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   By: Jan S Rifkinson
Date: November '99


Truman v Sue Mesa
Round One

WANTED: Bouvier, gray, 26.5", 85 pounds, black nylon collar w tags, answers to "Truman", aka US CN CH I'm Special Rif's Truman, CGC, TT for Bovidae assault. Reward. Approach with caution: smart, stubborn, independent thinker, challenges authority, determined to have lamb chops. If spotted anywhere near a sheep farm, do not approach, call authorities @ 203-431-1691 or email

This is the wanted poster I expect to find in a Leesburg, VA post office.

Thursday, 8am Truman & I trooped out to Rolling Meadows Farm in Philomont, VA, a 20 minute drive from the Days Inn, host hotel for the 1999 NAWBA National Specialty. 

Down a highway, to another highway thru the small town of Purcellville which has two 7-11s.  This is important only because you had to take a left turn @ the 2nd 7-11.  Onto route 690 thru progressively more country scenes for 7-8 miles & onto route 734, finally to Jeb Stuart Road (Watergate?) & onto gravel covered Beaverdam Bridge Road.  A small, stuffed sheep marked Sue & Marc Mesa's Rolling Meadows Farm entrance. 
Fortunately Truman didn't see it.

I knew better this time & left Truman in the car until I could scope out the situation; others had already arrived. Amongst the group:

Bobbie & Chris
Ann & Kate
Kathy Heilenman & Dan
Joanne Nelson & Magic
Pat Hagopian & Darcy
Glenda Szkrybalo, husband Kevin, 3 girls, Gus & Natalie
Rebecca & Ed & Lulu
Nancy & Karl Swenson
and of course the indomitable, irrepressible Sue Mesa, proprietress (along with her husband, Marc) of Rolling Meadows Farm.

It was an overcast day, the wind on the move & I had dressed as well as I could considering that I had left my warm vest, fleecy pullover & rain jacket over a chair in CT (Carol was overnighting them to me). There were several barns, several pens of various sizes, a couple of pastures beyond with beautiful grazing horses. Also a working border collie, 90 head of "dog broke" woolly sheep & 1 goat.  It was a quiet, idyllic site.

Sue gathered us @ the fence, she on one side, we on the other.  Like a powerful opera star belting out an aria, Sue Mesa, about 5'6", athletically built, high energy blond, dressed in jeans & leather sneakers, sporting dangling metal earrings, full of piss, vinegar & good humor, introduced herself in fortissimo fashion. I didn't notice if a grazing horse lifted it's head to see what was going on but I was convinced Sue could be heard in the next county.  Lest you think I'm holding Ms. Mesa's style up to ridicule you'd be wrong. This voice of hers was essential & a blessing both for training the dogs by different tones of voice & for explaining what was going on to the rest of us while we watched her train & waited our turns. 

Sue made a short, introductory speech which laid out the principals of herding. The sheep follow the herder, the dog follows the sheep.  The goal is for the dog to gather, change direction & use the "minimum" force necessary to accomplish the task.  (Truman didn't hear that part of the speech).  In order to accomplish this seemingly simple feat, a very clear relationship has to develop between dog & herder.  The herder is in charge, the dog has to learn to put the herder between itself & the sheep mentally in order to herd properly.  That is, the dog's basic instincts have to be tempered by authority & work. And the dog has to take commands @ a distance & in the midst of pulsating desires.  (Truman, as it turns out, didn't hear this part of the speech either).  Well, I can't totally blame him; he was still in the car.

Sue invited Kathy Heilenman & Kaz into the ring. While we all know that Kathy & Kaz are advanced herders, there's always something new to learn & as Kathy & Kaz herded, Sue offered instruction & observations in that voice of hers to Kathy while explaining to us what the behavioral dynamics were between Kathy, Kaz & the sheep.  Kaz moved the sheep effortlessly first in one direction & then the other, back & forth behind the sheep.  He "downed" when told & kept the little darlings gathered around Kathy. After about ten minutes of this, Kathy came out of the pen & Sue called for Truman.  I'm not sure she knew what she was in for although she had been told of our prior herding experience.

As we were about to begin, Sue suggested that I consider this a brand new beginning. I brought Truman into the ring, quivering, whining & yipping in anticipation. The lead was taut.  We moved towards the center of the pen which was the largest of the work areas & Sue told me to release Truman.

Zoooooooooooom -- with a burst of power, speed & clear intent, Truman went directly for a lamb chop.  Sue moved in, I yelled "no bite" @ the top of my lungs, she used a thin fiberglass rod, threw a bottle of pennies, used her extensive voice and athletic body to correct the situation. It became a free for all: Truman intent on breakfast charging the sheep (a definite no,no), Sue running to keep up with Truman, the sheep following Sue, me following the sheep, trying to stay out of the way. In all this, she never struck Truman.

Finally Sue began to gain control of the situation & we started moving in a circular motion (this is good). The sheep stayed in a packed little group around us, Truman circled @ full speed, charging @ every opportunity to get a piece (bad), Sue stepping out to block him.  And around and around we went. I quickly realized that Sue really had her hands full between keeping me in the right place, keeping the sheep safe & trying to get a handle on Truman so I decided to shut up & stay with the sheep.  I let them gather around me, wrapped my arms around them as best I could while keeping an eye on the circling Truman & the blocking Sue. Well all went around in circles. It was a dizzying experience but around and around we went & I felt like Little Bo Peep. I can hardly wait to see the pictures of me bent over, guarding the sheep.

This went on for about 15 exhausting minutes - not exhausting for me, of course.  Finally Sue decided to put Truman in a very small ring with a couple of sheep where she would exert greater control -- ha! I could only watch this episode. Still Sue could not convince Truman that she was there & had something to say that he had to listen to.  He was a single minded devil. "Get outa my way, lady. Gimme sheep, sheep, sheep".  He challenged her @ every turn.  Another 10 minutes of this & Sue called the session to a halt.

Truman was still un-convinced what his place was; Sue eyeballed him & muttering vile, but good natured, threats under her breath as we left the ring.  The crowd watching was also exhausted.  They had now seen the ying and yang of herding & Sue used the opportunity to drive home the principles of herding once again.

Everyone was very supportive & as each succeeding handler went in with their Bouv, different issues arose based on experience, enthusiasm, control,  instinct & age.  Joanne has told you about "Magic" her dainty, lady like, sweet 13 yr old rescued girl who sprang to life and drove the sheep little distances before tiring.  This was so sweet to watch & Joanne's delight in Magic was not to be measured easily.  A couple of puppies went in & did credible jobs. So did Gus, Natalie, Darcy -- well everyone else -- except for you know who.

And that was just round 1.  The afternoon session still awaited us.

* * * * *

click for Round 2

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