If you think sheepdog trials involve dogs chasing sheep around, you’d be a little right, but not entirely right. Sheepdog trials are much more involved than I ever realized and our weekend trip to Meeker, in Northwest Colorado, was an eye opening experience. I liked it so much that I’m hoping to sponsor a dog/handler team in 2018.
When I set out on this trip, I didn’t really intend to write specifically about the sheepdog trials, after all, I was there to judge and help promote the Jammin’ Lamb Festival, a lamb cook off in downtown. However, after watching the competition, I really wanted to write about it.
So what are sheepdog trials? In a nutshell, it’s a competitive sport in which herding dogs, under the command of their handler, move sheep around a large field, through fences and gates and into enclosures. The sport is mimicking the work that many of these dogs do at home on the ranch, although some of these dogs spend most of their time competing.
For a complete history of dog trails, go here.
The trials in Meeker have been occurring for 31 years, and this is a serious business with $22,500 in prize money at stake this year. The organizers hosted 130 dog/handler teams in Meeker this year and, as always, the public is welcomed to attend.
This five-day event features three days of preliminaries with a semifinal on Saturday and a final on Sunday. In addition to the trials, which start at 7 am and go all day with a break for lunch, there are lots of other things on the agenda too.
We arrived on Saturday to a sea of tents and were greeted by the smell of fair food, one of my favorite scents. For lunch, we ended up wolfing down delicious meat pies from an Aspen pastry vendor, but we could have picked from a variety of delicious foodstuff including barbequed ribs or Navajo tacos.
We made our way to a bleacher seat where we sat, alongside a couple of handlers and their dogs, and watched several teams run the course. As an aside, I loved watching the handlers interact with their dogs off the field of competition. There’s a lot of love in these partnerships.
The more we watched over the course of the day, the more we grasped the nuances of the sport. Each dog and handler seem to have a little different style; for instance, some handlers talk to their dogs a lot, while others only communicate via the whistle, and even the dogs have differing styles. During a Lie Down command some dogs actually lie down in the grass, becoming just a pair of ears above the green, but other dogs simply stop in their tracks and resemble a border collie statue with a pink, lollygagging tongue.
It’s no secret that I’m a dog person. I grew up with German Shepherds and currently own a 14 ½-year-old spoiled female GSD. I am a huge fan of working breeds because I love their intelligence. I’ve always admired border collies and would love to own one when I have enough property to let them run.
I wrote the preceding paragraph to explain that while the sheepdog trials are interesting, I think that dog people may find them more entertaining than non-dog people.
In addition to the competition, there’s other stuff on the Meeker Sheepdog Trial agenda. As I’ve already mentioned, there’s a good number of food vendors selling a variety of different menu items. There’s also a big tent where local artisans sell their wares; everything from saddles to handmade jewelry and soap.
The education tent features events like the Blanco Cellars & Little Cheese Shop from Meeker serving up free sheep cheese and many demonstrations and presentations themed around the event (think sniffer dogs and vet presentations).
If you love border collies, this is the place to come. Not only was their sheep and border collie art all over the stores in downtown Meeker, but the Sheepdog Trials features an array of vendors selling border collie merchandise including t-shirts, blankets and everything in between.
If you’ve got kids, bring them. There’s a petting zoo, and this year, they had Fly Ball demonstrations that were a hoot. Your little ones may not last all day, but I know I would have been fascinated with the Meeker Sheepdog Trials as a kid, especially as a kid that loved animals.
Once you start watching the trials, I mean, really watching, it’s addictive. You start rooting for the handlers and their dogs and sometimes it gets downright tense. We hadn’t planned to return on Sunday because we needed to get home to our old dog, but we did end up returning to the event grounds to catch one of the runs on the final day of competition. This is when the top 12 compete and the dogs have to herd 20 sheep instead of five. The final day’s course is also a bit different from the first four days.
We enjoyed the competition, the beautiful views of the surrounding countryside, the echoes of the bagpipe, the smell of fair food and fresh grass and the speed of Meeker. Time moves just a little slower here and people are just a little friendlier. The Meeker Sheepdog Trials are a great excuse to visit this little throwback town where the sheep and kids still roam free.
