The signs were all there…. The ‘Bowkol’ Vallhunds and I were up against it, on that dark October evening in 2010 as we arrived at our Bed & Breakfast in the Lake District…
Firstly, the welcoming comments from the owners: ‘I thought you were going to a sheepdog Trial – but you haven’t got Sheepdogs!’ as Megan wrapped herself around their legs and Loki barked in protest. Then, over breakfast, I was presented with a copy of the Westmoreland Press, in which ‘spot the ball’ has been replaced by a ‘spot the Sheepdog’ competition on a photo of a dozen sheep on the moors!! We had entered serious Border Collie Country where no sensible Vallhund [or their owner] should dare to tread…..
But to date things had been progressing really well with our sheep herding training. Since January 2010 I had access to twenty-five sheep at an Agricultural College several times a week, plus monthly sessions with my Trainer, Jackie Goulder in North Yorkshire. Loki [Starvon off the Cuff for Bowkol] & Megan [Castleavery Gold Gaiety for Bowkol] were doing big wide outruns to gather the sheep to me, good circles of ‘bye’ and ‘away’, with a steady ‘follor on’. They no longer barked except where necessary, and had a mean ‘stop’ and ‘that’ll do’ to come off stock. Loki had even managed a ‘shed’ where he separates one sheep from the flock.
Jackie suggested we enter a ‘Beginner Handlers’ Trial organised by the ISDS. She spoke to the people involved to investigate the ‘set up’ and was assured of some very ‘dog broke’ sheep in a small enclosure, with a test of showing that your dog could circle either way and bring the sheep to you. I have to say here that it was never our intention to ‘compete’ or ‘take on’ the BC’s!
Loki & Megan are definitely NOT pretending to be BCs – I am very proud that they are Vallhunds who bring to herding their own particular characteristics.
On the day of the Trial, the organisers were very friendly, but the set up TOTALLY different to what we had expected! Firstly a HUGE field, big enough [to quote Jackie] to include scenery! Four ‘sort of dog broke’ sheep for each dog were to be ‘ejected’ from the adjacent field of sheep via a gate, there was a central circle laid out by ‘cones’ in which the sheep were to be worked. To compensate for the enormous field they had laid on two men with large stock sticks & two BCs allegedly to keep the sheep in the circle.
Oh & it was raining as if buckets of water were being emptied on our heads……
Friend Sue and Tali the BC decided not to compete….But – heh! – the Valls & I had travelled all that way, and nothing ventured etc etc…!
It soon became apparent that the sheep had only one thing on their minds – to sprint as hard as they could back to the gate to rejoin their buddies! The valls were both distracted by the men with sticks & BCs, but they did their very best to do outruns to get the other side of the sheep. In the end they were ‘gallantly overwhelmed by the speed of the very lively Swaledales’ to quote Jackie again. I have to say several of the BCs struggled to get near them also. But one woman did comment ‘Oh I’ve not seen one of those worked before!’ looking down at Megan. It was indeed the first time that a couple of Swedish Vallhunds ‘stepped up to the post’ at a Sheepdog Trial in the UK.
We returned to Nottingham soaking wet, tired and a little disheartened that the Valls had not been able to do themselves justice.
A couple of days later we returned to our ‘farm’ set up at the Agricultural College. The sun shone brightly and autumn leaves were blowing from the trees.
Four steers inhabited the same field as the sheep, and as usual I let Loki move them on, to separate them from the sheep [who try to hide behind them!] That day he learnt an ancestral Vallhund lesson: get too close to rear hooves and you get kicked! Luckily only a glancing blow but one which clearly hurt…But Loki merely stopped, shook himself off, and returned to driving the cattle on….
I sent him to gather the sheep - he sprinted off on the widest of outruns to bring them to me, ecstatic to be doing what he knows he is good at. Megan on her turn, bright eyed & bushy tailed, rushed to my feet on ‘that’ll do’ to sit with her head bowed like – ‘I know I did good – can we do it again...PLEASE!!’
So that’s why we are still hungry for more herding! Loki & Megan have come a long way in the last 16 months, to become what I think of as ‘useful farmer’s companions’.
I’m not sure how many BCs would pick themselves up after a kick from a steer & volunteer to carry on driving……
But that’s a Swedish Vallhund for you!
Visit Jackie Goulders Website : www.spanglefish.com/BeardedcolliesForShepherding