Sheep, collies have return engagement at Strang Ranch | PostIndependent.com

Sheep, collies have return engagement at Strang Ranch

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
The stars of the show go nearly nose to nose at a prior sheepdog trial at Strang Ranch. A trial will be run Thursday through Monday to prepare and raise funds for national finals in September.
Kerri Back |

Strang Ranch in Missouri Heights is going to the dogs again — the sheepdogs that is.

Bridget Strang and her mother, Kit Strang, are hosting a sheepdog trial Thursday through Monday as a fundraiser and prep run for the 2016 National Sheepdog Finals that will be held at the ranch Sept. 13-18.

There will be no prize money awarded in this week’s event but the entry fees help raise funds to host the finals, Bridget Strang said. The event also gives handlers an opportunity to run the fields that will be used for the big event.

Plus, Strang said, sheepdog trials are just plain fun.

“Dogs and sheep like it,” she said.

She expects about 70 handlers to show up for this week’s warm-up event with about 120 dogs.

“I will have four open trials — any dog, any handler,” she said. That means the event will run about 55 dogs per day. There will be a final competition for the top performers on Monday. There will also be events in the nursery category for young dogs and the open ranch category, for inexperienced dogs, handlers or both.

The sheepdog trials are free and open to the public — as long as they leave their own dogs at home. Strang said people should feel free to show up with a lawn chair, a hat and either sunscreen or rain gears, as conditions dictate. Trials will start shortly after 7 a.m. and go to late afternoon. Visitors are welcome for any part of the competitions.

“It’s a really cool spot right in their backyard,” Strang said.

Watching the handlers and dogs work together to herd their sheep is fascinating, and the handlers are generally very approachable to discuss their strategy, when they aren’t competing.

Strang has rented 290 sheep from outside of New Castle for the event. They spend summers in high-elevation ranges so they are used to sticking together in large numbers for protection from coyotes. It’s foreign for them to be separated into small groups, so they might be a bit stubborn with the dogs, Strang said. The sheep “have a little bit of fight in them,” she said.

The dogs and handlers accept the challenge. “They like the challenge because this is the kind of sheep we’ll have at the finals,” Strang said.

Strang Ranch first hosted the U.S. Border Collie Handlers Association National Sheepdog Finals in 2011, then again in 2014. After this year, Bridge anticipates the event will be back every third year.

Bridget plans to run a few of her own dogs in the trials. She’s got her experienced dog Treat, an up-and-comer Rain, and Kit’s dog Ellie. She plans to run Luke in the nursery category, if he learns his directions better this week, she said. The event is good practice for the finals.

“Basically the only way to get good at dog trialing is to dog trial,” she said. “It’s never the same game twice.”

Strang Ranch is located at 393 County Road 102. It is accessed off Catherine Store Road, which climbs Missouri Heights from the valley floor.

scondon@aspentimes.com