The Meeker Sheepdog Trials are held annually in September in Meeker, Colorado, about 3 ½ hours west of Denver. If you want to go, plan ahead because lodging in the town fills up well in advance of the event. Go to MeekerSheepdog.com to start planning your visit.
It’s Monday, and that means this week’s segment from KRFC 88.9 FM is here!
By the way, September 14-22 is KRFC’s membership drive. This is a 100% community run radio station and it takes donations to keep the doors open. There are all sorts of membership levels to choose from so become a member today and help keep shows like HeidiTown on the air!
Now on to our regular scheduled blog post.
Last week I wrote about agritourism, and on this week’s radio show I share some upcoming agritourism-related events happening around Colorado including harvest festivals and a top-notch foodie event in Denver.
Agritourism is a relatively new word, and in fact it is so new that my computer does not actually recognize it as a real word. Agritourism is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry, but what is it?
It’s where agriculture and tourism intersect. If you’ve ever visited a working farm to buy eggs or tour their vegetable patch, or if you’ve taken your children to a corn maze or on a hay ride, you’ve participated in agritourism.
Agritourism covers a broad range of activities and includes educational, cultural and culinary events. It often involves hands-on experiences.
While most people consider Colorado a ski and adventure destination, our state was built on agriculture. Today, tourism is a big piece of the state’s economy, so bringing agriculture and tourism together just makes sense.
I’ll admit, I’ve only participated a little in agritourism, although the wine country on the Western Slope is at the top of my must-do list. Colorado’s Western Slope is a mecca for agritourism, especially as Colorado’s wine grows in popularity and reputation.
Events like Tour de Vineyard, happening this weekend, are the perfect opportunity to participate in agritourism. This 25-mile bike ride travels through Colorado’s Wine Country, and is held just prior to the Colorado Mountain Winefest, featuring over 50 state wineries.
The Western Slope isn’t only a wine lovers paradise, they also grow all sorts of fruit and celebrate their harvest all summer and fall with music, dancing and of course, lots of delicious food.
For instance, the Mountain Harvest Festival, held the last weekend in September in Paonia, gives visitors the opportunity to meet local farmers. The festival’s website includes a page with links to two local farm tours you can take while attending the festival; one is a self-guided tour, while the other is a farm to farm bicycle tour.
Staying at a dude ranch also falls in the agritourism travel category and you don’t have to go to Wyoming or Montana to find one. ColoradoRanch.com has 29 ranches listed, with activities that include cattle drives to white water rafting.
There are all types of ranch stays to choose from; you can indulge in a luxury stay, or an experience where your hands may blister and your boots will surely get dirty. Personally, I think the luxury stay sounds rather nice, although I wouldn’t mind feeding some chickens or gathering eggs in the morning.
In researching agritourism, I also found this cool website called FarmStayUS.com. It lists working farms throughout the United States where you can stay and experience rural living on either a farm, ranch or vineyard.
Another interesting way to participate right now in agritourism is visiting a “U Pick Farm.” According to Colorado.com, Berry Patch Farms in Brighton has a fall crops like apples, beets, carrots, garlic, onions, squash, pumpkins and peppers. You can even meet the farm’s chickens, ducks and pigs. See Colorado.com’s list of U Pick Farms here.
So there you have it, a quick overview of agritourism and how you can participate. I hope to have some agritourism adventures of my own next summer, and you can be sure that I will share them with you here on HeidiTown.
It’s time for another dinner theater review and this time I went back to Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown, Colorado for “Oklahoma!” I’ve been going to theater since I was just a little girl, but I had never seen a production of this famous play until last week.
Today, “Oklahoma!” is considered a wholesome family musical and is often performed at high schools and even middle schools, so it’s difficult to think of it as ground breaking, but when “Oklahoma!” hit theaters in 1943, it broke the rules. First, the musical begins with just one person singing, and this was unusual. At the time, musicals always opened with a score performed by the ensemble cast. Secondly, a ballet takes place during the play, something that had never been done before.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with dinner theater… continue reading this review by clicking here.