It’s the annual event that brings the bush to the city – and the only time when it’s a good thing to go to the dogs.
The 2022 National Sheepdog Trials are coming up later this month with the best animals and humans from around the country showing off their skills at the Hall Showground. It’s all about communication between human, dog and sheep to master a course of three obstacles within 15 minutes.
Because all stockmen and women believe their dog is the best, events like the National Sheepdog Trials can give them the most public of bragging rights.
It is highly contested, with entrants from all over Australia vying for the coveted Duke of Gloucester sash. It is a unique, hand-embroidered coat of arms representing the Royal House of Windsor. Today the sash is brown from age, but in its prime, it was a vibrant royal purple. It was presented to the National Sheepdog Trial Association by the Duke in 1945 during his tenure as the Governor-General of Australia.
All competitors start with 100 points, with points deducted for every error – like when a dog strays too far or refuses an obstacle. The dog with the highest score by the end of the competition wins.
For farmer Eileen Moriarty, who runs Dorper sheep on the family’s 40-hectare farm near Captains Flat, there are few better feelings than working with your dog and sheep in front of a Hall Showground crowd.
“What you’re doing is what the dog wants to do,” Eileen, who is also the vice-president of the National Sheepdog Trials Committee, said.
“It is working on instinct. Probably by age four, they’re well-versed in what’s going on, so once they hear the bell they know what to do.
“The dog is as happy to be there as you are.”
Working sheepdogs are a breed apart for a variety of reasons, Eileen said. Not least their reluctance for such un-doglike behaviour as refusing a treat when they’re working.
“If you give a dog a treat while they’re working they’re likely to spit it out because, for them, there’s nothing better than working with sheep.
“It’s a good feeling when you see a dog doing that.”
Eileen said she usually had five dogs in work, four and a pup she might be raising through the ranks. She reckons they need to be over two to start trialling successfully.
“They often don’t have the maturity for it before then,” she said. “Going out there with all the other dogs, the crowds and the sheep is too much for them.”
Although border collies and kelpies trial, Eileen said she had always been a fan of the former – although she did admit her first dog was a labrador.
“I’ve always been a dog person,” she said.
It only took her one visit to become hooked on sheepdog trials.
“I went to my first Nationals in 2017,” she said. “I’d always been on a farm and had border collies, so I thought it would be fun to compete. I was bitten by the bug immediately.
“The first time I did it it was a magic moment when the dog worked perfectly with the sheep – everything came together.”
There has always been a Canberra connection with the national event. It started back in 1943 at Manuka Oval as an event to raise money for Legacy during World War II. From 1964 to 1977 it was held at the Canberra Showground, now Exhibition Park, before moving to Hall in 1978.
It is also an event that puts Canberra in the spotlight for the right reasons, Eileen said. Visitors can see the city as a vibrant place where people live rather than as Canberra the government town which doesn’t always get the best publicity.
“Canberra is a great place and people see that when they come here. We have people who come to the trials from all over the country and while they’re working in Hall, their partners can explore Canberra, see what we have to offer.”
The 2022 National Sheepdog Trials will be held at the Hall Village Showground from March 14 to 20.
Ticket information is available here.