Carew was good, then bad, then wonderful at Erwood SDT.
Since making the decision to run in more sheepdog trials this year, I have been looking forward to running in last Saturday's Erwood trial (nr Builth Wells). I find the Welsh trials very pleasant because everyone seems so friendly, and the mid-Wales countryside is exceptionally attractive. Unfortunately though, both Kay and Carew have come into season, so out of consideration for competitors I decided not to enter this year's trial. It's simply not fair to owners of entire males who's dogs run after the hormonal female as the dogs might be somewhat distracted when discover the scent of an in-season female on their run.
Some argue that a really good sheepdog should not be affected by such temptations, but I'd rather err on the safe side than risk the wrath of an irate competitor.
An alternative is to ask the organisers to allow you to run the in-season female last, thereby avoiding the chance of any male dog's being affected. On Saturday morning Gill suggested this to me, and early in the afternoon I finally decided to follow her advice.
To put it politely, Kay's work can be unpredictable when she's in season, and I felt that asking the trial organisers to run two dogs at the end was not ideal (you need a run or two in between your own runs while you get your second dog ready) so I decided to leave her at home and take Carew.
All was fine with the Erwood officials, and we were allocated run number eighty one. While we waited for the dozen or so runs before ours to complete, I used the opportunity to shoot some video and take a handful of photographs - but once I'd seen the steep uphill climb the dogs had to tackle on their outrun, I began to worry whether Carew would manage to get up to the peg where her sheep would be waiting. They say the camera never lies, but unfortunately, photography's not a great way of illustrating a steep uphill slope in front of you. In the pictures on this page, the field takes on the appearance of a gentle uphill slope, but in fact, Erwood's well known for its steep outrun. As she'd never run on any ground nearly as steep, I was sure Carew would need redirection at the very least.
During the runs before ours, the majority of dogs needed redirection from their handlers and some even ran back down to the post, so I wasn't unduly concerned - just as long as Carew made it to the top somehow!
I needn't have worried on that score, after making certain that Carew knew where the sheep were, she went all the way up the bank without any assistance from me, but once she reached the place where the ground flattens out, she stopped.
I quickly whistled her "Away" and she disappeared from view behind the sheep. I waited for a few seconds, expecting her to approach the sheep and bring them down the bank, but nothing happened. I whistled and called her up, but there was a long embarrassing delay before she eventually appeared.
She would have lost a lot of points - both from the end of her outrun for stopping, and the lift for not responding within a normal working time. Once she appeared though, I was able to call her up to her sheep, and she showed good control of them even though they were pulling hard towards the adjoining field on my left where there were a good number of ewes and young lambs.
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I'd noticed that most of the competitors in the runs before ours struggled with the fetch gates. It was as though there was a wall between the gates. The sheep would go right up to it and then refuse to go through - with most dodging round them towards the field with the ewes and lambs.
Carew was firm but very gentle as she brought the sheep towards the fetch gates, and was unlucky when one of the three nipped outside the gates at the very last moment. I was disappointed but very impressed with Carew - she was doing exactly what I asked her to.
She continued to keep good control of the sheep around behind me, and off to the first drive gates which they went through without a problem, and then she turned them towards the second drive gates, keeping them reasonably on line, but it was slightly touch-and-go at the gates, with the three sheep just squeaking through cleanly.
Now all that remained was the pen, and Carew completed this with firm but very calm control of her charges. To say that I was pleased with her is an understatement. Apart from stopping on her outrun and the awful delay at the top of the field (which we clearly need to address) Carew was superb. Of course we had already lost so many points that figuring in the results was out of the question, but any points lost after the lift were down to my being deceived by the sheep rather than the dog not responding as I'd wanted her to. I can't wait until the next trial!