In West Australia we have two separate trials, Utility trials and Three sheep trials.
A utility trial includes yard work as well as paddock work.
At a utility trial you cast your dog around five sheep (cast distances vary a lot depending on the ground but usually between 50 and 150 mtrs) and bring them into the circle around the peg where you are standing. From there, you must bring them into a yarded off area and they are mixed with other sheep and worked through three or four yards, through a race, and into a force pen where a certain number will be drafted off. After this you release another five back into the paddock area and work through three obstacles. The setup will differ a little, depending on the venue. There may be a truck to force the sheep into and there may be four obstacles to negotiate in the paddock. Obstacles will vary. There is usually a gap which is like a small section of fence with a gap in the middle, a race, which is self explanatory, a bridge, which is similar to a race but the sheep walk up a ramp, usually wooden, and down the other side. This obstacle is not as difficult as it seems to get the sheep on, but occasionally the sheep are reluctant to leave it as they feel safe above the dog. So for this obstacle it helps to have a dog with a strong walk up to force the sheep off. Once again some dogs won’t do this naturally and it needs to be taught.
Another obstacle is called a trap and this can be tricky. The trap has wings and is open at one side, you must force the sheep in the trap and the dog then holds them in the obstacle whilst you walk around and undo the gate at the other side. The sheep must then be run through, and the gate is shut. The last obstacle is always the pen where the sheep are run in and the handler shuts the gate behind them.
The usual time to complete this is 15 minutes. The good thing about utility trialing is that unlike three sheep trialing you will not be disqualified if your dog crosses, or you decide to walk down the cast to help your dog. In fact it is a great place to start a young dog as you will only lose points, not an important factor when you are just starting out. Also when you run out of points at an obstacle you are permitted to move to the next one so your are not 'stuck 'in one place. This is not permitted in three sheep tial.s
As the yard section is separate you are also permitted to just enter that section if you feel that you are not ready to do the paddock work. In fact this is a good place to start, and get a general feel for trialling.
Most utility trial venues have a farmers trial, for people who have not trialled before. This consists of yard work only and you will be shown what to do.
At a three sheep trial you will cast your dog around three sheep, bring them down to where you are standing, usually into a circle or a ‘D’ shape, around or behind you. You then leave the casting peg and take the sheep to the first obstacle which is usually a race, then put them through or over a bridge then finally into a pen where you will shut a gate, when the sheep are in.
Once again the obstacles will vary and there may be four obstacles. The obstacles are worked the same as in a Utility trial.
When you enter the ground with your dog he must not be on a leash and once you are inside the gate you must not touch your dog. A bell will go off to signal the start of your run, but don't rush to send your dog, keep things calm and send him when you are ready. If he breaks before the bell you can recall him and set him up again. Once the bell goes you must not leave the starting peg until the dog has bought the sheep down the ground into the circle or 'D' where you are standing.
When you first start trialing you are permitted a number of encourage runs.
The rules for encourage runs will vary from state to state so check with your local trial association.
Here in Western Australia you will be permitted five encourage runs in three sheep trialing and five in a utility trial.
An encourage run means you are allowed to have an experienced competitor to go around the course with you and assist and instruct you. You will be judged as well but not disqualified if you or your dog unintentionally breaks the rules. You can choose who you take around with you, or there will be volunteers available. You may walk down the ground so you do not have a long cast and you may assist your dog as well. The idea is so you can get the feel of the course and of being out there with your dog. It can be very nerve racking but try to remain calm and don’t expect too much.
Remember that everyone started somewhere and no-one will be laughing at you.
It can be easy to lose sight of the fun side of it and get too serious and worried about doing well. Just keep it fun and look on each run as a learning experience, no matter what happens, and don’t be afraid to ask someone’s opinion of your run so you can improve for next time.
Most trials run for three days, Fri, Sat and Sun, it is not necessary to attend all three days but watching is a good way to learn. They usually start as early as possible and go until late, depending on the number of entries. They often work through lunch to fit all the runs in.
Three sheep trials have three classes. Novice, Improver and Open. Your dog must win a section before moving on to the next.
Utility trials have a novice and an open. You can enter your dog in all three sections as long as the dog is a novice, but it is not recommened to give a young dog too many runs on one day.
Entry fees will vary but usually from about $5.00 a class up to about $12.00.
At some trials, if entries are high, competitors are limited to a certain number of runs to allow everyone to have a go.
Once you have completed your encourage runs and would like to continue trialing you will need to be a member of a sheepdog club. There are five clubs in Western Australia, and the norm is to join whatever club is closest to you.
As a member and trialer you may be expected to assist at trials. This may involve helping at the let out pen or simply making some cakes for the canteen. The let out pen is at the end of the ground where the sheep are let out for each competitor. Two or three people are need to assist as well as a dog to ‘sweep’ the used sheep back into the yard. Helping in this way is often a great way to learn and watch dogs casting from the 'other end' of the ground, as well as listening to comments from more experienced competitors.
To register a dog for trialing both parents need to be registered with a state club. But failing this your dog can be inspected by authorised persons who will decide if your dog has sufficient working ability to be registered. Also if your dog scores a certain number of points in a novice or encourage run he may automatically be permitted to be registered.
Your dog will not need to be registered to do encourage runs, but only if you decide to continue on.
There are many rules and regulations covering trialling and point scoring etc. too much to include here. Information and rules sheets are available form the official sites in each state. (See links page)