Friday, July 13, 2007

Humiliation at the sheepdog trials

Anyone who has competed at a sheepdog trial knows that it can be a humbling experience. By their very nature, sheepdog trials expose the faults of a dog and his handler: it's a pressure-cooker situation designed to seprate the excellent dogs from the pretty good dogs from the so-so dogs from the biscuit-eaters.

Even when I was going to a lot of trials, I was never a really good handler. I think of dog trials as social events with an opportunity to figure out what training I need to work on with a particular dog. For the past few years, for various reasons, I have been out of trialing, and now that time and life circumstances are allowing me a little more time for myself, I decided to dip my toes back in the water.

There was a two-day open trial at Merck Forest and Farmland Center July 7 and 8, and I entered with Tweed. The weekend served double duty as a getaway for Lynn and me. The scenery at Merck Forest is spectacular. You should go. Really. It's open for hiking, there are rustic cabins. Just go sometime.

These are Sufflok Punch draft horses. The stallion is in the foreground, and three mares that are in for service are in the background.

But anyway, on to the trial. The title of this post indicates a little bit of what happened. Humiliation. Specifially: was it humiliating that Tweed crossed over on his outrun both days (something he never does)? Yes. Was in humiliating that on Saturday he got the lowest recorded score (other than the dogs that retired or were disqualified)? Yes, in a way. Was it humiliating that on Sunday an angry ewe tried to ram Tweed, and faced with the choice of disqualifation or taking the long walk, I took the long walk? Yes it was.

But all of these on-the-field insults were minor compared to something that happened off the field. As I was standing back, watching the last few runs before I was up on Sunday, a spectator came up to me and said, "You're Jon Katz, aren't you." Note the punctuation -- she didn't ask a question, she made a statement.

If there is someone who I am not, and who I do not aspire to be, or be anything like, it is Jon Katz. I sincerely hope I am not as fat, stupid, and arrogant as he is, although I certainly realize that I harbor each of those faults to some extent. Katz is a self-appointed Border collie expert who actually doesn't know biscuits from shinola. He would never show his face at a real sheepdog trial because there'd be a serious danger that he might learn something or get punched in the nose. Or both. He has published a string of books so full of bad information about Border collies that it's hard to even know where to start criticizing the specifics of his writing. One feels like the quantum theorist Wolfgang Pauli who, upon reading a paper that was so vague and misinformed that it couldn't be supported or disproved, said: "This isn't right. This isn't even wrong!"

Being wrong is forgivable. Being not even wrong is not. Being mistaken for someone who is not even wrong -- well that just sucks.

Here's the high point of the weekend as far as trialing went. Tweed lining up his sheep for the pen on Saturday. He was one of just two or three dogs (out of 54 that ran) who had a perfect 10-point pen. Not surprising when you consider what Tweed and I do: we put sheep in pens. But these sheep were not interested in going into pens, and many dogs and handlers had their runs ended without getting the sheep in on Saturday -- the sheep would end up circling the pen until the handler's time ran out. So what does this mean? It means that Tweed can do well if we practice.

1 comment:

  1. Bill,

    I second your thoughts about how beautiful the Merck Forest Farm is. We were there 2 years ago for the trial and it was our first time in that part of the country.

    Your account of your runs sounds exactly what my were like when I used to trial. That's why I've decided the other end of the field is more fun!