Cattle dog skills to be tested in Steamboat
CLARK — After a difficult day of herding bulls near Clark, Luke, a border collie, came back to his owner’s ranch on Coyote Creek near Hayden to deal with a few ornery heifers.
But this time, rancher Jeff Meyers was putting him through the paces for the upcoming stock dog competition hosted by the Routt County Cattlemen’s Association.
Luke eyed his master intently, waiting for a whistle or verbal command as the dog looked back and forth toward a heifer threesome in one of the pastures.
What: Routt County Cattlemen’s Classic Cattle Dog Trial
When: 8 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 26, and Sunday, Aug. 27
Where: Brent Romick Arena, 401 Howelsen Parkway
With the bloodline of herding dogs developed along the Scottish-British border for centuries, Luke darts off at the first whistle blow.
“He’s half hired hand and half best friend,” said Meyers as he watched Luke’s laser focus. “It’s a blessing to work with him every day.”
But alas, Luke has had a hard day rustling out bulls and one of the heifers is making life hell for him by snorting and rushing him.
“This is good. It teaches him to be patient,” Meyers said, yelling out a command for Luke to lie down.
The rancher explained that Luke’s long day has caused the dog to be impatient, and he’s not giving the heifers enough space after herding them the correct way.
“The old sheepherders knew that the lie-down position took pressure off the stock and was less of a threat,” Meyers said.
Luke will be among dozens of dogs competing from seven different states during the Routt County Cattlemen’s Classic Cattle Dog Trial at the Romick Rodeo Arena in Steamboat Springs on Saturday and Sunday.
Meyers and wife, Erika Murphy, lobbied for the Mountain States Dog Association regional event and hope it will become an annual tradition.
“These dog handlers are just great people, and many of them go to trials almost every weekend,” Murphy said.
The main goal of this year’s event is to raise funds for 4-H and FFA organizations, and winners will be awarded belt buckles. Right now, sponsors, entry fees and donations help fund the event. Meyers and Murphy hope to be able to award cash prizes in the future.
“Monetary prizes will help offset the cost of bringing their dogs,” said Murphy, explaining that this year’s dog handlers will be coming to the Yampa Valley from Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington and Utah.
Luke will be competing in the intermediate class since he and “dad” do competitions for fun.
“Luke loves the competition. He’s like a laser out there. He knows what he’s there for,” Meyers said.
The competition will be divided into four classes.
The open division is for any dog but often involves veteran handlers with very skilled dogs age 3 to 7. The nursery division is for any handler with a dog age 2 and younger. Intermediate is for handlers who have not competed in the open class before. The novice division is for handlers who have not competed in the open or intermediate classes.
In the meantime, a long day saw Luke’s practice session turn into a comical farce. Erika’s horse Lexington became indignant at the way the heifers were treating poor Luke and rushed them, causing the bovines to scatter. The ranchers laughed at the horse’s antics and decided everyone had put in enough work for the day.
“That’s one thing about the competitions. You can have a great dog but the heifers don’t care,” Murphy said.
John Raftopoulos’ Diamond Peak Ranch in Steamboat will provide heifers for the cattle dog trial event, which is free to spectators.
Events start about 8 a.m. Saturday with an evening session from 7 to 9 p.m. A few events also will be held at 8 a.m. Sunday. Concessions will be available.
Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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