A look at sheepdog competition rules and sanctioning of events

South African National Champion and 2012 Meeker Sheepdog Classic winner Faansie Baason and Don, from Swellendam, South Africa, separate or “shed” the sheep at last year’s Meeker trials.

South African National Champion and 2012 Meeker Sheepdog Classic winner Faansie Baason and Don, from Swellendam, South Africa, separate or “shed” the sheep at last year’s Meeker trials.
South African National Champion and 2012 Meeker Sheepdog Classic winner Faansie Baason and Don, from Swellendam, South Africa, separate or “shed” the sheep at last year’s Meeker trials.
MEEKER I The Meeker Sheepdog Classic is billed as a United States Border Collie Handers’ Association (USBCHA) “sanctioned” trial. The Soldier Hollow Classic featured in the documentary “Away to Me” is an “invitational” trial.
Though both trial sites boast beautiful Western landscapes and both use range ewes, there are fundamental differences. The USBCHA Inc., formed in 1979 to ensure the preservation of the Border Collie as a working stock dog, sanctions sheepdog trials throughout the United States and Canada. It sanctions two classes of trials: nursery for dogs under the age of three; and open for experienced dogs and handlers.
The Meeker Trial is an open trial.
Sanctioned trials follow rules and guidelines patterned after those of England’s 110-year-old International Sheep Dog Society. The course layout and obstacles will vary according to terrain, but there are a few basics.
The set-out post and the handler’s post are 400 to 900 yards apart, and the fetch panels between them must be 200 yards from the handler’s post. The shed ring is 40 yards in diameter and the pen should be nine feet by eight feet with the gate on an eight-foot-wide side.
The course work replicates that found on a working farm or ranch.
The first half of the course, finding and fetching the sheep, highlights the Border Collie’s unique ability to gather sheep.
The second, driving the sheep, separating or “shedding” and then penning them, illustrates the necessary communication and teamwork. Judging guidelines are common-sensical, and a basic understanding of them enhances enjoyment of the competition. Too long to recite here, a summary appears in the Classic programs. They can be found in full under the sheep section at usbcha.com.
The top 20 percent of all dogs competing in a sanctioned pen trial earn qualifying points towards North American Finals, and the top 150 qualifying dogs compete at the finals.
To earn points, the handler must be a USBCHA member. To be a member, the handler must have competed in a USBCHA-sanctioned trial in the past two years.
There are several differences between Soldier Hollow and Meeker. Soldier Hollow is a private business with a paid trial staff; Meeker is a tax-exempt organization run, with one exception, by volunteers. Shelter Hollow uses the basic USBCHA course layout, but does not follow all trial guidelines, whereas Meeker must strictly comply.
Although competitors pay entry fees at both trials, Soldier Hollow “invites” certain handlers to compete, including the two top handlers from the prior year’s Meeker Classic. The Meeker Classic must accept entries from anyone who wants to complete, although the actual number of competitors, chosen randomly, is limited in number.
The biggest difference, though, and perhaps the most important to the handlers (along with Meeker’s feisty sheep) is that USBCHA points are earned at Meeker. For spectators and handlers alike, point competition intensifies the excitement.
Moreover, Meeker awards a high number of points. Meeker will host 125 open dogs this year, as opposed to the 40 to 60 at most open trials.
The winner of the three-day preliminary runs, the open portion of the event, will earn 25 points (20 percent of 125), a fair percentage of the 150 needed to qualify for national finals. The runner up earns 24, on through the 25th-place team, which earns one point.
In addition to USBCHA points, there are $4,000 in cash prizes for high-scoring preliminary (Open) contenders.
Dick Weaver and Yolande Treude award $500 for the highest preliminary score (winner of the open trial) and Moody Construction awards $500, $250, $150, and $100 to the top four dogs each day of the preliminaries. Ladder Canyon Ranch sponsors the $500 Bill Carder Shining Star award. The Mountain & Plains Border Collie Association awards a whistle and lanyard for the best pen, and the Colorado Wool Growers give a wool blanket to the team with the highest drive points during the open, the set-out crew awards a belt buckle each of the three days for the best lift from a cowboy’s perspective, which is not necessarily that of the judge.
The top 20 competitors from Saturday and Sunday share a $20,000 purse.
W.C. Streigel awards $500 to the team with the best international shed on Sunday, and any team from any day may be the recipient of the $200 Sportsmanship Award or the $150 Bad Luck Award.