a morning to remember
After I handed over the bird to her one of her family members, I was directed to go down past the barn. There was a lesson going on and I could watch while I waited. So I got Sarah out of the car and together we walked past the slate sign down the hill to the fields.
The first thing I noticed was Denise and her student with a Kelpie named Fizz. Kelpies are an Australian breed that are super athletic, fast, loud, and herding super stars. They are just catching on in popularity here in New England, but I've met a few over the months with the club. Nice dogs. They were working on Fizz’s outrun, trying to make his flanks wider.
The first thing Sarah noticed however, was the sheep. She turned into a different dog. Seeing a full flock in an open field, made her quiver with excitement and lunge on the lead. Ears up. Body taunt. High gear.
We waited for our turn. I watched from above them on the hill. I saw the woman who was taking the lesson stride around the field with these black nylon pants over her jeans. Why the hell was she wearing those? She had a training stick and seem relaxed with her little Kelpie, who seemed to be improving his “Away to me” by not being so tight on the sheep. I can see these things now, but just barely. After a bit Denise waved me down, and called her Jess to take the ewes they were working with back to the pen. She said she was going to give Sarah the whole flock.
I laid Sarah down and sent her after the sheep, which she circled around, frantic and too close. But after the initial gather round she calmed down. Her head low, her tail down. If dogs can smile, she had a shit-faced grin. I didn’t know what I was doing. I just tried to keep the sheep between us. She balanced them well, if I stepped right she stepped left. If I turned one way, she was always opposite me. Like a wire was between us.
Denise showed me how to handle, give commands, and use the stick to cut off her moves by making a small wall between us. I was walking backwards this whole time, trying to watch Sarah and not get over ran by the 4 large sheep in front of me, clinging to me to keep the wolf at bay. At one point I tripped over myself and the training stick jabbed into my stomach, I slid across the mud and was able to get up just in time to not get ran over. Covered in mud from the waist down, sore and tired, I looked up at Denise and the Kelpie owner. They yelled. “Welcome to herding! You’ve just been initiated!!" I stood up and looked down at my favorite jeans... covered in mud. Oh, so that’s what the nylon chaps were for…
By the end of the hour Sarah was learning to walk calmly (well, calmer) behind the sheep and drive them towards me as I walked away from them (herding hint, take long backwards strides, don't run backwards.) She did well. I was impressed. It was a morning to remember.
I was herding sheep with my own border collie. She was brilliant. She stays.