My Road to an HT Title

It all started one wintery Sunday afternoon. Having no plans, we decided to visit Tracy who sent a note informing us she just moved to a new farm and had some open training time. Our one year old Beardie girl, Karma, had only seen sheep once before, when she earned her HIC at Beardie Camp. Just a few minutes into her first session, the herding instinct kicked in and she seemed to know what to do. However, she was having so much fun that she refused to stop working. More on that later.

I was hooked and thought, this will be easy! It's fun for her and me, in addition to getting us out of the house on those boring winter days. The next several months we trained in snow storms, mud, and freezing temperatures. Tracy always kept it fun for the both of us. Even falling in the mud and sheep poop made us laugh, and Cathy has the photos to prove it!

In the spring, The Second Chance Ranch was hosting a weekend seminar with herding clinician, Simon Leaning. Since I was now a herding junkie, I signed us up. Several weeks before the seminar, I was at the farm for a session and Karma was having her usual fun and refused to stop. After ten minutes of playing the "try and catch me" game, Tracy pulled me aside and whispered, "You know Simon hates when dogs don't stop when commanded". Taking the hint, I now had thirty days to get her to stop and come to me on command. Every night for the next month we worked on a stop and come.

After we finished our usual training session in the pen, Tracy told me to take her in the large field with three sheep and just practice my stop and come. It was frustrating when she wouldn't stop, and I would lose my patience. I was beginning to think she would never get it. Tracy looked at me and said "You need to get into her head. Act like you mean it!" Between the home sessions and the time after class, Karma finally had a come and stop. My persistence had paid off.

Now I was ready for the seminar and all went well until the last day. We were the first to practice an outrun with sheep at the top of the hill in a small pen. Karma ran to the top of the hill, decided the sheep were okay and couldn't get loose, so decided it was time to party! After fifteen minutes of playing the "try and catch me" game, I was finally able to get her to stop. Thank goodness for that long Beardie hair.

The remainder of the spring and summer we would go once or twice a month to work sheep. The mistakes were mostly my fault and they helped me learn how to read the sheep and my dog. I learned how to anticipate what was going to happen before it did. During every session it seemed like I learned something new, either in my session or by watching the sessions after mine.

It was the week before the National and I was at my cramming session. When it was done, Tracy told me to have fun and remember — that little Beardie girl knows what to do, just help her out if she gets in trouble. We arrived at the herding trial, and it was muddy and raining. It didn't matter to either of us, since we had trained in rainstorms, snowstorms and mud. Tracy always told me that class is never cancelled since a Sheppard and his dog need to work in all kind of weather. My wife, who shows in many performance events, had also given me a great piece of advice. She told me to walk through what you want to do in your head before you actually enter the ring. I used that advice and repeated my plan in my head and felt calm and ready. I also took time and explained it to my little girl outside the pen so we were both on the same page. It was more for me, but she almost looked like she understood and was ready to go.

The "talk" before the trial.

I felt calm and prepared for the morning trial. All went well; we completed the tasks without any issues and she stopped on command. As we walked out, my little Beardie kept looking back as if to say, "That's all?" I was ecstatic; we qualified and earned our first HT leg. Now we were ready for the afternoon trial. The PM trial went the same as the morning, no issues, just fun and a second leg giving us our HT title. We had a great time and all of the people at the trial were supportive and friendly, which added to the enjoyment.

Good thing we trained in the rain!

It gives you such a sense of accomplishment to put a title on a dog, and this was my first! The bond we have developed through our training means more to me than any rosette!

Now, I'm dreaming about our PT Title!

Jack Szalka and Karma aka After Dark Instant Karma HT