by Lacey Herbel
My anxiety mounts as I step into the arena. The lights and noise are distracting at first, but as I nervously make my way to the post, the distractions all fade away. The people, their faces and voices, disappear and it's just my dog, the livestock, and me.
To my father and many other handlers, it's routine to go to a trial and compete in front of an audience and judge. To me, it is the beginning of a herding career.
My herding career truly began in May of 1999. That summer our border collie, Sadie, gave birth to a litter of nine pups. As the puppies grew, I slowly sorted through them and finally made my connection with one. I started taking him with me when I did chores, bringing him in the house to play, and even letting him tag along on my trips to town on Friday nights. I waited and waited to name him, sorting through this name and that. Finally, it came to me. I named him after my all-time favorite country singer, George Strait.
I asked my parents if I could keep Strait and they agreed happily, on one condition. I had to train him for what he was bred for, to herd livestock. This meant that I would have to enter into what my dad succeeded in as a profession and what appeared to me to be too difficult to accomplish. It was a hard decision and I thought for quite a while, weighing my options. I could either give up the puppy I had come to know as my best friend, or I could try my hand at herding. With plenty of encouragement from my parents I decided to go for it.
Soon after, Strait and I began our training in the sport of herding. It wasn't easy to learn and train at the same time. Both Strait and I experienced emotional bumps and bruises, plenty of "I'll never do this again!" and a good amount of confusion. I remember a time when in training it seemed like everything was going wrong. Not only did I want to quit herding, but I also wanted to sell my dog and barbecue a few sheep!
After a while, I settled down and went back out into the arena. I decided to keep my dog and save the lamb roast for maybe another day. Going through trial after trial and disappointment after disappointment but persisting until we come out on top is all part of being successful at anything. And with plenty of help from mom and dad, Strait and I fought our way through the tough times and began the trip down a road to success.
And here I am at the post today, ready to try my luck at being successful. As my number is called, I nod to the judge and my nerves go into over time. I position my dog and signal for my sheep. I whisper a command and Strait flies out and around the sheep, sending them barreling towards me. "Steady!" I say firmly and with a bit of a crack in my voice. The sheep and my dogs slow just in time to round the handler's post. I'm relieved at succeeding through the first obstacle, but in the back of my mind, I feel I'm forgetting something. The Y-chute! I quickly come back to reality in time to flank my dog and send the sheep trotting towards the opening. They hesitate for a fraction of a second but proceed on when they see Strait inching closer. They smoothly progress through the Z-chute next and then the hold/exam pen. Getting them to go in is the easy part.
When the judge calls out "That's a pen!" I wave to acknowledge I heard and send my dog behind the pen. The sheep come out and before they can bolt, Strait puts them back on course to skim the "4" turn and head towards the "5." A few bobbles and I finally make it to the exhaust pen.
Well, it wasn't our best work ever, but I survived and so did the sheep and Strait. Even though I was nervous, it was an exciting experience and I plan to try again to see if I can make it completely through the course with a few less bobbles.
My exhilaration after running my dog is not because I win my class or beat out my competitors. It is from accomplishing something I never thought I could and proving to the world I can do it!
About the Author:
Nineteen-year-old Lacey Herbel began working with dogs at a very young age. She began showing dogs in conformation at the age of five, long before she was old enough to compete in Junior Handling. The competitive herding bug caught up with her when she was 16 and the pup in the story, Strait, came into her life. As she brought Strait through the training process, she gained additional experience by trialing his sire, a dog already trained to the advanced level. This positive experience gave Lacey a solid foundation to training and trialing Strait, who just recently completed his Herding Excellent title. Lacey has also gained national recognition for her work with her dogs in the National FFA program, having been selected as a National Finalist in her SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experience) in 2000 and 2001. Lacey is now working with two new pups, 12-week-old littermates Ti and NOS.