Are you having a tough day? Long hours, changing expectations and no support? If you want to feel better about how tough your job is, go watch the Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship in early September. What these sheepdogs (and their handlers) do makes your tough day look like a walk in the park.
Here’s what you have to do:
Run up the hill in the hot sun and approach a group of eight sheep who think you are a wolf. Do this in an easy smooth way (called “the lift”), so they don’t bolt. Then when they want nothing to do with you and are scared you will do them bodily harm, take control of the group and herd them down the hill through a pair of gates. Leave the group at the bottom of the hill … and…
Go back up and do it again! Get another group of eight sheep and herd them through the same gates even though as soon as they see the other group, they want to make a beeline straight towards them.
Join the two groups and herd all 16 sheep around a pole in front of a stadium full of people. Then send them back up the hill through yet another set of gates, with no stragglers veering off course. Since that was so much fun, you get to do it again! Cross the hill and herd your 16 sheep so every single one does your bidding. Bring them back to the stadium and into a ring.
You aren’t done yet. That was the easy part. Now you want to shed off all but five sheep. Not just any five, you have to keep the ones with red collars. The problem is they really, really, really want to stay together. They will bolt the minute they can. Picking out five and keeping them separated from the others is like picking a needle out of a haystack on a moving truck.
IF, AND ONLY IF, you are able to accomplish this, you have one more step – get them in a 12 x 12 pen so your handler can close the gate. By the way, these sheep are now very irritated and tired of you pushing them around. They will challenge you, stamp their feet, refuse to budge, or try to run off. You have to get up close and personal (remember they think you are a predator) and herd them gently into this pen which is just about the last place in the world they want to go. You have to be extremely patient and slowly urge them in. No problem, right?
Some of the dogs lost their cool and either rushed the sheep too quickly or nipped at their feet. That’s a no-no. They just couldn’t take it anymore! Who could blame them? But the best dogs were able to do it! At the sight of the gates shutting and the handler raising his hands, the dog jumped for joy and then jumped directly into a big horse trough full of water to cool off after a job well done.
Whether the dog gets the trophy or the doghouse, it’s been an extraordinarily difficult feat that very few dogs and handlers achieve! Whatever my day has in store for me, I know it’s much easier than a dog-day afternoon at the Sheepdog Trials, but certainly not as entertaining.