Monday, July 30, 2012

Round Two: Escape from Sheep Mountain

This morning, the Sheep Boss called and said the sheep that lived on Sheep Mountain had a truck ride for Wednesday they must be gathered in today. These were the same sheep that beat us on Friday....time to get serious.

Naughty sheep have all sorts of hidden trails crisscrossing that mountain, and heights mean nothing to them!  I ended above the first tree line with Nell....pushing sheep out of the comfortable shade and onto sheep trails through the grass far down below.  I learned a few things....cowgirl boots are slick on steep grass hillsides......the side of the mountain, under the tree groves, is close to Heaven.......Nell rocks!

Yes indeed, naughty sheep! We got another 120 of them......but as I walked down the last slope, making the final push to the Pratley....I could hear some distance ghostly baas of laughter that will require yet another visit to Sheep Mountain!  Maybe the shepherd will be back for that adventure.

Seize the Day!

Friday, July 27, 2012

When The Shepherd's Away....

...this mouse gets to play! Yep that's that I'm slowing down on trialing....the shepherd went on vacation and the Sheep Boss has figured out I'm his huckleberry.  Well, me, Nell, Bella and Gyp.....we work for sheep. It was nice to get back in the saddle....and working ewes that move, makes for a very splendid day indeed.  Nell gathered about 600 ewes and lambs and helped run them through the footbath.

Nell watches the sheep as they exit the footbath stage right

Bella got picked to help find sheep grazing a big, tall hill covered with tree groves; perfect hiding places for naughty sheep. With the help of the Sheep Boss we found about 40 of them. The temperature was rising, I was tickled with Bella and her attitude of good work....walking the sheep in. The Sheep Boss rode a 4-wheeler off to the left keeping the draw back to the shady woods from beckoning. The rest of the sheep can wait for another day to be hauled.

I love real work...I love listening to the Sheep Boss as he talks to me about how to efficiently get 600+ sheep into the Prately Pen.....whirlpooling them to the right.  Last winter I got my hinny handed to me as I tried to "drive" that many sheep through a gate.  This time it was only half a hinny, as I whirlpooled to the left.  The whirlpool strategy really worked but I needed a drawn diagram as to why right was better than left...and I am still not sold on that idea. I think I need another go!

At the many shedding clinics and shedding lessons I have while working with Scott Glen....he has tried to get me to understand how to string out sheep, letting them want to go and then making the cut.  As I watched the Sheep Boss and the shepherdess......their work felt much like the beginning of a good thesis about the international shed. 

I love watching all the details...pressure, which way they face, what makes the sheep want to go, what stops the flow and prevents any back flow.  There is so much to learn...all while not working a dog and paying close attention to the teaching from the sheep! 

A hard day's work with my dogs feels so dang good.....I've missed it!

Bella finds refuge from the heat in my shade

Seize the Day!

ps. I got a call from the Sheep Boss last night.  He went for a late evening drive and found 120 sheep by the water tank at the foot of the hill where we played hide and seek all afternoon.  I'm thinking we either need to become better seekers or we might want to do an evening haul out....just sayin.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

That's A Wrap

The 2012 trial year has come to an end for me. Not that I won't be trialing for the rest of 2012 but those trials won't count towards getting into the USBCHA finals for this year. Bitter-sweet but ever so needed and welcome...I've been trialing pretty much ever weekend since Big Willow. Looking back, I really have had the time of my life...memories that I loved making and will enjoy the replays, surely adding to them: making them 'more than life was' as only memories can become. I've been awake at night wrestling with the idea of "one more trial"...."one more last ditch effort to find a few more points laying around"....points that Miss L&M Belle aka Bella could use so I don't feel the need to obsessively click the points page until the Fat Lady sings. For every reason to go...there are two to stay...and so I stay and work on "me". My ability to let go and embrace life as it unfolds...sigh. There are projects that need attending to...and hay that needs hauled. A barn that needs cleaned and plans that need made. Plans for fitness and continued partnership and plenty of over-thinking in the heat of the dog days of summer. And if by chance it was not enough.....that will be yet another "letting go" opportunity...dying to "should have done more".

