I never knew that there could be lush green rolling hills like these, in California. If there is sheepdog trialing in heaven then this is what it looks like! I consider myself very fortunate indeed to have been invited to judge the Zamora Hills Sheepdog Trials in Yolo County, in 2019.
Ms. Peggy Wines and her brother, Mr. Michael Slaven host the Zamora Hills Sheepdog Trials on their family farm. This rolling ground has been in the Slaven family since the late 1800’s. Peggy’s father started this trial almost forty years ago and it has run consistently up until this month when it had to be cancelled, like most trials around the northern hemisphere, in the interest of public health.
Zamora had already caught my attention before ever I’d received the invitation. It was probably 2016 when two Californian sheepdog trials, Sonoma and Zamora, first came on my radar. I entertained a dream of what it might be like to slip over there from Ireland and run a pair of dogs across those very contrasting courses.
For me, I consider the Zamora trial more of a test for the purist. This course is a just big open ground that runs and rolls off from the roadside. There are no facilities other than a couple of barns and corrals in the valley but they just perfect for handling stock for a trial. Everyone came with their accommodation in tow and set up a small village in the yard consisting of some of the best handlers and their dogs, in the USA.
I considered, just looking at the course, that it was a very considerable test just to get a dog to the sheep, which were I guess, about 600 or 700 yards away. I was really impressed at how so many people could get up there, many with no more than a whistle or two and some without even a whisper. But next of all, to get those rambouillet sheep around the course was a test in itself as straight lines were just not on the cards but for a couple of exceptional runs. However the fun for me was really to come in the shedding and the penning. I didn’t concern myself with asking handlers to take the last sheep or anything like that becuase, while these sheep were very shed-able, they also left plenty of room for a judge to deduct points! One handler who aroused my curiosity because he really seemed to have the recipe for shedding these particular sheep was Don Helsley. I’ll be studying him from now on whenever I see him ha!
Matchbook Wines sponsored the trial. Matchbook Wines have a vineyard and winery just a mile up the road. We all amde the trip up there one evening and had a smashing buffet dinner.
It was a real privilege for me to get an opportunity like this and to get to meet and see so many interesting handlers who were very open with me sharing their insights about the sheep and the course.
Thank you Peggy for thinking of me for 2019 and for looking after me so well.
I asked Michael Slaven to tell me a little about the history and the sheep in a short interview we made up at the top around the set-out the day before while He, Don, Mike, Jeannie and a few more were getting things set up and giving a few groups of 20-25 sheep a quick spin with dogs to take the edge off them for the trial.