The annual Taranaki Indoor Sheep Dog Trial Championship continues to attract competitors and benefit the wider community. This year, the competition at the TSB Indoor Arena at Hawera attracted more than 100 competitors, 220 sheep dogs and interest from TV.
Competition entry secretary Brenda O’Leary says reporter Michael Holland from Seven Sharp featured a story on former club president Graeme Northcott and his 14-year-old dog, Dick, who was having his final run. “It was a four-minute stint and it was very good they came,” Brenda says of the TVNZ crew. The event, which ran from July 6 to 8, was also filmed by Sky’s Country TV.
Brenda says sheep dog trialling is a growing sport. “When we had our first trial there, we had 160 dogs. We have had up to 240 dogs but have to limit our events because we can’t have a lot of sheep there.” That’s to do with the grazable land available at the showgrounds, not the room inside the huge indoor arena, which is primarily a dressage venue.
“There are quite a few new people coming into dog trials, including people living in town. I know a guy who came off the oil rigs and then got into dogs when he brought land at Tarata and got friendly with noted Taranaki trialist Lewis McCracken.” The oil worker has now been in 30 New Zealand trial run-offs.
Dogs raised in urban areas and trained just for the trials, often do well because they haven’t learnt the habits of a working farm dog.
She encourages people to consider sheep dog trials. “You might decide your dog needs to develop its inherent instincts and learn to herd sheep,” Brenda says. “Sheep dog trialling is not terribly expensive, but it does help if one has some natural stock sense or has the ability to learn fairly quickly.”
The sport also requires some travelling to compete in trials and, most importantly, newbies need to get advice or even training from known dog people. “It’s not easy but very rewarding to be able to work stock in the correct manner with a properly broken in sheep dog – a huntaway or heading.”
Most of the competitors are men, but more women are entering. Sometimes there were up to 20 female entries. “One year we had 16 ladies and they had 45 dogs between them.” Brenda herself has three mature dogs and one young one. She enters the hill and show trials and is a judge. “I started running dogs about 1988; I was brought up on sheep stations. I had a dog at 16 and now I’m 67.
“It is poetry in motion when a man or woman, dog and sheep are in sync. Like me, I know all trialists aim towards the day when they can show their dogs off at their very best. When you nail it, the feeling is hard to describe, but it’s what keeps us going back.”
Winner of this year’s contest was Gisborne’s Ron Mead with his dog Lad on 99 points. Just one point behind was last year’s winner, Anna Hardwick-Smith and dog Rip, from Eltham. Club president Ian Smith and his dog Villi, from Waverley, were 5th with 94 points.
A $400 grant from the TSB Community Trust helped cover the judge’s fees. One judge spends long days scrutinising each event in the competition, which involves entrants and their dogs herding three sheep through several obstacles in 10 minutes.