MEEKER I For 30 years, Meeker has opened its doors to the world for a week each September for the sheepdog trials and, during that time, the folks of Rio Blanco County and Meeker have built a rich tradition around the border collie’s unique ability to work and handle livestock.
Following in those footsteps with high hopes that it will match the sheepdog trials, the Meeker Classic will host the 2016 National Cattledog Association Finals. Slated for June 15-19, this event will showcase North America’s finest cattledogs and their handlers as they test their skills on the trial field at Ute Park, but this time cattle will be their challengers.
This event is featured as the premier cattledog trial in North America. To qualify for the National Cattledog Association (NCA) Finals, competitors must earn points from more than 75 sanctioned trials held across North America during the year leading up to this competition.
Two fields at Ute Park will feature the top 145 qualifying entries as they compete in five different classes at the finals. Differing from sheepdog trials, the handlers have the option of entering on foot or horseback. Each dog and handler will have the opportunity to make two qualifying runs before the top scorers advance to the finals in each class.
A cattle dog trial operates under the same premise of a sheepdog trial, using dogs to work a set of livestock through a set of obstacles on the field. Spectators used to the sheepdog trials will find that handlers use many of the same dogs and commands while relying on the intelligence and working ability of the border collie.
Whereas the sheepdog trial has one set course basically consistent across all competitions, the NCA cattledog courses mix things up a bit adhering to a philosophy advocating courses that challenge handlers and their dogs to demonstrate the skills and abilities that are required of a good ranch cattledog.
Cattle, by nature, lack the flocking tendency of sheep, thus the courses and judging guidelines for cattledog trials prioritize the traits and qualities that enable a good cattledog to get the job done.
Cattle country in North America varies in terrain and environment, posing diverse management conditions and challenges for producers. The best help on a ranch is often a well-trained dog that gathers cattle and assists in working them into a large pasture or in the corral.
A good cattledog needs to be able to gather cattle from long distances and, under the control of the handler, guide them across treacherous terrain. The dog also must be adept at assisting the handler to work cattle through corral systems.
To accomplish these tasks, the cattledog must be strong enough to move cattle while keeping them under control and must be able to respond quickly and correctly to commands coming from the handler so that the cattle can be guided, calmly but quickly, through the course.
The cattledog courses in Meeker are designed to challenge handlers and their dogs and to demonstrate the skills and abilities that are required of a good ranch cattledog.
On the outrun and fetch, the dog must keep the cattle together, bringing them in, away from the rocks and brush that border the north side of the field—all the while the handler remains behind a line remote from the cattle and gives commands to the dog either by voice or by whistle.
After the cattle have passed a certain point, the handler may cross the Handler Line to assist the dog in working the stock through the obstacles.
Due to the difficulty and challenge of working cattle, the fetch for cattledog trials is shorter than a sheepdog trial. Each set of obstacles must be entered in a specific direction. The course is scored on time, and points are given for the number of cattle put through each obstacle.
Unlike the Meeker Classic Sheepdog Trial that features one open Class, the NCA National Cattledog Finals will have five classes for which the dogs and handlers have qualified for:
Open and Horseback: These are the most advanced classes for any dog of any age. Once a handler has competed in the open class, he or she is no longer eligible to run in an intermediate class. In open horseback, handlers are mounted on horseback and work the cattle using both their dog and their horse.
Nursery: This class is defined by the age of the dog, 33 months or younger as of Jan. 1, 2015 (born on or after Oct. 1, 2011). Some nursery dogs may also be competing in the open class
Intermediate and Intermediate Horseback: These are classes for handlers who have never run in open. Whereas in other classes, dogs earn points and qualify for the finals, in intermediate class it is the team of dog and handler that earn points and qualify. In intermediate horseback, handlers are mounted on horseback and work the cattle using both their dog and their horse.
Each class will have a different course to run. In the preliminary runs, competing teams will be working three head of cattle. Dogs must be run without collars, and handlers are not allowed to run or to reach into any obstacle. As with the final competition in the sheepdog trials, the nursery and open class has a double lift, in which two sets of cattle must be gathered and then worked as a combined group through the obstacles.
Many handlers work their dogs on both sheep and cattle. It takes the same training, instincts and discipline to compete on both species.
Dorrance Eikamp, Joni Tietjen and Wendy Schmaltz are three handlers who compete in the sheepdog trials regularly. June will find them back in Meeker working their dogs at Ute Park for the NCA National Cattledog Finals.
Runs begin at 7 a.m. each day, and visitors can park through the Main Gate in the hay meadow.
Complementing the competition will be an art show, craft and food festival, demonstrations, free outdoor concert and other activities.
Drawing on the local ranching heritage and the rich tradition of dog trials in the community, this event will bring dog enthusiasts, industry interests, vendors, competitors and visitors together for a five-day celebration of what these amazing dogs can do.
Mark your calendars for June 15-19, for the Meeker Classic NCA Finals celebration. Meeker Classic dog trials intertwine dogs, stock, heritage and trade into a weeklong showcase of volunteerism, sportsmanship and friendship.
This is an opportunity to become part of something great for Meeker. Please contact the Meeker Classic for more information. 970-970-878-0111 or firstname.lastname@example.org