Meeker Classic draws top dogs to annual event

There will be 71 handlers and 120 dogs participating in this year’s Meeker Sheepdog Trials.

There will be 71 handlers and 120 dogs participating in this year’s Meeker Sheepdog Trials.
There will be 71 handlers and 120 dogs participating in this year’s Meeker Sheepdog Trials.
MEEKER I Microbursts, mountain lions, whatever the obstacle, the Sheepdog Championship Trials will go on.
“There’s nothing you can do to change it (elements out of her control), so it’s all good,” said director Ellen Nieslanik.
Two years ago, a microburst blew through the site of the sheepdog trials. Then last year, a mountain lion killed a dozen or so of the sheep while they were pastured in a field, not far from the site of the trials.
This year, the sheep will be kept in a different pasture, and hopefully the weather will cooperate, like it did last year.
“Everything is falling into place,” Nieslanik said on the eve of the start of the five-day trials, which began Wednesday, though tents were set up on the grounds last weekend and participants started showing up at the first part of the week.
“I think we have a few loose ends (to finish up), but it’s starting to look like something is gonna happen out here,” Nieslanik said while preparing for the start of Meeker’s 23rd annual sheepdog trials. “The judge is here, the handlers are checking in, the sheep will be here (Tuesday), so everything is falling into place.”
Qualifying rounds will be held Wednesday, today and Friday.
“We run 42 dogs Wednesday, Thursday and Friday,” Nieslanik said. “Those are busy days. We take the top 30 and those run on Saturday. Then we add one more element on the course for Sunday, so it’s a little more difficult. Each of the 12 runs on Sunday has 20 sheep, two groups of 10, per handler. The runs get longer as we go through the phases. It’s always pretty fierce competition.”
All total, there will be 71 handlers, with many of them competing with more than one dog, and 120 dogs at this year’s sheepdog trials. They will be vying for a $20,000 purse.
“We had a waiting list of about 100 to get in. We have a lot of returning handlers,” Nieslanik said, including Tom Wilson and his dog Sly, which won in 2006 and 2007. “I think we have 26 states represented, and we’re up to now 13 countries that have competed here.”
Besides the herding competition, there will be dog handling demonstrations by former Meeker Classic champion Scott Glen, arts and crafts, a bagpiper, an art contest reception, entertainment and a petting zoo for the kids (put on by Meeker Future Farmers of America members). Something new this year is a state-of-the-art American Humane Association Rescue Rig, which will be on display. And ExxonMobil is offering scholarships to help schools “that couldn’t afford to come” bring students to the event, Nieslanik said, who is in her fifth year as director of the sheepdog trials.
“Once the event starts, everybody just exhales and enjoys it,” she said.