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MEEKER I Suzy Applegate and her dog created a lot of, well, buzz on the final day of the sheepdog trials Sunday.
Applegate, competing in the trials for just the second time, and her 4-year-old dog Buzz, won the top prize at the 24th annual Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trials, surprising even herself.
“I didn’t come here (expecting to win), not at all. I was wishing for top five, but that was just thinking positive. I definitely was not expecting a win,” Applegate said. “I haven’t been here in eight years, and I didn’t make it into the semis eight years ago.”
But she did this time, and more.
With a total purse of $20,000, Applegate, who is from Plymouth, Calif., took home $5,000 for winning the top prize. Second place went to longtime Meeker Classic competitor Emil Luedecke of Zephyr, Texas.
“I thought it was a great trial,” said Ellen Nieslanik, outgoing director of the Meeker Classic. “We had such a broad base of people going into the finals, so it was anybody’s game.
“Suzy is an up-and-coming star, it’s so great to see her win,” Nieslanik said. “And Emil, what a great guy.”
For Applegate, she treated the Meeker Classic like it was the national finals, which will be Sept. 18-26 in Middletown, Va.
“Because I decided not to go to the finals this year, I decided to make this kind of like my finals,” she said. “I decided to make this my big one for the year. The finals are in Virginia this year — they hop around every year — and I live in California and I have a 4-year-old (son), so I don’t get out much.”
Even though Applegate had only competed at the Meeker Classic one other time, she knew the competition would be tough.
“I don’t have the experience a lot of these people do,” Applegate said.
When the final competitor of the day — Amanda Milliken of Kingston, Ontario, Canada — was competing, Applegate didn’t want to watch.
“I watched a little bit from my trailer, but I didn’t want to start, like, wishing bad on people. I didn’t want to do that, because that just feels awful,” Applegate said.
Keeping one eye open while Milliken finished her final run, Applegate had to wait for the official announcement to learn she was the winner.
“I watched a little bit of Amanda’s (run),” Applegate said. “She had a couple of problems, but I wasn’t quite sure (I had won), because she (Amanda) does very well at this.”
Milliken competed with a different dog from the one she won with at the Meeker Classic last year.
“The dog she won with last year, Ethel, was this year’s (dog’s) mother,” Nieslanik said. “Ethel is retired now.”
Applegate bred her dog, Buzz, at Hoof and Paw Farms, her training facility. Buzz was the 2008 U.S. Border Collie Handlers’ Association National Nursery Champion and winner of the 2008 Walt Jagger Memorial Trophy (Best Young Dog Award).
“He’s a special dog,” Applegate said. “I knew he could do it.”
The quality of the competition — and the reputation of the event itself — are what brought Applegate back to the Meeker Classic.
“The atmosphere is wonderful. I’m so impressed with the way things ran and how wonderful (the event) is for the handlers. It really is a handlers’ trial,” Applegate said. “Ellen (Nieslanik) and her whole committee are so amazing … you get the top handlers and the sheep are very challenging and the course is challenging. The sheep sort out the dogs, and you see the best dogs at the end.”