Truman v Sue Mesa
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 email@example.com.
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,
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
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
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
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.
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