Stock dog trails carry on tradition
BY KEVIN WOODRUFF
It’s been 31 years since Cheryl Jagger Williams held the first stock dog trials at Sheepy Hollow Farm in Hop Bottom alongside her father Walter Jagger.
Throughout the years the event has evolved and grown, and many things have changed.
And even though Walter passed away in 2008, Cheryl and her husband Dick Williams keep the event, and Walter’s spirit very much alive.
It’s no small feat for Cheryl, 64, and Dick, 66, both of Hop Bottom, to keep the event going each year.
Between training 11 border collies of their own, taking care of the sheep, planning and organizing the event and grooming the land, it’s a full time job.
The work begins
The work usually begins in March when Cheryl and Dick return from their winter home inFlorida.
The fields are mowed, the sheep and lambs are cared for and planning begins.
“It starts with spring barn cleaning,” Dick said. “And then it’s time to spread manure and lime to get the fields in good shape.”
With around 140 sheep on site, there is also plenty of work to be done to make sure they are cared for.
“The sheep have to be wormed,” Cheryl said. “And many of them have lambs, so they have to be weaned by the time the trials happen.”
So many sheep are kept on hand because more than 100 dogs are run each day during the four day Pennsylvania State Championship Stock Dog Trial (PSCSDT), sanctioned by the U.S. Border Collie Handlers Association and Northeast Border Collie Association, that runs from June 16-19.
“In each run, three sheep are used, normally two adults and one lamb,” Cheryl said. “And we don’t like to have the same sheep run more than two or three times each day.”
While caring for the sheep and land, Cheryl and Dick then have to coordinate vendors and food.
Most of the food is provided byBrooklynUniversalistChurch, which cooks three meals per day, including a chicken barbeque.
The event plays host to hundreds of people each year between dog handlers and spectators.
“We usually have 35 to 50 campers and motor homes here,” Dick said. “They park them on the farm, across the street and at our house up the road.”
In addition to the hundreds of people at the event, there will be just as many dogs, as some handlers will bring as many as 12 dogs with them.
“Each person could have a few dogs in each class,” Cheryl said. “Which means one handler would have 10 to 12 dogs with them.”
And even though Cheryl and Dick are very much a part of organizing and running the event, they still make time to compete with their own dogs.
They will each have two dogs competing in the open class this year.
The event is broken down into two major divisions, Open and Novice.
The Open Class trials, which are the premier class, are held on Saturday, June 16, and Sunday, June 17, while the Novice Class trials are held on Monday, June 18, and Tuesday, June 19.
While there are different divisions, the objective is still the same.
The handler’s objective is to get their dog to control the sheep.
Each handler and dog are judged on specific criteria, including outrun, lift, fetch, drive, pen and shed.
The dogs are given various tasks worth points, and the goal is to complete all those tasks effectively within the eight minutes allotted.
“Everything is straight lines,” Cheryl said. “And the run should simulate what you would do on a farm.”
Dick said the stock dog trials at Sheepy Hollow has become one of the premier competitions in the country, with five of the top 10 dogs in the world competing there.
“The people that compete here do it for a living,” Dick said. “They sell stud fees for their dogs and live off of prize money.”
The event also qualifies the top 20 percent in the Open Class for the National Championship, being held this year in Oregon.
The show must go on
Since Walter Jagger passed on, both Cheryl and Dick have taken it upon themselves to keep Walter’s legacy alive.
This will be the fourth trial since Walter passed on, but Cheryl said he presence is still felt each year.
“Every year he is so much a part of the competition,” Cheryl said.
Cheryl said handlers and spectators still talk about Walter as if he is still there. And in a way he is.
Walter is buried near the barn at Sheepy Hollow.
“He was such a well known figure,” Cheryl said. “He was 87 when he died and there were 350 people at his funeral. That just doesn’t happen.”
Cheryl said the event is a challenge each year, partly living up to the bar that Walter set so high, and partly the growth of the event each year.
“As we get older, everything gets more difficult to do,” Cheryl said.
She said without the help of volunteers, including family and other dog handlers, they wouldn’t be able to continue the trial.
“We couldn’t do any of this without the help of our family and friends,” Cheryl said.
In addition to family and friends, Cheryl and Dick gladly accepted Cabot Oil and Gas as the major sponsor for second year.
Each year Cheryl and Dick wonder if they’ll keep the trial going the next year.
According to Dick, the answer changes depending on when you ask.
But one thing is for certain, the two enjoy the time they spend on the farm with friends each year.
“The handlers are the most wonderful people on earth,” Cheryl said. “And we’re so fortunate to have so many wonderful friends. They come from every walk of life.”
Dick said that one thing keeps him going year after year. The positive reinforcement.
“Just to hear people say how much they enjoy coming here is enough sometimes,” Dick said. “It softens the blow of all the work involved.”
Even when Cheryl and Dick aren’t organizing and running the stock dog trials at Sheepy Hollow, they are still very involved in the dog handler world.
That’s because for the winter months, the pair train their dogs at their farm inFlorida.
“That’s almost six months out of the year of training time we would lose if we stayed here in the winter,” Dick said. “Because once the ground freezes, you can’t work the dogs.”
They train 15 to 20 border collies throughout the winter months, and even host a trial inFloridabefore returning to Susquehanna County in the spring.
Throughout the winter months, an employee is paid to care for the sheep while Cheryl and Dick are away.
If you go…
What: The 31st annual Pennsylvania State Stock Dog Trials
Where: Sheepy Hollow Farm, on SheepyHollow Road, in Hop Bottom.
When: June 16-19 (all day).
Details: Admission is free. Trials go on all day, rain or shine. Food, vendors and K-9 eye clinic (Sunday) on site. For more information, contact Cheryl Jagger Williams, trial manager, at 289-4733 or visit www.jaggerwilliamsbordercollies.com.