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Star of the North Trial

Recap of the Star of the North trial

Our trialing season has come to a close with the Star of the North trial in Minnetristra Minnesota.  The drive up was beautiful with patches of trees just starting to spring into fall coloring along the interstate.  It was about 6 hours from home and at about halfway, I stopped to have lunch and take a little walk with Woody. When I pulled in, I was greeted by a sign that said “Scenic Overlook 1/2 mile up on the trail.”  The quick trip up was easy on a paved road/trail and was a perfect short jaunt to work out stiff legs.  When we got up to the top, the viewing spot opened to a vast scene of tree tops just starting to change.  Very pretty!  Here are some pictures from that stop.

 

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Woody along the walkway leading to the Scenic Viewing Point

 

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The beautiful early-fall landscape of Wisconsin

 

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Me with the vast Wisconsin woods in the background

 

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Me and Woody

 

Gale Woods Farm is the site of Star of the North Stock Dog Trial.  The description from their website is:  “Outdoor fun on a real working farm! Located on picturesque Whaletail Lake in Minnetrista, Gale Woods Farm features a unique educational opportunity where visitors of all ages gain an understanding of agriculture, food production and land stewardship. ”

With the evening temperatures in the 50’s and the day temps in the 70-80’s, I “camped” out of the back of my van.  It’s fairly comfortable with the cot I added and  using my camping propane stove to prepare food.

The handler camping area was “down the hill and around the corner” so you could either drive or walk up the hill on the winding gravel road to the handler area. Once there, the trial field opened to a stunning, wide open field with rolling landscape. The Pro-Novice course was set off to the right and was full of hills, dips, valleys and slightly out of sight spots.  The Open field had a long outrun over the hills and dales.

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The two days of the trial started with fog and cool temps. The abundant sunshine warmed the air and made perfect weather for the spectators that arrived by wagons pulled by tractors coming from the main visitor area of the farm.

This trial was a great mix of relaxed atmosphere along with handlers reviewing how their trial season had gone over the summer.  Some people had been to the finals and shared their trip, while others were busy with puppies and anxious to see how they’ll turn out. There were even a couple of handlers from out west, California and Idaho, that had made the trip to the trial. It was great getting to know them and hear about their adventures.

Woody and I ran in the Pro-Novice class which had one run on Saturday morning and the second run on Sunday.  Saturday’s run was in the cooler part of the day and Sunday was around mid-day, which was fairly warm for a fall day. While there were some really good parts to each run, neither left us with the “warm and fuzzy” feeling I was seeking at the end of a lot of training miles.

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Both Pro-Novice and Open classes had the opportunity to work on a longer outrun over the rolling terrain.  Both classes had hills to go over and around and had the opportunity to go behind a hill to lift the sheep.  The PN class had the set out on the face of a small hill.  Our fetch was down that hill, through the fetch gates and up/down a couple of smaller hills to the handler’s post.  The post was close to the fence and pen, with the turn needing to put the sheep between the post & the pen.  The drive away was back down/up/down the small hills towards the panel.  The field flattened out just before the panel and the grass was long and lush there. A nice stopping point for the sheep who wanted to graze.  Once you turned those panels it was across the lower little valley towards the cross drive panel that was set on the bottom of an incline. Then back up the hill to the pen.

My main training field at home is rather flat.  This trial field allowed us to experience pushing sheep up a hill and down an hill. There were also lambs in the group.  This grouping allowed for the lesson of how much to push or lay back on the lambs. Too much push and they were exhausted at the end of the fetch and could “fall in a hole” and quit.  Not enough push and they didn’t know what to do and would just stand and eat or think about running to the exhaust to join their relaxing buddies.

On the 6 hour drive home, I realized what a really great venue this trial was. Whatever you wanted to “work on” was available during this weekend.  All in one trial you could experience varying terrain, heavy sheep and light sheep, out of sight spots, places where the dog couldn’t hear you, spectator lined fences, lambs, ewes and long, sweeping outruns. Plus, lots of spectators including small kids, entire families, retired couples and very inquisitive people wanting to learn about these amazing working companions.

You could say “yikes, this sounds like too much” or you could say “it will be interesting to see how we handle this.”  While we didn’t have stellar runs, there were some really nice things that happened.  As I said, I had hoped that we would end the trial season on a high note and float into the fall, but that didn’t happen.  Instead, I clearly saw places where we improved and where we need work.

Heading into the fall/winter, we have a long list of things to work on, work through and work towards.  Those who have the courage to step to the post with their dog know that it can be both a humbling and exhilarating experience.

Thanks to Pearse Ward who all but single-handedly pulls this trial together.  Thanks to the judge, Kevin Fassbender from Colorado, Wendy Peters who set nearly every single run and John Wentz who supplied the sheep. A big thanks to Gale Woods Farm that invites us to their beautiful location.

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