed to exclaim “I’ve been Meekered!” The phrase is now standard usage worldwide.
Make it a point to visit Meeker the week of Sept. 9-13. As a spectator so described the event: “Meeker is a friendly, family ‘ranch-person,’ dog owner and spectator place. Everyone is treated kindly and as if they matter. We applaud you and all involved there, where everything feels so authentic, so natural. Keep up whatever you’re doing; it’s perfect.”
Visit www.meekersheepdog.com or call 970-878-0111 for details.