The trial went really well today.  It was super low key as only novice and pro-novice people where there, and with the rain and cold, only about 10 people stood watching most of the time.  They ran Nursery first thing so those pepole could leave, which meant N-Novice started at a reasonable time, around 9am instead of the typical 6:45.  That gave me time to find Hannah’s brain, which had been missing as of yesterday.  I took her out with a soccer ball and wento the back fields where no one could see us.  I then kicked the ball around for a while and let her blow off some steam. After that, I started doing some obedience work around the ball.  She LOVES the soccer ball more than anything except (hopefully) sheep.  So if I can get her to lie down, drop on recall, drop on send-out etc. around chasing a soccer ball, I know I have her brain. 

Good thing I did this because for the first five minutes or so, her brain was nowhere to be found!  As the first NN run was only 3 minutes long, that would have been a disaster.  But after about 20 minutes of running, playing and obedience-on-soccer ball, Hannah’s head was relatively clear.  And so we went to the post with a hope of keeping things together.

The first run was, as I said, 3 minutes long and with 6 sheep.  I sent Hannah right, which was into pressure, and she predictably came up a bit short.  I could have sent her left which would get her to go right to 12 o’clock, but when I did that at the last trial she crossed over (ie. changed which side of the course she was running on).  You lose one point every time you redirect on your outrun.  You lose 19 (out of 20) points if the dog crosses over.  As I was running to win, I hedged my bets and sent right.

The rest of the run was quite pretty and Hannah behaved herself very well.  We ran out of time at the pen, but we had only just gotten there when the timer went off.  3 minutes was not long enough to do that course.  Not a single person finished it.  But no matter, we came first and I won’t complain!

Our second run was made longer (4.5 minutes) with 4 sheep.  What a difference it made to take away 2 sheep!  They were much, much flightier, and as a result, so was Hannah.  I sent right again, and she came up short again.  Our fetch was better and we came down pretty straight, making the fetch panels.  We turned the post the wrong way (I couldn’t stop the sheep in time) and the wear was rough.  We got to the pen in plenty of time, but couldn’t get the darned sheep in.  Well, we actually did get them in nicely, but then Hannah popped them out again as I was closing the gate.  I was not impressed!  We tried, but failed, to get them in again, and eventually ran out of time.  Still, we came in first again. 

Our winnings consited of a nice t-shirt, some decent quality dog treats (ie. I will probably actually give them to my dogs) and some really cute slippers with sheep on them!  And two more ribbons for Hannah’s crate.  She now has quite a collection!  But this is the end of the line for us in Novice-novice, and probably for winning prizes and ribbons for some time!  It was time to move up to Pro-novice. 

And move on up, we did.  We were supposed to enter non-compete in the Pro-novice class, but since they changed the running order and did both NN classes first, I was able to enter competitively.  Not that it mattered to me either way because I had no expectations of placing.  All I hoped for was that Hannah could bring me the sheep from the bigger distance and that we could hold on to them on the first leg of the drive, which was right past the exhaust.  
 
In the first run, we had a 20-10 outrun and lift.  Hannah has a big, beautiful outrun and it really comes out as the distance is increased.  The fetch was kinda messy, we turned the wrong way at the post (I again couldn’t stop it) and our drive came up short of both sets of panels.  It was more like a circle that went from my feet, out to the panels and back to the pen.  So we got a score of 1 on the drive.  BUT, we kept our calm and kept our sheep.  That is more than many were able to do this morning and I was delighted.  We ran out of time at the pen, but I didn’t care.  We still had our sheep, and thus a score.  The small audience clapped and made a fuss.  They are a very encouraging group and seem happy to add new-comers to the fold.
 
For our second run, we reversed our performance.  The outrun was a disaster and we only got 5 out of 20.  But it was a test – I decided to send her the other way this time, which would make her run right past the holding pen for the flock waiting to be set.  Since I wasn’t trying to win, I figured it would be good to put some things to the test.  Like seeing if she could figure out which sheep she is to get, and also see if she would cross over (like she did earlier this summer).  I am worried that Hannah gets too big on her outruns as she goes right to the fence.  I think she could be one of those dogs who can get lost out west where they don’t have fences.  I want her to learn to stay focused on the sheep she’s to pick up. 
 
So I sent her left, and sure enough she ran along the fence and stopped at the gates holding the flock.  It was a big outrun – almost the same distance that they used for Nursery.  So she was very far away from me, and glued to the gate.  I tried a number of things to get her to come off, but she wouldn’t: flanking, look backs etc.  I was almost going to give up, but tried one last thing.  I called her back to me.  As she came off the gate and about 20 feet back to me, I laid her down and gave her a ‘look back.’  She took it, saw the sheep set for her, and went and got them.  Good girl!!!  Quite a few people complemented me on how I managed that afterwards. 
 
We then actually made the fetch panels, AND the first set of drive panels!!!!  She was driving really well and took every one of my flanks.  She did a nice cross drive but came in front of the second set of panels.  I didn’t want to screw things up so just let it be.  Better missing panels but keeping the sheep, than getting to the panels only to have the sheep gallop back to the set-out.  I am so, so, so pleased with her.  I hate when people say “if I only…”, but… if I had send her right again and received another 20-10 outrun-lift, we would have been in the top 3!
 
Not that I care, because today wasn’t about winning or even placing.  It was just about getting out there and facing my fears and giving it a try.  And you know what?  Because I didn’t have ANY expectations, I stayed so calm and relaxed that we actually ran exactly like we do at home.  And I actually looked forward to going to the post to see what we would be able to do.  That really was a first.  I really think my stress throws her off, and it certainly throws me off.  But today I had no trial nerves whatsoever.  And as a result, I really enjoyed myself.  And so did Hannah.

And best of all, we came in 8th – both times – out of about 20 dogs.  Way to go Hannah!  I really need to have more faith in my dog!

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