Lock up your flock, the National Sheepdog Trial Championships is rolling into town next week, and the search is on for the top dog (and handler).
Now in its 76th year in the ACT, the Championships will see over 200 of the nation’s best sheepdogs (mainly border collies and kelpies) and 55 handlers from across the country descend on Hall to compete. Dogs and handlers need to work together to ensure all three sheep are herded into the pen in 15 minutes.
“You’re working together as a team, there’s a real partnership there. You’ve got to respect and trust your dog, and the dog has to respect you,” says committee member Sarah Sydrych.
“It is based around the ability of a sheepdog to handle sheep in the most practical way,” adds president of the Sheepdog Trial Association and trial manager Charlie Cover, who also breeds border collies at his stud, Windeyer.
“All our course and our rules are set up so that the dog that scores the most points is the dog that handles the sheep best … not rough handling, you can’t knock sheep about and get the maximum benefit out of them.”
Charlie, who is 80, will be taking to the trails again this year with his border collies. He will be joined by friend and fellow sheepdog trainer Laurie Slater, who is also in his eighties.
“I’ve kept involved because my father before me was also [involved in dog trialling] … Even as young as three to four months old, [the dogs] will start to show their natural ability,” Charlie says.
“What I really do get a lot of enjoyment of is taking a six-, eight-, 12-week old pup… they will have various degrees of ability and I will try to maximise those. It’s very, very satisfying when, two years later, you’ve got the possibility of winning a major trial [with that dog].
“It’s the simple things leading to the very complicated things … it’s that trip if you like.”
Sheepdog trials started in Australia as a sport in the mid-1800s. The first trials in Canberra were held at Manuka Oval.
“It originally was thought of as a fundraiser for Legacy at the end of the Second World War, and from there it pretty quickly developed into the major trial in Australia,” Charlie says.
There are other big trials about now, but none of them have lasted [as long as we have]. We look on it as rural heritage sport.”
The National Sheepdog Trial Championships will be held from Monday 11 to Sunday 17 March 8am-4.30pm at the Hall Village Showground. Non-competing dogs on leads welcome. For more information, visit nationalsheepdogtrials.org