By Bill McCaughey
For The Fort Bend Star
Ivy, a seven-year-old border collie, is staring intently at the gate about 30 yards away.
She knows that at any moment, three unattended sheep will wander into her field. Ivy does not tolerate disorder in her field, and as soon as the sheep appear, she is off at a full sprint.
As she begins herding the sheep toward a very small pen, she listens to commands from her handler, Wayne Elmore of Mertens. At least she listens most of the time. Sometimes Ivy has a better way, and in this round, Ivy pens the sheep in one minute, 49 seconds, one of the top scores of the round.
“I have had Ivy since she was six weeks old,” Elmore said. “I started training her when she was three months old but it wasn’t until she was one year old did we start serious training.”
Elmore, a 32-year veteran of sheepdog trials, uses a whistle to tell Ivy what to do.
“I have different whistles for away, come-by, fetch, lie down and look back,” Elmore said.
That is about the most whistles we work on, as Ivy has a short attention span. She will start looking for something more interesting to do than listen to my whistles.”
Ivy, despite all of her exercise, has a weight problem.
“Ivy weighs 70 pounds. Most adult border collies weigh between 40 to 50 pounds, so I have her on a diet and I try to get her a little more exercise,” Elmore said. “When we entered the field at the Fort Worth sheepdog trials last February, the crowd laughed at us because Ivy was overweight. After Ivy penned the sheep in a little over a minute, she got a standing ovation.”
Joy Hall is the course director for the trials at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The show’s sheep and goat committee provides the manpower for putting the event on.
“This trial is an open event so any type dog can enter. They only have to assure us that the dog can pen the sheep. Border collies tend to be our only entrants,” Hall said. “This year we had 59 dogs enter the trials.”
The sport began when neighboring farmers in the United Kingdom, over a pint of beer, would argue whose dog was best at herding sheep. The farmers raised sheep in a rugged country-side that was inaccessible to trucks and horses. The border collie proved to be the perfect sheep herder, and a trusty companion.
Terry Nicolau works with her dog Lucky several times a week.
“Lucky is two years old and is very calm outside the field. Once the sheep appear, Lucky acts like a puppy,” Nicolau said. “I have to really keep her focused.”
Nicolau, of Sandia, uses both a whistle and her voice to command Lucky.
“It only takes a day or two for Lucky to understand a new command,” Nicolau said. “I have to watch her very close, because Lucky is always pushing limits to see what she can get away with.”
The youngest team in the competition is 13-year old Hailey Tegeler and her 3-year-old border collie Fleet, both of Huntsville.
“A neighbor was teaching Hailey how to herd sheep and she just gave her a dog,” Sandy Tegeler, Hailey’s mother, said. “Fleet is very protective of Hailey. She doesn’t let anyone get too close to her.”
Hailey has been training Fleet for about six months.
“We work out about two times a week. I use my voice to command Fleet,” Hailey said. “So far she knows walk-up and lie down. We are both learning how to do this.”