By Maz Whalan
IT'S one thing to whistle the family dog up from the backyard, but try whistling it to coax nervous sheep around fences, over a bridge and into a pen while being watched by sharp-eyed judges. Some of Australia's best dogs and handlers did just that last weekend at the Bungendore showground as part of the Trans Tasman Sheepdog Trial conducted by the Bungendore and District Sheepdog Association. The event attracted 136 entries
Like any sport, the trans-Tasman rivalry between Australia and New Zealand is a healthy one. "People joke about the sheep industry in Australia being started by convicts from London," Bungendore Sheepdog Club member Bruce Bashford says. "While in New Zealand it was started by shepherds from Scotland." Bruce provided commentary on the Saturday as there was a considerable crowd of interested spectators who turned out to catch the action. “It was great to see so many people come along to learn more about this heritage sport," Mr Bashford said.
And there was certainly plenty for people to see. The trial is a competitive affair, with events divided into encourage, novice, improver and open sections. Dogs and handler start with 100 points and have 15 minutes to take three sheep through a gap in a fence, through an obstacle called the Maltese cross, over a bridge and into a pen. Points are deducted for errors of course or handling.
At least that's how it's meant to work in theory, veteran herder Charlie Cover said, with the results sometimes significantly different. While a good herder could calmly guide the sheep through the series of obstacles in an orderly procession, a less experienced sheepdog could spook them and scatter them to all corners of the field. "The art of trialling is getting the balance right between the sheep, the application of pressure on the sheep by the dog and the control by the handler," Mr Cover explained.
The local club hosted a great four day event. This year the Novice section was named in honour of Barb Stitt in acknowledgement of her dedication to the Club and the Trial over many years. The club was very pleased to have Barb’s daughter Zena travel from Sydney on Saturday 21 July to present the Novice prizes.
The trial was supported extensively by Paul Darmody, who supplied the sheep, the arena set up, as well as judging and competing. Other sponsors included Dog Pro, Infigen Energy, Long Paddock Eggs, Royalla Dorpers, and the Bungendore Show Society. Linda Dening donated a portrait of the winning dog in the Open competition and local Bungendore resident Suzanne Clubb donated the first prize trophy in the Encourage event. The Bungendore Word Works Gallery and Cafe donated two gift vouchers, which were presented as part of the volunteer workers draw to Alison McKenzie and Carol Jordon, both of whom worked tirelessly over the weekend in the canteen.
In the end on Sunday in the open final it was a very close competition. Rather uniquely the overall winner Mick Hudson and runner up Paul Darmody had the unenviable task of judging each other in the final. The final scores indicate the closeness of the competition and the skills of the handlers and their dogs.
We run a great Canteen at the Trial. Plenty of tasty stuff, great for a winter day. The Canteen starts on Thursday morning and runs for the whole trial. We will have a Coffee van on site for Saturday and Sunday. The Hall Kitchen is a great place to warm up after watching the dogs.
We also have information sheets for Spectators and commentary off and on throughout each day. We look forward to seeing you and hope you enjoy this heritage sport.
The Trial starts at 7.30am on Thursday we have over 130 dogs to get through so the sooner we start the better. The only delays to start time on any day will be weather related i.e. heavy fog.
Hopefully, by now the Competitor, the dog and their best friends the three sheep are all settled and ready for a gentle carry to the PEN. Time is ticking down and this section is worth 30 points if worked well. When the Competitor reaches the pen they must stand in the ring/set and work the dog without assistance to put the sheep in the PEN according to Australian rules. The sheep must all be completely within the PEN before the gate can be shut and the dog must hold the sheep in the pen as the gate is being shut. When the PEN is closed it is all over. The Course is complete, well done. Now, what is the score.
Two obstacles down and two to go. No time for relaxing, the time is ticking away and the Competitor needs to head for the BRIDGE. Remember you are still in New Zealand and need to carefully DRIVE the sheep to the free working area in front of the BRIDGE. Tricky here as the Competitor must not enter the mouth of the BRIDGE but may assist the dog to move them into place. The dog must clear the sheep completely over the bridge and they must have dropped off the end before the Competitor can move. There may never be a BRIDGE between NZ and OZ, but the competitor in now back on Australian soil and rules and the PEN is in sight.
At the end of the DRIVE is the free working area 10 metres from the MALTESE CROSS. Here the fun really begins, if the Competitor has only ever worked under Australian Rules. In this area the Competitor may move about to assist and work their dog in completing the MALTESE COSS. It must be entered and exited from the direction of the GAP, then entered and exited in the direction of the BRIDGE. Plenty of scope for problems here, where do the Kiwis come up with these ideas?
Once you have walked through the GAP you have "crossed the ditch" and are on NZ rules. This Section to the MALTESE CROSS is called the DRIVE and is now a 15 metre wide course. The Competitor and the dog must move the sheep directly towards the obstacle, without getting in front of the sheep. The Competitor may move freely within the course to assist with moving the sheep, but should not run around or over assist the dog. If the sheep break back the competitor can not go back but must get the dog to bring the sheep forward again. The DRIVE ends when the sheep enter the free working area of the MALTESE CROSS. The Judges will have expected to see free flowing work.
The Carry from the Post to the Gap is consistent with the Australian Rules. There is a 9 metre corridor which the sheep must travel within. The Competitor walks on the line on the left hand side and must not stop or vary their pace. Points are lost if the sheep move outside of the corridor . When the sheep, dog and Competitor arrive at the GAP the Competitor must stand in the ring to work the sheep through the GAP. Once that has happened the Competitor MUST WALK THROUGH THE GAP to start the next section.
The POST is the starting point for the Trail. The Competitor walks to towards the post and positions the dog and steps into the ring ready to start. When the bell rings the dog is CAST to the left or right to the head of the sheep. The dog should move into a position of control the sheep and then bring them is a steady manner and a direct a line as possible to the post where the competitor is standing. In the Trans Tasman the sheep must have passed around the Competitor on the left hand side before the competitor can set off towards the GAP.
Our Sheepdog club is for working sheepdog breeds and hold regular training days to assist people with training their dogs. We also organise and run the Trans Tasman Trial at Bungendore.