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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fieldtrip: The Soldier Hollow Classic

During the Labor Day holiday weekend, my family spent a day up at the Soldier Hollow Classic in Midway, UT. You might not have ever heard of that event but if you've seen the movie, "Babe" you might be more familiar with the competition than you know. That's because the Soldier Hollow Classic is a sheep dog competition. It is the largest annual trial of it's kind in the world, bringing competitors from as far away as South Africa.
Sheepdog trials are events where sheepdogs herd sheep around a field through fences, enclosures, and gates as directed by their handler. First off, I was surprised by how large the competition area was. As you can see below the dogs start down with their handlers and must run up a large hill to the sheep - which in this case was a long way. It seemed to be more than 400 yards away taking the dog several minutes just to reach the small herd. It's kind of hard to appreciate how far it is in this photo so I put an arrow to point out the dog and herd of sheep. They are so far away you can barely see them! It was super interesting to watch the dogs and how they work with the animals. A well trained dog will not bark or nip at the sheep but use what the announcer called a steady eye to basically intimidate the sheep into heading in the correct direction. Some of these dogs really knew their stuff and would work hard not to scare the sheep to keep them from scattering and running wild - instead they would work patiently and consistently until the animals headed in the right direction.

The Soldier Hollow Classic has only been in existence since 2003 but events of this kind are not anything new. The sport was apparently started certuries ago by shepherds who were proud of their sheepdog's abilities and wanted to show it off to their neighbors. Since then it has grown to an international sport with large competitions like this one and small events at local fairs across the globe. There were other activities up at the classic including games for the kids and exhibits on sheep, wool, Navajo rug making, and of course sheepdogs. Also, a puppy whose parents are prize winning sheepdogs will fetch a pretty penny but there were "retired" dogs for sale at the event for $90.00 as well as puppies for $120.00. We plan on saving our money and getting there early so that next year we might take home one of the cuties.

One of the funnest events to watch was the duck herding - the backyard farming version of sheep herding. The dogs do primarily the same things but on a much smaller scale and with ducks. It was really entertaining to watch the ducks waddle and quack as the dogs herded them around the small arena. It made me miss my chickens.All in all, the event was great for families - especially when you get some ice cream and ice cold lemonade. My boys had a great time and are already dreaming of training their own future sheepdogs.

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