170 Border Collies and 900 sheep to meet at Ute Park

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Michelle Cox Photography

MEEKER | Once again, the scene at Ute Park west of Meeker will change dramatically in anticipation of the annual Meeker Classic Sheepdog Trials from Sept. 3-8. For 33 years, the town of Meeker has opened its doors each September to the world as sheepdog enthusiasts gather to celebrate the challenge known as 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.

170 border collies from across North America will match up against the famous Meeker sheep for one of the world’s toughest sheepdog competitions.  It takes nearly 900 yearling Merino ewes to provide fresh, unworked sheep for each dog during their preliminary run. Run on the open range these sheep are tough and independent that challenge the dogs and handlers alike. The sheep are smart and can find a dog’s weakness—thus comes the term “Meeker-ed”.

meeker-ed (“mee-kerd”) v.i. [American slang, origin-Meeker Classic Championship Sheepdog Trials], 1. to be thwarted in the attempt to drive sheep, the consequence being to receive a low score or be disqualified. 2. to be outmaneuvered by a packet of sheep. (As explained by Keith Chamberlain in his Meeker Classic History.)

Four days of preliminary runs will sort out the top 30 dogs that advance to the semi-finals on Saturday, Sept. 7. Judged by Andrew Dickman, Oxton, Lauder Scotland, the dogs will be sent over 500 yards to gather the sheep and bring them in through a series of obstacles designed to test the dog’s ability to manage and maneuver sheep in a calm, controlled manner.

There are six scored components of a sheepdog trial course: outrun, lift, fetch, drive, shed and pen. Each dog and handler start their run with full points and the judge makes point deductions throughout the run for errors and deviations from the prescribed course. A time limit of 13 minutes is set for each preliminary run. Semi-final runs are 15 minutes with the final competition giving the dog 30 minutes for their run. During the preliminary and semi-final competition, each dog must complete the course working five sheep. That number increases to 20 on Sunday for the finals.

Twelve of the 30 semi-finalists will advance to the finals on Sunday. Known as a double-lift final, the course involves the dog gathering (lifting) two flocks of 10 sheep each.  The flocks are situated at different locations on the field and the dog must individually gather both blocks of sheep and unite them. After completing the fetch and drive with the 20 head the dog and handler must complete and International Shed. During the shed, there are five marked sheep (with collars) that must be separated from the bunch and driven to the pen and penned. The Double-Lift finals course is extremely difficult and challenging for the dogs.

In addition to the sheepdog trialing events, the Meeker Classic also features a variety of family friendly activities to make your time at the event complete. Thursday, Sept. 5 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. to enjoy entertainment and refreshments at the Annual Art and Photography Reception and Awards ceremony, a favorite among locals, visitors, handlers and art enthusiasts. On Friday enjoy the Meeker Mustang Makeover featuring wild horses gathered from the Piceance Basin herd and randomly assigned to trainers. The trainers have had 100 days to work these horses and meet up in the arena at the Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds.

Saturday downtown Meeker will host the Jammin’ Lamb Festival, a culinary competition and tasting event focused on Colorado Lamb. Complete with cultural demonstrations, live music and a beer garden, festivities will be downtown on the square in Meeker from 4-8 p.m. Afterwards head up to the Rio Blanco County for the Handler Arena Trial. The ERBM Recreation and Park District will also host a cornhole Tournament that evening in conjunction with the Jammin’ Lamb Festival.

Make it a point to visit the Meeker Classic and all the various events the week of Sept. 3-8. Countless volunteers, community members and board members put the event, the dogs and the people first.

Special to the Herald Times

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