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18 June 2014

You have got to trial these things.

Why, exactly?

Good results from a trial give your dog  a ‘qualification’

Trials demonstrate your dog has ability in your chosen field, though face the facts. The ability demonstrated is only as much as the trial conditions require; tame sheep, small area, not a lot, in fact. This argument persists right though to selecting an English team for the Supreme, the last day of the ISDS International. But it is a start, important as team building, for dog and handler to progress.

“Can we have an ASCA trial?” a keen aussie owner asked, late autumn last year.

How hard can it be, I thought.

So the first herding trial the All Breeds Herding UK  group attempted was the  American ‘Australian Shepherd Club of America’s very first level, the Started B course, and the very first accredited ASCA trial in the UK.

A few quiet sheep, a wander round the Rhubarb paddock  (it used to have a patch of rhubarb in it, as distinct from Fir tree, which still has a fir tree, or Turkey pen, no turkeys) through a few hurdles… the dogs have all done that and harder in our own progress tests in previous years.

Sounds fun, let’s do it!

We had a keen young man volunteer to teach us about A S C A come over from Sweden. ASCA is popular and growing in Europe.  I made some serious efforts to duck out, when the thickness and complication of the rules and requirements - legs on ducks sheep and cattle -  paper work, prizes, ribbons and belt buckles  -  became clear. Most of my clients would have worn that very happily, but  the enthusiasm of Mikael, his passion, ‘We’ll see to all the paper work’ seduced me and the very first ASCA trial, on sheep, was Sanctioned. I fear I will be Sectioned by the time it’s all over.

Assembled to demonstrate their progress, my team struggled with urinating, hip hugging, singling and wool snatching  dogs with ever decreasing confidence.  Duh! What! How had I failed here? I don’t know what Mikael thought but I was ready to chuck it in right there. ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’ said Bob, my partner, from a position of strength as  a self employed shepherd, watching briefly  as long as he could bear to from the front room window.

Then came Roy Sage.

With kindness, quietness, tact and the skill born of experience,  this genuine, slightly battered looking  American Aussie handler with a lifetime of success gathered up the lose ends, the unravelled nerves, the  rebellious, anxious dogs. In two days, they were  - well, still rather anxious , but resigned to what ever the trial day would throw at them.

As sheep setter, I had a perch in the shade, and a view of three quarters of the course. I heard no shouting. I saw the first handler, dog and sheep negotiate the second hurdles. I saw them pacing to the exit gate. I released their sheep and assembled 4 more. 8 more times.  Brilliant, unbelievable. Quite tearful… Every one gained qualifying scores;  history was made, in a small but profoundly satisfying way.

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