‘Away to me, walk up, lie down’

Meeker sheep are tough and wily—a big challenge to any dog that competes on the course.
PAUL TURNER PHOTO

MEEKER | This is where the dogs come in. Be it a farm on the east coast,  the Scottish borders of their native descent or the wide open range of western ranches, the border collie stands alone in its ability to help on the farm or ranch. Bred and selected for intelligence and working ability, ranging in size, color and coat, border collies don’t look alike.

An innate gathering instinct—the rounding up of a group of animals and bringing them to the handler is a breed trademark and a task well used on the farm or ranch. From there the dog can be used to sort, drive and hold stock to assist the stockman in completing a task. While many a dog has served as the top hand on the farm or ranch, Faansie Basson, South African handler now living in Texas knows the value and efficiency of using these dogs and believes their value is underestimated and underused on large operations in his native land and North America.

Famed for their intelligence and heart, 170 border collies will meet up against 900 tough western range ewes in Meeker Sept. 3-8 for the Meeker Classic Sheepdog Trials.  The prestigious sheepherding event draws top teams from around the world to compete for $30,000 in purse and cash awards.

No farm flock in an arena here, the dogs must test their skill and guile against the wily Merino range ewes as they are sent up to 600 yards to fetch the sheep and bring them in to the infield.  From there the dog must guide the sheep through a series of gates and panels designed to mimic authentic working conditions on the ranch—a grim task when amazingly quick sheep change direction unexpectedly.  “ I work with  natural instinct of the dog to bring our their best qualities, I give them the freedom to manage a situation and correct them only when they see something wrong that can either hurt the stock or themselves,” says fourth place 2018 finisher Cy Peterson of Canton, Georgia.

Returning champions Derek Fisher and Nell, New Plymouth, Idaho likens it to a dance, “It’s a beautiful thing when the breeding, training, handling and preparation all come together. It’s blatantly clear and quite extraordinary.” Known for the challenges it presents and the quality of its competitors, Meeker’s visitors will see the top border collies in the world. 

That includes Barbara Ray’s 6-year-old  Maverick from Millboro, Virginia, “Every culture in the world tends to develop one or two truly unique ways to solve a problem. These methods stand out because they take on their own life and evolve beyond simply “getting a job done” and become their own distinctive art form. It’s my firm belief sheepdog herding is one of the most extraordinary cultural practices to emerge from the British Isles. Anyone who’s struggled to get their pet to follow basic obedience commands can’t help but stare, slack jawed, as they watch an experienced handler work with a talented dog. You don’t see this level of control, trust, and cooperation between a person and an animal anywhere else in the world,” says Barbara of working sheepdogs.

“I believe border collies are way beyond just being a dog. They’re another species all together.  I could not and would not want to live my life without them,” says handler Shauna Gourley of her loyal partners and friends.

Isn’t that what we all  need and want in a good dog?

The Meeker Classic is a great resource to learn about herding dogs, availability and breeders.  Beyond dogs and sheep is the festival.  There will be seminars, displays and demonstrations on various aspects  dog sports, spinning, weaving, dutch oven cooking, pottery—food and craft vendors, historic and new sheep camps, spinning, Navaho weaving, felting, leather working, and a lamb cook-off.

For more information visit www.meekersheepdog.com or call 970-878-0111.

Special to the Herald Times

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