MEEKER I As September rolls around in Northwest Colorado, a few things become very evident. The weather begins to cool (at least at night), leaves start to change and the scene at Ute Park in Meeker transforms into a five-day event centered on sheepdog trialing, education and entertainment.
Known as one of the world’s toughest sheepdog competitions, all who attend are bound by a common interest in the dogs. Coming from across the United States and Canada in addition to Brazil and South Africa, these 140 border collies represent the finest of breeding and training.
Enriching the experience for the fans, Meeker Classic announcer, Ray Crabtree shares his unique insight and knowledge of animals as well as first-hand experience about border collie development and the competitive world of trialing.
Educational aspects of the event are the foundations for the Meeker Classic’s tax exempt status as an educational agricultural organization. The education and outreach programs continue to expand as the Meeker Classic strives to meet the needs of its stakeholders.
This year, close to 600 students in organized school groups from across Northwestern Colorado will attend the classic Wednesday through Friday free of charge. Teachers have the opportunity to select workshops that will fit into their classroom and curriculum.
This year’s learning opportunities include, but are not limited to visiting with a dog handler and learning about sheepdog trials, Navajo storytelling traditions, Scottish pipe and drum music, therapy dogs, spinning wool or enjoying an Old West Character Story hour. The program continues to grow in popularity and often facilitates the beginning of year-long learning in the classroom.
In addition to the School Outreach program, an extensive cross-generational education offering is available to all Meeker Classic visitors.
A talented and generous group of volunteers has gathered to make a vast array of learning opportunities available. Scheduled throughout the week, visitors can attend a workshop on saddle making, learn to throw pottery, experience Navajo traditions, partake in a Dutch-oven cooking demonstration or attend a program given by Colorado State University’s teaching staff on small animal sports medicine.
Other popular attractions include the flyball and agility demonstrations, Western Border Collie Rescue and the Future Farmers of America’s petting farm organized by the Meeker FFA Chapter.
New this year is a “Nosework” demonstration given by Colorado Northwestern Community College Sniffer Dogs headed up by Arlene Estes and Laura Tyler. Local volunteers from the Meeker Arts and Cultural Council will host a variety of Art for Youth programs on the weekend as well.
In addition to the educational commentary provided by the announcer, trial organizers plan demonstrations during the noon-hour breaks designed to inform and educate spectators on the working border collie.
Visitors to the 2016 Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trial will have to the unique opportunity to watch a handler work a team of border collies. Often times, two or more border collies are needed at one time to get the job done. This becomes complicated with the handler giving commands to the dogs.
In the sheepdog trialing world there’s a competition that mimics this work. It is called the “Brace Competition.” These competitions aren’t seen often in the United States, but are widely popular in Britain and Ireland.
Dorrance Eikamp of Gillette, Wyo., a veteran Meeker Classic handler, will work two dogs in a demonstration on an adaptation of the International Brace Course. Dorrance will use his two dogs, Scott (a 5-year-old male) and Jim (a 20 month-old-male) that he has entered in Meeker.
In preparing to work the dogs on a Brace course, Dorrance trains each dog individually working to separate whistle commands. He makes sure the dogs will lay at his feet watching the other dog work before he works them together. The dogs are worked as a team, balancing their individual strengths and weaknesses against each other.
Working his two dogs on 10 head of sheep, Dorrance will send them both from the handler’s post, one will go right and the other left. When they get to the sheep, they can cross over, but must not recross during the fetch or drive or points will be deducted.
Once in the shedding ring, one dog is used to split the bunch of sheep in two equal lots. Usually this dog is left in charge of one lot, while the other dog takes the rest to the pen that has no gate. When safely penned, that dog is left on guard at the pen mouth to keep the sheep within while the other dog pens his sheep in the pen that has a gate.
For a week each September, the community of Meeker opens its doors to the world.
The beautiful White River Valley sets the stage for spectators, handlers, dogs, artisans and talented volunteers to come together and share their time together.
Visitors can peek into a historic sheep camp, watch a flyball and agility demonstration, sit in the shade while you listen to Scottish pipes or view Border Collie art in the historic Wilber Barn.
It’s the dogs, the experience and the friendly hospitality that keeps people coming back each year.
For more information, 970-878-0111 or www.meekersheepdog.com