Dogs performed some good pulls with clean lines, despite some nervous lambs at the Molesworth Club sheep dog trials in Kaiwaka in April.
It was one of the last trials in the Northland region before the National Championships in Kaikohe at the end of this month, providing a last chance for competitors to qualify their dogs.
Around 160 dogs were run across the four categories during the two-day event.
An accomplished handler Murray Child, from Maungakaramea, unsurprisingly had a good showing with his dogs, taking first in the short head and straight hunt categories, as well as second and third in the zig zag hunt.
His brother, Neville Child, also took fourth in the long head category.
Molesworth’s own top contender, president Scott McRae, is running four dogs this season, three of which qualified for the nationals with 11 wins between them.
His top dog, Toby, was in fine condition on the day taking first in the zig zag huntaway category and second in the straight huntaway.
“Last year, Toby fought with another dog and twisted his bowel, but the vet operated on him and within 13 days he was still able to place third in the nationals,” McRae said.
“We are hoping to pick it up even further since the nationals are just over in Ohaewai, near Kaikohe, this year.”
Last year, McRae and the Child brothers performed so well that they claimed the Cyril Perry Shield for Northland for the first time in the sport’s long history.
The prize is awarded to the region with the most points at the end of the nationals.
The shield now sits in the Molesworth ‘clubhouse’ shed in the middle of a remote paddock on Oneriri Road in Kaiwaka. McRae says that sheep dog trialling is a dying art with a dwindling number of competitors, as sheep farming becomes less common.
“There are much fewer competitors in Northland compared to Gisborne and Taranaki, where the standard is excellent, but the province does still have 13 clubs, which is impressive,” he says.
Declining numbers haven’t stopped shepherd Alayna Exlee, 26, from running sheep dogs for a year-and-a-half with the Molesworth club.
She has an intermediate level dog, as well as a dog that performed its maiden run on the day.
“It’s a great way to socialise because you can go up to anyone and say ‘gidday’ and find out about how their dogs have been bred. The experienced farmers come and give you a hand and help you figure out how to do better,” she says.
Alayna’s goal is to keep trialling her dogs to gain enough experience to one day compete at the nationals.
A sheep dog run is scored out of 100, with points awarded for smooth continuity of movement, how closely the sheep move together as a group and how well they stick to the course.
Winning first place gains a dog five points in the overall competition, while four points are awarded for second, three points for third and so on. A dog has to win six points in regional trials before it can qualify for the national championship.