Anyone who has seen me run a dog can basically come out with one conclusion, I like to whistle. I once was told “Just because she’ll take 600 flanks on the first leg of the drive doesn’t mean you should blow them!” M. Harley, 2010. Or “You’re the only person I’ve ever seen that can blow 10 flanks before the sheep even move!” A.S. MacRae after every run he’s seen me partake in. I get it! I’m a flankaholic! It’s a disease that I was born with so don’t judge me! Just join my support group, and bring Krissy Kream… seriously, blowing that many flanks requires carbs!
However, I am actively trying to be a better version of myself today than I was yesterday. So as a way to embark on this journey of self improvement I’ve started to look back at some notes I’ve taken over the past 100 years at the various clinics and trials that I’ve attended and thought back to the moments that inspired me.
So here’s a few of them that I’d like to share with you:
1997, Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championsip: it was my first time at Meeker. I was 16, running Heidi who was 20 months… yeah it wasn’t my best decision but she did well. The final lineup included Tommy Wilson, Kathy & Jack Knox and Alasdair MacRae. There’s more but these are the ones I remember so vividly.
Kathy had been a mentor to me for over a year. She was one of the first people to look at this skinny kid and take him seriously. Thank you Kathy. She is my friend and I will always be her fan. Kathy was running Bob, a previous National Champion and Meeker Champion. I was in awe of them because they just got each other. In a time when I was fighting for every decent flank, here was a true partnership that I still respect. I’ll always respect her determination to her dogs and her relationship to them as it has set a foundation in my life of respect and admiration to these dogs. They are so much more than what we give them credit for. Just today I was talking to her and she was describing one of her dogs and how impressed she was with him during lambing and how much heart he has. If you want to get on my soft side, talk about how much you love your dog’s heart. It’s my weakness. It’s also because I see that in my own dogs and it’s one of the things that keeps me going in moments that could inspire me to give up. They care, and that’s sometimes enough to make me realize that, just because today has been tough and I want to give up, I should just keep swimming. Be like Dorey.
My other memory of that weekend was Alasdair running Ben. To preface this, he won with Nan. One of my all time favorite dogs. And I’ll describe, in a little bit, why I fell in love with her that day. But back to Ben. So, at Meeker, when you turn the post the sheep will usually run as hard as they can straight up the field somewhere between the drive (which usually goes tot he left) and the fetch gates. So people that go too hard to turn the post in a perfect way can end up with some trouble. So when Alasdair turned the post with Ben he let them drift… a little too much. The five sheep almost ran into the pen and then scattered. Now I’ve seen some pretty amazing handlers face similar situations and while they did respectably, this moment was one of the most amazing moments in partnership that I’ve really ever seen! Alasdair and Ben worked seamlessly together to get all five sheep through the gates at different times, meaning the first ewe to go through the gates was about 200 yards past the gate, over a hill and through sage brush. A tall order for anyone to accomplish. Ben took every whistle flawlessly to get the sheep through the gate and then worked on his own, out of sight, to regroup these rank ewes and fetch them back down the field so that they could then finish their run and move onto the finals.
One more memory from Meeker that year. (Can you tell that I love that trial?) Alasdair and Nan were in the finals, doing the international shed when they took a bit of a risk. There were two ewes that seemed to be #besties, unfortunately one was collared and one wasn’t. In a moment that I, at the time, considered to be completely insane Alasdair took a risk and tried to get them separated. Now the discarded sheep weren’t very far away and when they took off the audience was sure it was over for them! Also, just to make sure everyone (which is probably one person) reading this has a clear picture, this is also before the good folk at Meeker began to irrigate the bottom of the field to help with the dust. I know it probably seems like I’m painting this picture of “Back in my day we had to send our dogs over volcanic eruptions after fire breathing dragons and fetch them through the valley of the shadow of no return”… But seriously it felt like that. So the sheep make a break for it, resembling something out of Secretariat’s career, and Alasdair flanks Nan around with the most urgent whistles I’ve ever heard (for more information on whistling, visit bcollies.com for my whistle CD and DVD). Nan was going around and then Alasdair upped the urgency of the whistles, combined with a few whistles I didn’t recognize and the dust was flying! How he could see where the hell she was is still beyond me. But as the dust settled, there was Nan fetching the five collared sheep straight to Alasdair! (If you’re interested in learning from the MacRae’s but don’t get the opportunity to work with them one on one, then click here The MacRae Way to check out their online courses. I’ve taken several and not only find them informative but also very entertaining! They have taught me so much, and continue to be two of my greatest mentors.)
Now I like telling these stories for several reasons. For one, its really nice to remember times that inspired me and times that still inspire me. But also, these memories taught me that I can do so much more with my dogs if I just open my mind. If I work hard and practice with them, create a great partnership with them based on trust and experience and keep an attitude that even though each step might not be the easiest to take, the destination is so worth the journey.
Now I need to go practice flanking my dogs…
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