AND LARGE-FLOCK HERDING TRIAL COURSES
In contrast to the more common trial courses that
have a specified, unvarying design, ranch/farm courses allow variations
in layout so as to reflect and accommodate the characteristics of the
particular ranch or farm where the trial takes place, with a sequence of
tasks that likewise may vary, but within a framework of overall
requirements providing some standardization.
The Australian Shepherd Club of American and American Herding
Breed Association provide ranch and farm courses, with the AHBA also
accommodating work on larger flocks of 25 or more head per group.
(There are also some classes named "ranch" in trials
held by Border Collie-oriented organizations, but this class designation
just reflects a level of competition, above novice but below open, not a
difference in course layout.)
A special attraction of ranch courses is that they
are flexible and incorporate the interest and challenge of being
different from place to place and time to time.
Within the overall requirements are set elements such as
gathering, driving, negotiating obstacles of various kinds, settling the
stock to graze, pen work, and sorting, but the sequence and details will
differ at different trials. There
will be work in open fields or large arenas combined with work in pens
and alleyways. While the
minimum number of head per group for some ranch courses is five, larger
numbers of animals in a group are encouraged, from around ten on up to
20, 40, 80 or more when possible. The
larger numbers will often not be practicable for logistics reasons, but
having the open-ended option is very desirable, as the animals generally
feel more comfortable and move more naturally in larger groups.
Ranch courses are well-suited to sheep, goats, and
cattle, and also, in a shorter form, to geese.
While courses requiring a series of quick, precise maneuvers
under tight control, whether in an arena or in a large open field, are
fine challenges, they do not fully reflect typical ranch and farm work.
Many breeds, including Rough and Smooth Collies, Old English
Sheepdogs, Pyrenean Shepherds, English Shepherds, and others, were
versatile farm and ranch dogs, often working larger groups of animals or
animals that were somewhat accustomed to being around people and dogs so
sometimes could be
There often was much scope for independent judgment on the part
of the dog, while working in a close partnership.
This type of work is also most reflective of droving work, where
the dog kept the animals grouped, watched out for and brought back any
animals that attempted to break way, kept the animals moving in the
desired direction over long distances.
(Note: "droving" does not mean "driving" in
the sense of the dog pushing the stock in front of the handler - in
droving work, the dog and handler would be in various positions around
the group as needed.) A
ranch/farm-type course in use for over 100 years is the traditional
large-flock trial of France. These
trials are suitable for a range of breeds and, like the American ranch
courses, are set out in accordance with the features of the particular
facility where the trial is taking place, with variability in course
layout being allowed under the umbrella of a "menu" of
required tasks and specifications.
Designing a ranch course gives ample scope for
creativity and thoughtfulness. Along with flexibility, there will be a
need to provide consistency, arranging the layout and tasks so as to
provide an appropriate level of difficulty for the different classes
while balancing acceptable variations with the standardization given by
the overall requirements. Good
design will provide a logical progression of elements that ideally
reflect typical ranch and farm work.
Ranch/farm-type courses encourage training for
accomplishment of a job rather than rote "course training" or
pattern training. Experience
has shown that many dogs respond very well to a task-oriented course
that has an emphasis on practical accomplishment of the work, teamwork,
and room for initiative and independence -- a course that may be
"new" every time yet containing familiar elements.
The length of the course, number and type of stock, and
variability of tasks add to the challenges.
Ranch/farm and French-type courses are especially suitable for
the upright, loose-eyed breeds. Dogs
and handlers alike greatly enjoy the practical orientation of the
ranch/farm courses. One judge at a large-flock trial, after
judging my Collie, Chelsea (Paragon Northlight Crystal, HX, HRD III-s),
commented to me, “She was wagging her tail the whole time.”
more details regarding ranch/farm and large-flock herding trial courses,
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