The Heart of Florida Herding
What they were born to do!
When people think of Florida, grassy fields and open pastures are not what typically comes to mind. The state is perceived as either beach or swamps. The reality is the heart of the state is mostly fields and woods from midway down the state the I-4 freeway crosses east to west, and much of the state up the center to the 1-10 is another side of the "Sunshine State". With cattle and sheep ranches scattered up this spine, the need to manage these ranches and farms is often the work of the traditional sheepdogs, and very often Border Collies.
Herding Trials in Florida
The state of Florida's herding (also called "stock") trials and competitions run most of the year. With competitors from both daily working dogs to those urban dogs that come out to play in the games they were intended to. It takes time and commitment to learn this very old skill with your own dog, but once hooked, the satisfaction is only one of the rewards.
There is a true sense of peace standing in the pasture and seeing these wonderful animals at work. In the weekend three day event at the Linden Hollow farm near Orlando, the games were attended by dozens of dogs from around the US, mostly from the South-East. This is an addictive game and folks often travel hours, and even days to attend events that earn points toward the USBCHA Nationals.
The Spine and Heart
I often refer to the region of Florida in the block surrounded by I-4 in the Center-to I-10 in the North and bordered by 1-95 and I-75 on the East and West as the "spine" of the state. It is also, in many ways the heart. The "rural" dog sports and games thrive here.
From Hunting Trials and Lure Coursing to Herding. The countryside is very alien compared to the coastal and southern parts, and there are even hills in the mostly plate flat Florida.
It is something more than a geological bump. Most of these events have an intoxicating sense of ease about them here.
In part because of the lush landscapes, and these age-old dog games with man and dog in timeless moments of natural grace, but it is the people that bring it to the heart.
The Doctors Farm
Sherry Lee (DVM) owns Linden Hollow sits several miles South-East of Orlando. She calls it a farm and not a ranch as she feels its too modest at approximately seventy acres to be a "ranch". The farm sits quietly away from the nearby developments of rural sub divisions, and once you leave the paved road and travel a short distance up the path, you are quickly very far from urban America on this pretty sheep farm in the country.
In my experience, Sherry is always soft toned and easy to laugh with. She boasts no major titles and I have never heard her mention that she is also an extremely experienced Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Auburn graduate. and dog breeder. While many in various sports are eager to share their greatest achievements with me Sherry told a more typically modest story. We sat in her small ATV while dogs and sheep worked in the field ahead and as she smiled and recounted her first sheepdog trial over twenty years ago.
With one of her own Shetland Sheepdogs, she started her round by sending the eager pup "out" to fetch the distant herd. The young dog ran forward, but directly at the flock. Then it started chasing it around the field while other shepherds and spectators yelled "Get your Dog!". Sherry chuckled at the memory, and obviously a less than glorious first attempt, her telling the tale reminded me why my experience in this community that makes it special.
You can play too... maybe
The United States Border Collie Handler's Association (USBCHA) is geared preservation and growth of the Border Collie breed and has a long alliance with the American Border Collie Association (ABCA), however, that does not mean others are not welcome. USBCHA Secretary Linda De'Jonz explained that all breeds, including mixed breeds are welcome at their trials.
The is a caveat though. The USBCHA trials are designed to spotlight the Border Collies distinctive style of herding the stock by a "hard eye" at the head of the group of animals and often on very large fields and pastures. So, for many pups, this may be an unreasonable challenge. The thought of a Corgi having to run after sheep across hundreds of square acres may not be the most fun for the dog or handler.
Do not despair though, as their are options and I will continue to cover the various trials ahead. Both the American Herding Breed Assoc. (AHBA) and AKC Sports offer further options for those with all shapes and size stock dogs. (Note* See our Feature on the AHBA Trials at Black Prong Dec. 2108 or AKC Herding at Penn Y Caerau - Oct 2018)
Flexibility to accommodate special needs
I always have a concern within any competitions, to what will be okay for our owners with disabilities. Mr's De'Jonz was very happy to clarify that the USBCHA actively supports making accommodations in both training at events.
Handlers with physical disabilities may be allowed to use tools that are not normally accepted (binoculars are an example). Handlers needing these tools should notify the judge/trial host of their needs before the trial starts. The USBCHA encourages those with physical disabilities to participate in our sanctioned events and believes that trial hosts and judges should make reasonable efforts to accommodate these handlers. - ASBCHA Rules:
The Welsh are Coming!
Arwyn Davies & Gethin Jones
Stock Herding is a truly international sport, and many would agree that Europe is the genesis of our western herding breeds and form. Within Europe, there are few places with a more iconic association with herding and where it is still prolific in daily life than Wales. Obviously, N. American and Welsh teams rarely meet, but it was an exceptional honor to find two of the world's best shepherds in the judges seats this weekend. Arwyn Davies and Gethin Jones were this event special judges and finishing a whirlwind tour of events in the South-East. Both men come from families of shepherds in the North of Wales where it isn't a sport but a way of life. Jones and Davies also compete with their own dogs in Europe and internationally and with pairs of dags called "braces" which is rarely seen in the USA.
Having these men's experience on hand, raised the bar, but also offered fantastic opportunity to many of the teams to gain advice you will not find in a book anywhere. It was a rare opportunity and greatly appreciated by all who met them. Hunkered down in the wooden shed to take pictures, I learned a lot from their conversations on each dog and they were happy to answer questions, but most fun was the humorous banter that I could overhear between the two friends throughout the day.
Time and again, and from every rancher and trainer, the answer is the same. Come to a trial first. If you haven't personally spent time with herding or talking to people who do, most of what you think you know is probably wrong. Watching on TV or hearing it described here cannot compare to the experience of seeing it first hand and meeting the folks who make this sport happen. - Do Not run to go to a Herding Test - Do Not immediately search out a trainer - Definitely Do Not try to evaluate your own dog
- DO check for local events and go see for yourself. If their are breeds the same or similar to your own, then DO introduce yourself and take the opportunity to chat with a handler with that breed. - Do come out! There's nothing to be afraid of and if you are interested in a sport requiring focus, commitment, a strong bond with your pup, and massive sense of accomplishment? This is for you. Bad Azz Dogz updates Florida events for all dogs including herding weekly on our Facebook Page Events Calendar, and is a great place to find out where and when you can see for yourself. Also, the USBCHA lists events on their own page.
Those who follow Bad Azz Dogz know that every dog matters to me and helping others, and especially those with disabilities, and veteran first responders or military are a passion. With so many events and activities, networking of support and reaching out to do every day, it is during my assignments on the rural dog sports that are my own time to feel a little natural healing. Watching these dogs do what they were bred for decades to do and seeing the looks of absolute joy in the moment on their furry faces is beyond words alone. There may not be nearby dining or even bathrooms with running water. There may not even be reliable cell phone coverage. It really will not matter for the most part. A day with this very earthbound and straight forward community with their wonderful dogs will have to feeling you just took a little vacation for the soul.
Question. What is your favorite thing about herding trials?
“Watching the dogs do what they love to do ” - unanimous answer
Linden Hollow sheep farm offers training for herding.
With Sheep on site and expert on site mentoring, Linden Hollow has limited availability for those wishing to work and train their own dogs in Stock Herding.
USBCHA Herding Trials Linden Hollow Farm St. Cloud , FL
Watching these dogs do what they were bred for decades to do and seeing the looks of absolute joy in the moment on their furry faces is beyond words alone.
Sunday 24 Feb 2019
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Linden Hollow Training / Breeder
USBCHA (USBCHA) https://usbcha.com/
Other Herding or Trial Organizations
American Herding Breed Association (AHBA)
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