Monday, August 20, 2007

Sheep Dogs and Draft Horses

Yesterday Connie and I went to some sheep dog trials at the Colorado Horse Park, a large, beautifully maintained, multi-purpose facility that is just under two miles from our house. Though we've owned herding dogs for years and seen these sorts of events on television, it was our first time to see one in person.

Sheep dog trials I've seen on television are apparently championship events. This was just a local trial and the quality of the dogs and trainers was all over the place. This female border collie, Patty, and her trainer did a pretty good job. Above you see them in front of the judges' stand waiting for the sheep to be released.

Here she is pushing them over to run through a gate.

Patty has gotten the sheep through the gate and is now pressing them in toward the pen.

With the sheep in the pen and her job done, Patty lies down so the sheep don't spook and run out.

Just for the heck of it we brought Sadie along to see what her reaction would be to the whole spectacle. She isn't always the best behaved in strange situations but was a good girl yesterday. She got along well with the working dogs and then we took her around to get a look at the sheep. Sadie was entranced and I took this picture just after she tried to slide her way under the fence to get closer. I don't know if this conveys the quivering intensity of her attention to the sheep. She doesn't come from working stock, but it was great to see the strength of the breed in her.

Elsewhere at the Horse Park we caught just the tail end of a draft horse show. Here teams pulled a loaded sledge over a course in a timed event.

I learned that draft horse shows include events where people ride draft horse breeds.

Finally we got to see some well-trained and gorgeously groomed animals pulling smart carts like this one.

And this one. I learned one other thing while walking through the parking lot to get to our car. Horses of this size require large over-size horse trailers to haul them around.


RICHARD said...

Talking of sheepdog trials here is an obituary of Phil Drabble, by Dennis Barker (Thursday August 2, 2007, The Guardian) the original sheepdog enthusiast.

A devoted countryman and militant naturalist, he presented BBC's One Man and His Dog

Just after Phil Drabble started his 90-acre nature reserve, hunting hounds invaded it and began scattering the deer. When Drabble asked the huntsman to remove them, he was told that the hounds had followed their fox into the reserve, as they were legally entitled to do. After some discussion Drabble went back to his house to fetch his rifle. In full view of the hunt, he pushed in a cartridge. "Now are you going to take them out?" he inquired. They were taken out. Somehow, after subsequent frank conversations with the hunt, he found himself invited to its supporters' dinner.

In short, Phil Drabble, who has died aged 93, was a shrewdly militant naturalist who loved the countryside long before BBC2 made him the "star" of One Man and His Dog, in which he succeeded in drawing a television audience of six million for a series of sheepdog trials. He was distinctly not a man to cross, neither before nor after he learned how publicity could help fight his battles against what he called "green welly wallies", "smart-arsed industrial consultants who are the parasites of a get-rich-quick society", "agri-chemical fat cats", "parish pump politicians" and "petty bureaucrats", who all in their way - in his view - spoiled the purity of the countryside to which all decent Englishmen aspired.

Though he commanded only 90 acres in the grim, industrial Black Country, Drabble's influence was immense and his practical experience of commerce, conservation, agriculture, landscaping and the media made him unique.

To the British, Drabble was certainly more than a naturalist. He was a talisman of how weekending countrymen would like to see themselves. Drabble himself had became a permanent countryman at the age of 47, when he threw up a directorship of an engineering company to live by his writing and broadcasting and for his Goat Lodge nature reserve at the back of his Rugeley home.

He was born in the Staffordshire village of Bloxwich, where his father was a GP. As a child, Phil would go out exploring the butterflies, newts, goldfinches and linnets in the acres of wasteland. An old man told him how to make plants grow by watering them with a pregnant girl's urine. It was not a conventional education; he was miserable at school and escaped on lone nature treks, but had an understanding headmaster who treated his unusual behaviour with a serious respect. His mother died when he was nine, and he was bullied at school.

He went to Keble College, Oxford, to study medicine, but jibbed at cutting up human corpses. He instead transferred to a London polytechnic to study engineering. After graduation his father wangled him a job at a local engineering firm and then he moved to Salters, where he stayed for 23 years, ending up on the board and controlling 1,800 men.

