Sheepdog trials returning to Strang Ranch | AspenTimes.com

Sheepdog trials returning to Strang Ranch

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MISSOURI HEIGHTS – The Strang family ranch in Missouri Heights is going to the dogs – again.

The second annual Strang Ranch Sheepdog Trials will be held Friday through Monday, Oct. 1-4, in the vast, close-cropped meadows on the family ranch known for its glorious views of Mount Sopris and a healthy dose of hospitality.

The Strangs have never been sheepish about hosting big events on their 460-acre spread that serves as cattle ranch, horse-boarding operation and sod farm. Bridget Strang decided last year to apply to host the 2011 national finals for the U.S. Border Collie Handlers Association, the big event of the year for sheepdogs and their handlers.

The ranch was awarded the event, so Bridget – with an assist from her parents, Mike and Kit Strang – scrambled to prepare. The ranch hosted its first sheepdog trial last October. This year, Bridget is putting that experience to work and tweaking the event. As a result, it’s gained more regional attention.

Last year’s Strang Ranch trials attracted competitors mostly from Colorado. This year’s event is drawing a diverse field from seven western states, Bridget said. Last year’s trials attracted attention because the Strangs have a beautiful ranch with the great town of Carbondale nearby, good sheep to work with and the event was well run, according to Bridget. “It had a great feel to it,” she said.

She’s appealing to what remains of the Roaring Fork Valley ranching community to help put up prize money since that draws particular interest.

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Kit Strang said sheepdog handlers get addicted to the thrill of traveling the trials circuit, working with their dogs to improve and engaging in friendly competition. “I wouldn’t say money is the most important thing,” she said.

Bridget knows the adrenaline rush of competing firsthand. She estimated she’s been to 10 trials in the last three years with Rosie, a 5-year-old, and Treat, a 2-year-old male. While he takes competing seriously, but not necessarily winning.

“The dog trials are just a test of where you are and what you need to fix with your dogs,” she said.

At a place like the Strang Ranch, there is also a practical application to the skills the dog and handler learn from competing in trials.

“A really good trial dog is probably a good ranch dog,” said Bridget, although upon reflection she noted that’s not always the case. Rosie is too patient and quiet to perform well at trials, yet she’s “a good stock dog” on the ranch. Conversely, some top competitors would be “too chicken” to grab a sheep when needed in an actual round-up on a ranch. A “grip” of a sheep by a dog is frowned upon in competition.

In the trials, a handler uses various whistles and voice commands to get their dog to collect a cluster of sheep and perform a series of maneuvers involving gates and pens. The teams that complete the task fastest and most efficiently, by keeping the sheep moving in a straight line, win.

The trials will feature open-class competition and nursery competition, for younger dogs. The first trials start at 8 a.m. on Friday; 7:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday; and 8 a.m. on Monday.

Spectators are welcome free of charge, but any dog that isn’t competing is prohibited and won’t even be allowed in parked vehicles. Spectators should bring a lawn chair. A concession stand will be set up. There is plenty of parking on the ranch, which is located at 393 Country Road 102. Take County Road 100, also known as Catherine Store Road, 2.4 miles into Missouri Heights, turn right onto County Road 102 for a quarter-mile. Turn left onto the Strang Ranch’s long driveway at the hay bale stack.

“I want the community to come up and see it and get involved so we can put on a great show next year,” Bridget said, referring to the 2011 nationals. Aspen Valley Land Trust, a nonprofit, will be the beneficiary of any profits collected during the nationals. The Strangs have worked with AVLT to place a conservation easement on a portion of their ranch.

scondon@aspentimes.com