My last dance was Palm Cottage.....a trial that seems hell-bent on molding me as a person and handler. After the first day, I changed the name of the trial to the F'ing Gate Trial and I'm not talking Fetch Gate either! Last year saw Nell, as a first year open dog, running all over the, yelling and screaming and frothing at the mouth.....Nell doing the Nell thing and getting more and more not paying attention to any of that; only my disappointment. Nell ended up stopless and gathered the exhaust pen bringing all 100 sheep out onto the field. I ended up embarrassed on so many different levels.....I folded my cards and pulled her from the next day, ashamed of my behavior and knowing Nell and I needed some partnership counseling.

This year, I've confessed, I have put some tension in my girl at the I have worked hard to alleviate that. As I walked to the post at the F'ing Gate...oh wait, I mean Palm Cottage trial that early Saturday morning, I do indeed know Nell was looking at me. I tried setting her up, getting her to look up the field.....but gave up and went with the nonchalant attitude instead.....caring not as I hit my start button on my watch and my girl crossed and ran amuck all over the field. Oh but it was a new tape, she holding the player not willing to put in the old one......I knew this day was about me. Not about scores, or what critical people thought of my was about ME! Me and death to temper, and strangling running mad, and dying to ego, and letting go of anger. And so, I kept my cool and talked my dog through that f'ing gate and up to the sheep....and my Nellie girl said "Well Done!".

Funny how when I work on me, hold up my end of the bargain...whether it be a little more on tough sheep or a little less when the dogs "have it".....the girls are amazing. I'm beginning to understand it is not about all "foo foo la la" angels singing and all is is about team work and correcting when the dog needs it and giving back when they've got it. I was talking to a mentor friend the other day, and she mentioned that what she saw at the Buck Brannaman clinic she attended was a "man who never did anything out of anger or ego."

My Sunday's runs had both dogs getting up to the sheep...through the gate, some 650 yards away.....tough tough sheep that required me and the dogs to work together without questions....on a day where half the handlers DQ'd or RT'd. I had one of "those"runs.....a run where I had to work hard with Nell to get my sheep around the post because of a running killing draw right there. Once we got the sheep going...they went and I was able to give back to Nell a little of what I had taken into my own command at the post. Nell had her sheep and was driving along on her cross of the areas that Miss Nell rocks...and as we started towards the cross-drive panels....I asked for a flank. Nell gave a quick glance over her shoulder and it was if she was saying..."!" In my mind, I Nell drove the sheep right thought the panels! For the first time, I am feeling that relationship with Nell.....that magic, hard earned relationship that happens when she does what I say but I trust her when she questions. She covered my butt for sure....and I am hoping, with time, I can begin to let go and trust her to do her part so I don't ask for a flank when panel-itis tries to creep back into me.

At the end of the day.....what I thought would be about "winning" and "points".....the run for the 2012 finals can be summarized with a theme....."Relationship: training without anger or ego". Where 5th place at Big Willow has already begun to fade and be forgotten, even in my mind......I get to keep, fresh with technicolor clarity, the lessons learned from my dogs. I owe them a debt of gratitude for allowing me, forcing me, encouraging learn.

1. The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~Robert Frost

......I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.....

Seize the Day!!!!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


"Nell is a kick to watch as its like the razors edge between brilliant and out of control"

I received a neat "chat with a friend" email yesterday and well, I just loved this sentence.  I guess when I puts quotes framing the artwork designed by words, it is not really plagiarism but I so wanted to take credit for this as my very own.  Oh well, it is not. but I am plagiaristically stealing ideas and using them as my thesis for today's blog. Note: spell check is denying my use of plagiarism as an adverb...oh well, I just wanted to confess this so my talented writing friends don't turn me in....

So yes sirree, Bill...Nell's runs can be brilliant or end with disaster.  We don't ever seem to be "grey" in our runs.  Please note that I am not talking about SW's conversations on grey but rather "grey = of a neutral tone, intermediate between black and white, that has no hue and reflects and transmits only a little light"  Nope, Nell and I are not grey! 

