Well, we did it – it wasn’t impressive, certainly not pretty, we didn’t even keep all the sheep – but we went to our first herding trial. I was actually really happy with what we did. Haku did not get obsessed with the sheep that went to the exhaust (something he’s never seen before), he had a lovely outrun, lifted off the set-up crew without any weirdness, and really responded to everything I asked. The issues we had were not at all unexpected. I just tried to focus on staying connected with Haku and not feeling rushed or out of control even if the sheep were, uh, not in control.

Basically he just was too fast on his lift, so we lost sheep … in separate directions. And then it was a hot mess of sheep everywhere, including one troublemaker that was clearly not a team player. So I left the troublemaker on her own, and then awkwardly squished the remaining three back together with some very not pretty running back and forth, but then we did actually get a turn around the post and a did a little drive. We didn’t quite make the panels, but my goal was ‘approximate’ and we did that. You know, approximately all the sheep, approximately a drive, approximate panels – it’s kind of our thing.

So, not pretty, but, honestly, we did pretty much exactly what we’re capable of doing at the moment. More importantly, I felt actually pretty good about our communication – not actually doing the course, but feeling like we were still doing our thing together. Haku was trying really hard, he did some nice things as we tried to fix our mess. I can’t ask for more than that, he really was listening and responding – didn’t seemed stressed or frantic. It was a start, and we can both get better.

I thought it was fun, I can see why people enjoy it. Can’t imagine trialing all the time, you think agility has a lot of sitting around, that’s nothing on herding. Maybe you just need a lot of dogs. However, I ended up watching all afternoon, got to see end of the Open runs, Nursery and Pro-Novice runs. And it was very helpful, and much more interesting and relevant than the last trial I watched last summer.

Some things of note include the fact that sometimes you just get sheep that don’t stick together, that have troublemakers that want to do their own thing. You can wait all day to run and instead deal with difficult sheep the whole time. I think the really good handlers are better at handling that kind of situation, but a lot of folks aren’t. Even good handlers can really have a hard time keeping a good drive line. I feel much better about my driving now. Not actually hitting the panels is very normal. The maltese cross seems like a really silly obstacle to have in Open – how is this relevant to the real world? Who would set up a sheep chute with multiple directions that you don’t want the sheep to go? The majority of sheep people have an accent of some sort. I can’t explain that.

I wanted to listen to whistles and see what people used. There was certainly a variety, and some people were very sparing on whistles, and some people used them almost constantly. Both types COULD do very well … but didn’t always. Dogs and people are bad at flanks too. Almost all the dogs took flanks incorrectly. Border collies all get along. You can hear when a handler is not confident with what they’re asking. If you find yourself shouting continuously, it’s probably best to just stop the run – it’s not going to get better. Sometimes runs go really, really wrong. Sometimes sheep just won’t move for any dog, humans have to come physically pick up the sheep and move them. Tiny white sheep are the biggest troublemakers.

I knew we weren’t ready, so that made it more relaxing, I think – I was just hoping not to have a total disaster. This gave me some very concrete skills to work on in the next month to see if we can do it a little better next time – though, admittedly, nothing that I didn’t already know about. Planning to enter the trial in February and see if we can improve, Haku continues to think this is just amazing good times. I’m very lucky to have a dog with such endless enthusiasm for everything we do!