August 11, 2007

More shedding

Alasdair MacRae and Star in the International shed at the Bluegrass, 2005. Photo by Denise Wall: used with permission. [Click on the photo for a larger view.]

What is a shed, exactly? Well, in the photo above, Alasdair MacRae's Star is shedding off five marked [collared] sheep from fifteen unmarked ones: an International shed. When the shed is finished, the five collared sheep will be penned.

When you shed sheep you are using the dog to hold the sheep you want while the other sheep, one or two or more at a time, are compelled to move away. The dog must do the work, and an International shed is impressive work indeed: a mix of physicality and force of will, extraordinary discipline and hair-trigger initiative, and near-telepathic communication between dog and handler. And all this under pressure of the clock, and after the dog has run miles on a big course.

The International shed is named for its association with the double lift final of the International Sheep Dog Championship in the UK. Double lift trials with their International sheds are rare, and not often seen outside large, well-known trials and regional and national finals. You'll see double lift finals and International sheds at Meeker and Soldier Hollow in a few weeks. Regular, everyday sheds, though, are part of all Open runs.

In Denise Wall's photo in the previous post of Amanda Milliken and Bart, the sheep isn't marked with a collar. The photo was taken during the preliminary rounds at Meeker --- at a Open trial, in other words, not a double lift with 20 sheep. Five sheep are worked in a typical Open run. At the handler's meeting the judge will explain how he or she would like the shed to be accomplished. It varies from trial to trial and from trial flock to trial flock: from "take any two" to quite precise descriptions of the handler's role and how the stock should be managed. After the shed the sheep are regrouped and penned.

An Open trial may include a single. After the sheep have been penned and released, the dog returns the sheep to the shedding ring, then sheds off one sheep and holds it -- controls it -- to the judge's satisfaction. The dog sometimes looks like a cutting horse trying to prevent a cow from returning to the herd. Since the sheep is too quick for the handler to give flanking commands ("Come bye!" "Away!"), the dog works entirely on his own. A grip [bite] is an automatic disqualification.

In a future post I'll share some good photos of dogs during Open and International sheds, some talk of memorable sheds [good and bad], and information on shedding clinics with great handlers like Alasdair MacRae --- who is shown above making an International shed look easy with Star.

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