"I have not seen Gyp before but she seems to be the best of her mom and more"

It's funny, I don't see a whole lot of Nell in Gyp.  Just this past the end of the month, I confessed at a KK clinic that I was not planning on running Gyp in nursery this year.  KK kindly suggested a bit of grey be added to that black and white statement.....she said something along the lines of "be ready, you might be surprised".  At that time Gyp was the easy kind of dog that allowed me to be a know-it-all.  In an effort to help Gyp develop her deep-rooted genetic talent, I was backing off formal training and was sticking to big flock work and all the home chores.  We've had our hinnies handed to us a few times helping the shepherd at his day job.  I've never picked a pup from a litter born here and raised it up.....what an amazing gift of a journey watching Gyp sort, become, develop...bloom right before my very eyes....more each time I take her out.  After her brilliant run on Friday of this week, I was told she is ever so much like her father, KK's Jake.  I wondered about I sort her out and learn how to partner with her. She is so different from what I already have: not quiet so much eye, a little plain but ever so clever and, dare I use the word, fun!

"Bella, ( I have come a long way baby ) is such a talent."

I'm still sorting the Buck Clinic.....thinking over/over thinking all I saw and how those I respect most mirror that training.  I keep coming back to "observation" I watch Bella struggle with the last remnant of tension and the symptoms that present themselves if I am aware.  It is so easy for me to see disobedience or "being bad" and I also wonder at the end of the day if "why" matters?  My responsibility to sort this tension is to stay fair and yet I continue my quest of death to my temper.  I think I might have stomped my foot at the post as I tried to ineffectively communicate to Bella that she might consider listening and trusting this frothing at the mouth handler that wanted to run up the field for some "moral" support in minding the commands.  Where I felt the hunt for heads and pressure....others I respect felt dead warm air and tall grass kept the sound waves from reaching the dog's eardrums...leaving the dogs to figure out what the heck was going on and hunting heads and pressure would at least keep the sheep on the field.  I also sit in awe at my friend who can watch the sheep come out onto the field as they are set and talk about their plan for a run.  I find myself hiding behind a tent so my dog can not see the sheep exiting the field stage left. and walk out onto sheep nose deep in donated leafy alfalfa. 

I'm not ready to write my "all the things that went fabulously, wonderfully right"...of which I had many this past trail.  I am really proud of my dogs!  But that said, I am longing to see: accurately, egolessly, honestly all the tiny details merged with the whole big picture.  I need to work on my skills of response to correction both dog from me/ sheep from dog....and mix in a bit of willingness to change my actions and reactions on the fly..all why staying flat-line calm and using subtle finger whistles.  That is really not asking so much, is it?

Well, I just got a call my round bales are getting put up today....come and get 'em as thunderstorms are rolling in.  Time to continue channeling my inner squirrel.....storing up for winter.

Seize the Day!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Busy Livin Life......

Last spring, a good friend sent me the Buck Movie and asked me to "watch it".  It was fascinating and you can see the movie trailer here.  I'm always challenged and awed when I get the opportunity to step into a top trainer's mind and see a glimpse of what they are seeing.  What they see, what they think about.....just darn right amazing.  So when Buck Brannaman made a stop just 45 minutes from me...I had to go. 

25 riders and 25 horses were out in the arena and Buck talked and watched.  I watched closely...horses and riders...interactions and reactions.  I also took notes and here are a few of the quotes I took away....

"Anything that goes wrong on the back, can start to be addressed on the ground"

"If you ever get to be credible with your horse, you will be careful where you take them.  Trust: be careful not to betray it"

"You  have to learn to interact in a way congruent with their nature.  The less you can be human.....the better off you will be"

"There is a difference between being particular and being picky"

"I can't make you stay, but I'm going to make it difficult for you to go"

"All you are doing is making it difficult to be where they are not making them"

"Do less sooner vs. more latter"

"When do you discipline a horse?  After they do something wrong?  When I see something going wrong, I try to head if off"

"Until the basics are right, you can't go on"

"It is never a democracy: on a bad day it is a dictatorship, on a good day it is an enlightened monarchy"

My all time favorite:
One of the participants that was having issues with her horse asked Buck, "Is she spoiled or is she frightened?"
Buck: "I don't care"
He did not care why the horse was doing what it was doing....he just needed to help the horse stop that behavior.