While still at the factory, he wrote his first article for the Field. It was rejected by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald, then editor, but he suggested Drabble try a subject he knew more about. Drabble wrote a piece on Staffordshire bull terriers, which the Field published in 1941. He continued to write for the magazine until 1989, and when Vesey-Fitzgerald moved to the publisher Robert Hale, Drabble was asked to write a county guide, Staffordshire (1948), followed by Black Country (1952). He wrote more than 20 books.

It was Vesey-Fitzgerald who suggested broadcasting. In 1947 Drabble made his first radio programme about the Black Country's Bull Rings for BBC Midland region and contributed to the rural programme Countrylover before presenting its successors, Countryside and In the Country, for the next 13 years.

From 1952 he began to make television appearances, and by 1961 his writing and broadcasting were taking up so much time that he left Salters and the following year bought a cottage and 90 acres of land on the edge of the Staffordshire village of Abbots Bromley, which was home to herons, hawks, owls and deer.

Drabble's policy was to construct and maintain a protected environment so that his wildlife would thrive, breed and overflow into and stock the surrounding countryside. Together with his wife, Jess, he tried to make Goat Lodge self-financing. Six years after buying it, Drabble won a Countryside Commission award for projects which had "produced some physical improvement to the countryside of England or increased the awareness and understanding of the countryside".

Then in 1976 came One Man and His Dog, which brought him national fame. He continued to present the show until he was nearly 80, when in 1993 he handed over to Robin Page. That same year he was awarded an OBE.

He wrote about the philosophy behind his nature reserve in the books My Beloved Wilderness (1971), Design for a Wilderness (1973), and My Wilderness in Bloom (1986). Then "the men in Mercs" arrived. CenterParcs planned to set up a £75m leisure complex adjacent to his peaceful reserve. Well-wishers told him he had no chance of winning against £75m - the district council backed the scheme although the parish council was against. Drabble suspected backhanders. He was now in his mid-70s. Jess worried, but Drabble reacted as he would have done as a young man.

Drabble dismissed "consultancy" offers presumed to be from rival developers - one worth £100,000 - and stuck to his guns. The Forestry Commission was stiffened in its reluctance to sell its lease of the land that would have been used for the leisure centre. CenterParcs wisely backed off. In 1993, a year after getting the Forestry Authority's centres of excellence award, he formed a trust to control his undisturbed reserve, supervising a management committee composed of powerful conservationist organisations. He had effectively won indefinitely the battle for the birds against the massed balance sheets. Bernard Shaw (who Drabble once spotted at the Authors' Club) might well have described Drabble as "not a reasonable man - a fanatic with a sense of humour."

Drabble continued as a terse and opinionated author and journalist well into his 70s. In 1985 he wrote What Price the Countryside, in which he argued that the Ministry of Agriculture had caused more havoc to wildlife and the countryside than any other government department, egged on by wealthy farmers and other large financial interests.

Despite this, a respectable number of MPs attended a House of Commons reception on the publication of his 1991 autobiography A Voice in the Wilderness, proving that although a maverick, the self-deprecating but tenacious professional countryman, who was proud that he had never lived more than 20 miles from his place of birth, did not lack friends. Jess predeceased him.

· Phil Drabble, naturalist, polemicist and broadcaster, born May 14 1914, died July 29 2007

Steve Bodio said...

Richard, thanks-- I'll look for a link(or send one). I have several Drabble books and thought he was a delightful writer as well as a true countryman and conservationist.

Heidi the Hick said...

I love this post!

Were those Gypsy Vanners, the black and white drafts?

Reid Farmer said...

Thought you might like this one, Heidi!

I'll check with Connie on the Gypsy Vanners. I know they had classes for them and there were Gypsy wagons around the stables. I wish I could have gotten closer to the drive teams for decent pix. There was a pair of Belgians that were big as houses

Connie Farmer said...

The black and whites are the Gypsy drafts. I didn't know they showed them under saddle either.

Anonymous said...

I have to add a book recommendation to this wonderful mix, the book Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men by Donald McCaig. I also am an owner of a Mortiz mini long bitch,,best years of my hunting days,,with those dogs,,Maggie

Steve Bodio said...

A great book. I have had some correspondence with McCaig and he has had some generous things to say about my books.