On a crisp, cool September morning at the Strang Ranch in Missouri Heights, 500 sheep came figuratively to do battle with the 150 border collies trying to herd them. But, don’t worry, the dogs are highly trained herders, and the sheep also know the drill.
This is the setting for the 2019 National Sheep Dog Trials to be held Tuesday, Sept. 10 through Sunday, Sept. 15 at the ranch. The event is organized through the United States Border Collie Handlers’ Association. The canine participants are among the top open dog and handler teams in North America. Also taking part are Nursery dogs, those under 36 months old who have won or placed in enough trials to compete for the title of National Nursery Champion.
As Bridget Strang, daughter of Kit and the late Mike Strang, explained, “I have always loved competing in dog trials. I’ve traveled to beautiful places around the country. And I adore all of the dogs, especially my seven-year-old border collie Ben.”
“This year is the fourth time we’ve hosted the finals,” she said proudly.
Strang explained why the family wanted to bring the trials here for the first time in 2011, “With our personal mission to conserve ranch land and educate about sustainability in tandem with showcasing the Western heritage we hold so dear, it was an easy decision to bring this wonderful event back to the valley.”
The American Kennel Club describes border collies as affectionate, smart and energetic, “The almond eyes are the focus of an intelligent expression — an intense gaze, the Border’s famous ‘herding eye,’ is a breed hallmark. On the move, borders are among the canine kingdom’s most agile, balanced, and durable citizens.”
Volunteer Sharon Northrup from Crawford, calls the dogs “bilingual: they understand both whistle and voice commands.”
And the dogs have learned what to do with the water filled metal horse trough placed near the handlers’ waiting area. They jump right in, enjoying the coolness and then vigorously shaking off the water after hopping out.
The best teams compete for over $40,000.
Sheep dog trials are modeled directly after similar events in Britain, where the border collie originated. The trial course tests the ability of a dog to manage sheep or goats properly under the differing circumstances encountered every day.
Officials judge outrun, lift, fetch and drive.
Money raised benefits the non-profit National Sheep Dog Trials. Local animal shelter, Colorado Animal Rescue (C.A.R.E) receives the gate admission fees and sells branded merchandise. Vendors offer food and crafts for sale.
The Strang family has long been known as thoughtful stewards of their 460-acre ranch. A family owned and run business since 1965, it is a working sheep and cattle ranch and an equestrian center, hosting many hunter/jumper and dressage shows, clinics and daily lessons.
Recently the ranch acquired additional land for a cross country course. As the hub of the Roaring Fork Hounds Pony Club, the ranch hosts weekly riding sessions, rallies and fun days.
Parts of the ranch are in a conservation easement held by Aspen Valley Land Trust. A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and a land trust that permanently limits certain types of future development while allowing for anticipated future uses on a property. (northpointewellness.org) Land placed into a conservation easement still belongs to the landowner, and the landowner retains the rights to sell the land or pass it on to heirs.
USBCHA National Sheepdog Trials
Strang Ranch, 393 CR 102
in Missouri Heights
$40 for a carload
$15 for individual adults
$5 for kids 8-16
kids under 7 free
Thursday Sept. 12
8 a.m. – Open Preliminary runs 77-115
9 a.m. – Nursery Preliminary runs 34-68
6:30 p.m. – ABCA Annual Meeting
Friday Sept. 13
8 a.m. – Open Preliminary runs 116-150
9 a.m. – Nursery Preliminary runs 69-102
Saturday Sept. 14
Doggie Demo park open
7:30 a.m. – Open Semi- finals (top 40 dogs)
8:30 a.m. – Nursery Finals handlers meeting, followed immediately by first dog
10 a.m. -3 p.m. – Dog Demos
10 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. – Cooking demo
6 – 9 p.m. – VIP dinner – invitation only Awards and Calcutta (open but RSVP)
Sunday Sept. 15
Doggie Demo park open
7:15 a.m. – Opening Ceremonies
7:45 a.m. – Open Finals
10 a.m. – 2 p.m. – Dog Demos
11 a.m. – 2 p.m. – Cooking demos
4:30 p.m. – Awards presentation