Most of what Buck talked about was RESPECT and TRUST.  He said both had to be earned and once earned, to be careful not to betray them. 

Its funny how much of what went "wrong" was because of the human...the horse was just doing what was allowed.  The human not seeing the horse's intent and/or not being consistent.  Buck also did some riding and confessed: it takes him a whole lot of time and dedication to get his horse to be the partnership that we saw that day. 

I did not really go out to watch Buck Brannaman to learn much about the specifics of training was more a life experience.  I'm thinking if I can work on my skills of observation, reading what is going on with accuracy and learning a little bit of self discipline on the way.....I to can have a deeply rewarding relationship with each of my dogs....but it is going to take some work on my end.  I am the weak link.

I also made a brief list of what I felt the differences were in training up a horse (prey) and a dog (predator).....there are similarities but one has to face the prey drive and natural instinct that the border collie brings to the shepherding.  Those thoughts are worthy of morning discussions around the kitchen table with pots and pots of coffee.

So what did I learn......well, I trialed this weekend at a really fabulous place.  Good, strong sheep.....sheep that are worked well and are smart...they require being moved around, especially on hot afternoons when shade beckons.  I found myself at a hard drive ending at the top of a hill to hit panels with a tractor beam draw to my right that increased, squared by the distance from that top of that darn hill.  The draw, terrain, grass, and suave sheep were all cottoned up in my dog's ears, that and her desire to believe I was very wrong.  I found myself getting angry at her, yelling and creating a huge mass of reactionary craziness....I called my run. How is that for true confessions, JP?  I called my run because of ME!!!!  This journey is more about getting a hold of myself and finding...well, never mind, it is about me and I'll end it with that.  How can I ever earn my dog's trust when I am not trustworthy??  How can I be respected when I demean?  The journey way being molded by opportunities to see how other's have conquered their demons. Thank God for those who share with authenticity and transparency to allow us to conquer our own.

Seize the Day!

Monday, July 2, 2012


I've become a gypsy.  Not only does my truck look like I am homeless for all the items I have stored in it....I never know what I might need..... I've also found a way to sleep in the back of it.  It was not a bad night of sleep....just need a tad bit more padding (in the truck bed and not on my body, to clarify!).  I also think Bella and Nell were whispering half the night...."I think she is sleeping in here", "she is loosing it!"  You know, stuff like that.   It is a good thing I am an early riser! The only person awake to see me stumble out the back of the truck was Chris from Fido's and she is thankfully one tough cookie and kind enough to not mention the Medusa hair and albino white legs! 

There was so much to like about the trial and my dogs....Gyp ran nursery and each run showed more understanding as we finished the course twice.  Bella had a super shed and found some final's points laying around. Nell had a sweet second run. Me, well, after some round table discussion with friends about my whistles and why I could easily pass out at the post if I did not switch to my brass whistle, with input, I found the way to get Nell around her second go with just my fingers! That was a big first as the course was complicated and I used a lot of whistles to get around it.

So what needs work......Gyp will continue with work and understanding.  Bella will continue the shed....she is hunting it....but we struggled with the marked shed.  I know I confused her as I missed single after single trying to get that collared sheep to where I could cut it off.  Nell also continues her shed work, especially because I like shedding best off my left side and she prefers my right.  We both better become ambidextrous...just sayin.

This week is bitter sweet.....I dred the fourth.  My older dogs are not handling all the serious fireworks that are going off night after night after night.  However, if I can soilder through to the 5th.....I have a date with Buck Brannaman on Friday and then on to Magnolia Farm's sheepdog trial.

The big question running through my mind right now many points do you think it will take to get into the finals this year??? 

Seize the Day!