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Trust between dog, handler key to competition

SHERIDAN — Some say the connection between man and dog is as strong as that between fellow men and Sheridan County shows no shortage of love for “man’s best friend.”

Katie Fennema says that connection is what makes sheepdog trials so fascinating to watch.

“For the dog to trust the handler, that what he’s asking it to do is what he really needs to be doing, they have to have a really good partnership,” she said. “It’s definitely a challenge for the handlers to work together with the dog but they are truly intelligent animals.”

Fennema and her husband, Jim, will co-host the Clear Creek Sheepdog Trial on Saturday and Sunday just outside of Sheridan County near Leiter, which is between Gillette and Ucross.

A tradition dating back to 1867, Sheepdog Trials have also been called herding events or stock dog trials and have evolved over the years into a highly competitive sport.

In the trials, herding dogs — typically Border Collies — move sheep around a field, through gates, into enclosures and anywhere else their human handler directs them to go.

What began as a pastime in New Zealand is now a sanctioned competition in America under the United States Border Collie Handler’s Association, Inc.

“It’s going to be a pretty competitive event, I have a lot of strong competitors coming,” Katie Fennema said. “It’s an open trial, meaning they are the most experienced dogs and I’ve upped the ante this year by placing the sheep in a different place.”

She added that though she trains her own dogs, they will not be competing this weekend because they are “not up to snuff enough.”

In her third year organizing the event, Fennema says each trial sees quite a number of spectators.

“For anyone who enjoys being outdoors and likes animals, you will love it,” she said. “It’s a good family event and the kids generally enjoy watching what the dogs can do.”

Though family-friendly, she encourages people to leave the four-legged members of their family at home.

“They start barking and it becomes quite a distraction to the handlers and the dogs,” she said, adding that most of the commands are given by whistle blows and the competing dogs need to focus on that.

The local 4-H club “Spurs and Lace” will host a concession stand but the facilities housing the event are minimal. Attendees are encouraged to bring chairs, sunscreen, umbrellas, insect repellent and anything else they need for the day’s weather.

Though the facility does not have a physical address, Fennema said she will place plenty of red and white directional signs, likely bearing the abbreviation “CCSDT.”

Located about one-fourth of a mile southeast of Leiter off Highway 14/16, those attending should turn south on the red gravel road with the signs and the event will not be far off the highway.

The trials will begin around 7 a.m. and likely end around 3 p.m. daily.

Fennema said a variety of sponsors have donated material items for prizes and the top finishers will also be awarded cash.

For more information on the sport see www.wyomingstockdog.com or www.usbcha.com.

For more information on the event contact Fennema at rlazyfranch@rangeweb.net or 758-4555.

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