Meeker’s Sheepdog Classic will bring 125 teams to town

Giving meaning to the phrase “wild and woolly,” this ewe seems to doing her best to confuse the Border Collie seeking to round her up at last year’s Meeker Sheepdog Classic. This year’s competition begins Wednesday, Sept. 4 and runs through Sept. 8.

Giving meaning to the phrase “wild and woolly,” this ewe seems to doing her best to confuse the Border Collie seeking to round her up at last year’s Meeker Sheepdog Classic. This year’s competition begins Wednesday, Sept. 4 and runs through Sept. 8.
Giving meaning to the phrase “wild and woolly,” this ewe seems to doing her best to confuse the Border Collie seeking to round her up at last year’s Meeker Sheepdog Classic. This year’s competition begins Wednesday, Sept. 4 and runs through Sept. 8.
MEEKER I The phrase “wild and wooly” may best describe Ute Park from Wednesday, Sept. 4 through Sept. 8 at the 27th annual Meeker Classic Sheepdog Trials as 125 teams from South Africa, Brazil, Canada and the United States compete for $25,000 in purse and cash awards.
Amanda Milliken of Ontario, Canada, the 2009 and 2011 Meeker champion and a finalist multiple times, believes that “outside of winning the National Finals, Meeker is the big ticket item in sheepdogdom.”
What is the draw for the event? While the purse and possible USBCHA points are attractive, handlers cite the friendly atmosphere, some 5,000 enthusiastic spectators and a wealth of ancillary activities.
But, most of all, it is the sheep.
There is no farm flock at this sheepherding event. The wily yearling range ewes featured at Meeker, roughly 700 of them, have just been separated from 2,000 of their friends in remote alpine meadows.
Each team receives a band of five ewes that have never before been handled apart from a large flock.
Suspecting the border collie is a predator, they pose a unique challenge as the dog tries to maneuver them over the course and through obstacles common to ranching operations.
Wild and wooly it can be. The sheep and the rough, 600 yard high-altitude course have led many a competitor whose dog was flummoxed to moan, “I’ve been Meekered!” The phrase has gone viral.
There is plenty to help the uninitiated better understand and enjoy the competition.
An educational DVD plays continuously at the souvenir trailer and written materials are in the program. Announcer Ray Crabtree, himself a rancher and trialer, will provide insightful commentary as each run proceeds. The handlers, too, are always happy to chat about the course and their dogs.
Bevis Jordan, a farm manager from Northumberland, England, will judge the event. Jordan, a veteran trialer and judge, is also the director of the International Sheep Dog Society, which sets the standard for trials around the world.
Then there is the festival or “happenings,” according to Milliken. There will be seminars, displays and demonstrations on all aspects of the sheep industry – range and predator management, sheep breeds and their uses, working dog training, historic and new sheep camps, spinning, Navajo weaving, felting, wool walking, kilt making and leather working.
And, as in the past, juried vendors offer artisanal crafts, and there is food in abundance, from fajitas and lamb kabobs to Navajo tacos and ice cream. There’s the art contest and auction, service and therapy dogs, flyball and agility dogs, petting farm, pancake breakfasts, bag pipers and barbecues.
The historic Wilber Barn at the trial site is the venue on Thursday evening from 5 to 7 p.m. for the Art Social, at which winners of the 2013 art contest will be announced and prizes awarded. The public is invited to cast a vote for their favorite art work and to sample the results of the inaugural Lamb Cook-Off.
This year boasts two other very special events you will not want to miss.
At dusk on Sept. 6, bring a lawn chair to the old elementary school playground and enjoy a free outdoor showing of the heart-warming documentary, “Away to Me.” The film profiles the daily lives of Meeker Classic winners from South Africa, Canada and the United States — Faansie Basson, Amanda Milliken, Bill Berhow and Angie Coker Sells — and highlights the special bond between dog and handler. Basson, Milliken and Berhow will compete at Meeker again this year.
Before the movie, drop in on the Meeker PEO Quilt Show, also at the elementary school, and join the activities sponsored by the Meeker Downtown Merchants.
On the evening of Sept. 7, during the Lions Club barbecue and into the night, the crowd-pleasing Indulgers will play Celtic rock on the courthouse lawn. For those who can’t get enough of the dogs, there’s the Jackpot Trial at the Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds in Meeker.
It would be wise to bring sunscreen and a hat and take the Meeker Streaker or horse-drawn carriage to Ute Park, but organizers are asking those who visit the competition to please leave the family pets at home.
For more details, see the schedule, published inside today’s edition of the newspaper. Readers can also find the schedule and much more at meekersheepdog.com