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  • dave44054

National Kelpie Field Trial.

I was asked, by Angie White, to write my thoughts as a foreigner attending the National Kelpie Field Trial. My understanding is each of the seven states takes a turn hosting. This years trial was held in Western Australia.


It was a thrill for me to be able to see a different part of Australia while at the same time getting to see Working Kelpies trialing. I was excited to be able to put faces to names we hear thrown around when discussions of Kelpies, Kelpie studs, and pedigrees are had. I was also very pleased to be able to see dogs from studs that we don't really hear about because they have not focused on exporting to the Americas.


The National Kelpie Field Trial is a utility trial. A utility trial has element of yard work as well as out work. The owner of the facility, Gordon, said the cast (outrun to us) was about 190 meters or about 209 yards. The cast was the first part of the trial and, like here, this was followed by a straight draw (fetch) but to a handler ring rather than a post. One cross was allowed on the cast but a second cross was a DQ. Once the sheep entered the ring the handler could proceed to walk a line with the dog holding the sheep within 10 meters to the left of the walking handler. The handler was not allowed to change their pace once they set out walking until they got to the gate to put the sheep into a pen on the side of the yards. I should have written this when it was fresher in my mind because at this point there was some fancy rule to keep the handler from being able to assist too much with this pen (something about keeping a knee on the gate).



Once the sheep were penned the handler brought their dog to a gate and waited to enter the yard once the crew had turned out 15 sheep. One of the big rules that would have been easy to foul here is the cross. The dog could not even enter this gate stepping between handler and sheep. The dogs were allowed to cross in the race and in the sort but not again in the bigger yard. It was interesting to watch the strategies the handlers used getting their dogs into the tub leading to the race when they were not sure if this was a place the dogs could cross.



When the dog and handler were in the yards they gathered the sheep to a gate to a squeeze tub leading to the race (chute). The handler was to stand at the gate once they set it how they wanted and could only assist the dog with voice commands. They could not change the gate, position at the gate, or shepherd the sheep to help the dog.


When the sheep were in the tub the handler closed the gate then had to stand there waiting until the dog got between the sheep and the race gate. The handler then was able to go set the race gate, take a step back and set the dog to work filling the race by flanking, backing etc.. The handler again was not able to move to help the dog until the race was filled and the dog had room to enter the back of the race, clear of the gate so the handler could close the race with dog and sheep inside.



Walking to the front of the race the handler could open the front gate if they had room. If they didn't have room to open the gate, the dog had to come up and make room for the gate to be opened. With the gate open the handler was to take a step back and not move while the dog emptied the race into another tub.




This tub led to the sort. The dog, again, had to go up and clear the gate into the sorting race before the handler could leave the last gate they had just close (front race gate). At this gate the handler had to figure out a strategy for how full they were going to fill the sorting race to enable a smooth flow once they started the sort (a sheep delay when they opened the sort gate would start the judge taking points as well as breaks in the flow of movement). They were to sort the first two and the last three into the main yard. The middle ten were into another pen off the end of the sorting race, a two way sort.




The sheep were then combined in the yard and moved towards the let out gate. At this point a single cross of the dog between handler and sheep could again result in a DQ. I watched a handler stop their dog when it had cleared the let out gate, then they walked along the wall of the yards; walking behind the dog as they went to the gate resulting in a DQ for crossing. A sad moment for sure, who would have thought a cross was as simple as stepping behind the dog rather than in front of.



With the sheep put back in the pens the handler and dog then went to get the three sheep they had penned earlier so they could finish the out work. Taking these sheep out, careful not to cross, they proceeded to walk a line (same rules sheep within 10 meters this time to the right of the handler and handler not changing pace once pace was set) fetching the sheep to a small wall of panels with an opening in the middle large enough for the three sheep to enter at once. They could not start this obstacle until the handler was in a ring holding onto a post. They were warned to be careful to not influence the sheep to enter the obstacle, it had to be done with the dog only. The warning even went so far as to say if they had to shoo flies from their face to do it only while the sheep were looking away.



When all three sheep were through the obstacle the handler had another walk on the line with sheep within10 meters of their right side to the next obstacle. This obstacle was a Tawonga trap; a series of panel on either side of a short closed alley. The handler was to stand in a ring again holding a post while the dog put the sheep into the trap. When the sheep were in the trap the dog was to hold them in while the handler went to the gate to let them out, hopefully without pushing them back on top of the dog out of the trap. The dog brought the sheep through the trap and covered them, again without crossing between handler and sheep.




With the sheep out of the trap the handler was to close the gate walk back to the ring and post before proceeding to walk another line, with sheep within 10 meters of their right side, to a pen. This pen was open and had a ring with a post for the handler to stand at and hold on while the dog penned the sheep. When the sheep were penned the handler could leave the post and ring while the dog held the sheep in till the gate was closed. Time ended at this point.



They were given 16 minutes to finish the course. All the elements had to be fully accomplished, no nearly and moving on.


So what does this fellow from the Americas think about the National Kelpie Field Trial?


  • There is so much to learn about different approaches to handling dogs and livestock with so much overlap even in the differences. I enjoyed getting to talk to people from all over the country and hear different ideas of getting the tasks done and hear a little of how they do things.

  • I went hoping to find a very specific type of dog. I did not find it but saw lots of good parts; dogs and handlers that I want to watch more.

  • It was great to see old friends and meet new ones.

  • The flies in Western Australia are terrible. I was told they weren't even bad during the trial, What?

  • There were way too many rules that are different than ours for me to remember them all. On top of new rules for me, apparently the rules are not the same in every state. I watched the office crew trying to make sense of the rules that had to be followed from WA as well as rules that were required by the WKC. Also got to see rules that were made with certain competitors in mind.

  • I do not understand the reason for the bibs but they had to wear them for sure in the final round. The numbers did not seem to have any connection to the handler, they were drawn out of a box during the handlers meeting.

  • I was interested to see in the out work they blocked and allowed the sheep to choose the obstacle rather than pushing them through it. I rarely saw a handler ask their dog forward outside of the yards. Timing and placement was much different than I'm use to.

  • The set-out system was fascinating. They were turned out from a race and guided using ribbons on a line.

  • I really liked the attitude of most of the competitors. They were there to compete but did not let the competition get in the way of enjoying each other and feeling joy in the success of others.

  • Barbara, 99 years old and still attended the National Kelpie Field Trial as a representative of the WKC. Traveled with family from the other side of the country.

  • The fact that each part of the course had a point value (I believe outwork was worth 70 and the yards were 30) you could be pointed beyond what was available. There were people that had zero points left by the time they were in the yards. I have never been to a trial that you could simply point out. Judges started pointing at the send and kept the clicker clicking till there were no points left or the course was finished, Amazing.

  • Was it worth going to? Absolutely!

  • My only regret is I wish I had a dog there to compete with!



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