A handler (or shepherd) calls for her dog during a previous edition of the Metchosin Sheepdog Trial. After a multi-year break, the event is returning to Metchosin this weekend, with top dogs and handlers from across the west coast of North America competing on the West Shore. 
(Contributed/Brian Domney)

A handler (or shepherd) calls for her dog during a previous edition of the Metchosin Sheepdog Trial. After a multi-year break, the event is returning to Metchosin this weekend, with top dogs and handlers from across the west coast of North America competing on the West Shore. (Contributed/Brian Domney)

Sheepdog Trials return to Metchosin

The popular event returns to the district this weekend after six years

When the Metchosin Community Association initially declared its interest in bringing sheepdog trials to the municipality, the idea was met with excitement, but sketpicism that the idea could come to fruition.

Now that the return of the popular community event is less than a week away, MCA president Johnny Carline says the skepticism is gone.

“More and more people are seeing the poster and getting excited about it,” Carline said. “[I] just heard someone in the coffee shop ask, “Are you going to the Sheepdog Trial next week?’. So we’re really, really excited about it.”

The trials ran successfully for two decades before halting six years ago when the event’s organizer moved away and no one was in a position to keep it going. This year, the MCA will organize the logistics for the two-day event, including concessions, a silent auction and raffle, while a Central Saanich group will handle the competition.

And the trials should make for some unique viewing opportunities for spectators, Carline explained.

At the start of each run, a handler (also known as a shepherd) will stand by the grandstand with their bordie collie. Half a kilometre away, two ewes and two lambs will be placed in the pasture.

At the judge’s signal, the shepherd will send its dog out on what Carline calls a “low, curving run” towards the grazing sheep.

“The sheep must basically not even know that [the dog] is there,” he noted.

The dog is then tasked with driving the sheep towards its handler without scaring them, all the while navigating a couple of gates and keeping them in a straight and steady line.

The dog will then bring them around another series of gates before moving them into a pen.

A bonus task, where a dog must split one sheep from the rest of the herd, presents even more of a challenge.

“That is unbelievably difficult because sheep just do not like to leave each other,” Carline said.

The bordie collies will be judged on a variety of criteria throughout the roughly 10-minute run. Each handler and dog will get two runs, one on each day of the two-day competition.

The event – which features top dogs from B.C., Washington and Oregon – promises to provide plenty of entertainment, even for those who aren’t familiar with sheep dog trials.

And if you’d like to learn more in advance of the weekend trials, a pair of presentations will take place at Metchosin’s Municipal Hall on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Metchosinite John Buchanan, who owns over 1,000 sheep, will discuss the history of sheep in the district and Julie Carter will talk about the trial itself and how dogs are trained. A wool spinning demonstration will also take place at the trials, which run at the corner of William Head Road and Swanwick Road from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 5 and 6.

Admission is by donation.

joel.tansey@goldstreamgazette.com

Twitter: @joelgazette

Metchosin