This year I decided to slip down to the Three Provinces Nursery Final sheepdog trials. It was only an hour away in Borris Co. Carlow, home of the famous Borris Ewes. It was a lovely sunny Sunday morning that I had been looking forward to for a while. I would enjoy catching up with some fellows from the other provinces that I don’t see except at nationals or big events. As soon as I drove the road over the top of Mount Leinster I was surprised as I looked down on the weather as the whole place was disappeared into a fog, it was about 12 o’clock. I drove on for 15 minutes to the trial field only to find it had just been cancelled. It was an awful pity as the field was full of jeeps, dogs and dog people and the course was a super set up, a credit to Maura Ryan the secretary and Johnny Murphy for the field and a lovely batch of hoggots.

Fog from Mount Leinster

I went and got myself a burger and had chat with various handlers, then I spotted Serge Van Der Zweep from Holland. I probably hadn’t spoken to Serge in 15 year so and it was great to some catching up. He mentioned that I should come to Holland for the European Nursery Final at his place, in a few weeks time. So a week later I booked flights and a car. I mentioned to a few fellows that I had car and hotel and that they should book a cheap flight and come with me but unfortunately as it is with farming, they had lambing responsibilities around that time.

I had been looking forward to the trip to the Llanfarian Border Collies Sheepdog Centre for weeks. Work had been particularly busy and I was going to enjoy a few days of doing nothing other than talking and eating. In spite of all the anticipation this flight was the closest I’d ever come to missing a plane despite the boarding not being until 2pm. Fortunately the power went at Schipol airport and my flight got delayed by half an hour, giving me time to catch it! I vowed never to be so laid back about flying in future (..and then the same thing happened on my flight home because of my getting confused over the hour change that weekend! Fortunately Eindhoven is a small airport and there wasn’t too much running to do )

Eindhoven Airport

It was lovely to hop in the rental car and put The European Nursery Nursery Final address in sat nav and find that it only 40 minutes away. I love the feeling of sitting in the hertz car park at the start of a trip with all the time in the world to make wrong turns and mistakes.

European Nursery Championship

When I arrived on Saturday morning I met Serge loading sheep and he introduced me to Pim Visscher. I had right chat with the boys before ever I got near the course. One of the things I love about sheepdog handlers is how accessible even the top handlers are, and how free and helpful they are with advice or information.

Serge & Pim

The course had a longer outrun than I had expected, and on the Saturday the crossdrive was at an angle, something I hadn’t seen before but I allowed we might include it in Heffernan’s Sheepdog Hill Trial in July because it was a little off-putting for handlers to read sheep. ‘Technically difficult’ to use one of Serge’s phrases!

Ellen Van Der Zweep introduced a new feature to dog trials that I haven’t come across before. She made the program showing the handlers and their dogs as normal. BUT most importantly Ellen included a 4 generation pedigree for every dog in the competition! It was really a super idea, if I saw a dog I liked, I could find him in the catalogue and see his whole pedigree. I admit it was nice to see a couple of my old dogs mentioned in a lot of pedigrees and to see Deacon and Heffernan’s names appear in a lot of places throughout the program..As the result of Serge’s Gary and Glen sireing a lot of the young dogs of course.

The whole affair was a really well run event and Serge and Ellen have a real culture of giving for the benefit of everyone and sheepdogs. the Sheepdog Centre is a super place that embodies this culture, coming from none more so than Huib, who was on hand serving coffee and replenishing the stove all day every day. The stove was one that Huib made himself for the centre, from old lorry wheel rims. It heated many a person and dried out plenty of wet gear for the weekend. Serge and Ellen were the only people I knew when I turned up at the event, however Pim put in a lot of time with me on Saturday, explaining all the different handlers, dogs and various things like previous Dutch national and continental trials..he educated me a lot and made me feel very comfortable in my new surroundings. There was a dinner Saturday evening, Pim gave me his place at the dinner with which I was really chuffed and fully enjoyed.

Stove made from old lorry wheels

While the running was great and I saw some lovely sheepdogs, this post isn’t really about the running except to say that it was lovely to watch Kevin Evans with his sheepdog Glen, win the European nursery final. Despite the fact that there were 4 or 5 more handlers to go after him, I could see that a run would need to be flawless to beat him. It was very nice to meet people in person who I had only bumped into on FaceBook prior to this, none more so than Anita Hermes and Viola Hebeler.

When everything was over on Saturday evening and most people had moved on or inside, I noticed Serge and Pim working a dog on the bunch of sheep left from the days trialling..something about the dog really caught my eye so I made my way up the now, mucky field. The closer I got to this dog, the more I liked him. He reminded me completely of a Buddy dog I had years ago (a great grandfather of Gary). He was by Emma Grey’s dog and out of a bitch Ricky Hutchinson’s. Anita Hermes had passed him to Serge and i must say he is a dog I would love to own. A big clean direct dog that appeared to have an abundance of power with nice balance and a great hold to his sheep..the sort of dog I expect I could single out a lambing ewe from the flock with ease. Unfortunately I am the sort of fellow who doesn’t like spending more than €700 on a green dog, so i was never going to be finding out what this fellow is going to become! Another one that caught my eye was Nigel Watkin’s Nan bitch, she’s one that I’d like to own for a while. Kevin Evan’s Glen looked like a keeper too, I’d be surprised if I don’t see more of him in coming years with Kevin. A Norwegian fellow, Arne Sand came third with a bitch that was another I would like to put in the back of the jeep. John Cremin, the only Irishman in the final, came second with a very good run.

I decided my flight was a bit early on Sunday evening so I changed it to Monday morning and I am very glad I did. Sunday evening after the final turned out to be real fun. There was a small handful of us left and Serge ordered up pizza for everyone. I got to share lots of stories with Nigel Watkins, who provided me with very useful information and opinion about some welsh dogs that I had been interested in. There was a lot of laughing and storytelling with the handful of us that were left, Wayne Roberts from Alberta had a very dry humour and was a lot of fun. Serge joked that when he came to Ireland first that it was like finding a shop with lovely things that nobody else knew about! I told him that I still have keys for that shop!

It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable weekends I had spent in a long time, its the type of weekend I intend doing at least three times a year from now on. I am really grateful for all the very helpful, approachable, down to earth practical type people I meet through sheepdogs, and Holland was another example of the kind of atmosphere I have come to associate with sheepdog trials. I look forward to attending again in 2016, perhaps I will have a dog of my own to run there.