Wheelchair-bound farmer trains hopefuls for South Island Dog Trials

Central Otago farmer Grant Calder with Haig (left) and Ned at the South Island sheep dog trial championships. Photo / Stephen Jaquiery
Central Otago farmer Grant Calder with Haig (left) and Ned at the South Island sheep dog trial championships. Photo / Stephen Jaquiery

Amid the several hundred competitors at the South Island sheep dog trial championships at Kaihiku, it would be hard to find a more inspirational character than Grant Calder.

From his wheelchair, the tetraplegic Central Otago farmer directs his two young dogs, holding his own against his able-bodied counterparts.

It is a remarkable achievement by a man who readily acknowledges that life - let alone dog trialling - has not been easy since he broke his neck in a quad-bike accident on his property, Lauder Station, near Becks, in 2004.

Yet Mr Calder, 69, has a positive attitude, preferring to look to the future rather than dwell on the past.

"You've got to pick on the good bits. There's no use dwelling on what's happened.

You can't turn the clock back.

"My thrill is to be able to qualify my dogs and come here with all my mates and anything else I get out of it is a bonus," he said.

Before his accident, he won three New Zealand championships - including his first when he was just 23 - five island titles and represented New Zealand in the sport.

He thought the accident would mark the end of his dog trialling career. But when he was discharged from Burwood Hospital, fellow triallist and friend Neville Hore told him that he reckoned he would make an island or New Zealand run-off again.

Mr Calder went on to win a South Island zigzag hunt title with Cramp at Hakataramea in 2011.

"That was sweet," he said, smiling.

"When I won it, [Neville] came up and he said, 'I told you you'd bloody well do it'."

This week, he is back at the championships, hosted by the Warepa Collie Club, with heading dog Haig and huntaway Ned.

"It's not easy. But the guts of it is really the team you've got behind you. She's the one the story should be on. She feeds my dogs, pretty much does everything," he said, indicating Robyn, his wife of 49 years.

When Mr and Mrs Calder arrived at the trial grounds on Monday, it took them about 45 minutes to get away from their van, as people kept stopping to talk to them. Dog trialling folk were "wonderful people", he said.

He only got a little nervous as he prepared to start his run "but your determination gets rid of your nerves. I just blot everything else out and go and do it on my own."

Mr Calder had to adapt his method of training dogs when he realised he could not do it the same way as before his accident.

So he devised a new training method which is similar to the Parelli system used with horses and has proved it works.

He had broken-in countless young dogs over the past 13 years but the problem was that he did not have the work for them once they were trained.

He was giving Ned - "I think the world of him" - to son Robert once the championships were over, because that would give the dog more of a chance to get to the New Zealand championships.

"I can break them in, I just don't have the work afterwards for them," he said.

"My thrill is to be able to qualify my dogs and come here with all my mates and anything else I get out of it is a bonus,"

Robert Calder is judging the straight hunt at the New Zealand championships at Gisborne later this month. His father won a New Zealand zigzag hunt title at Gisborne in 1985.

For Grant Calder, there was a "hell of a lot of satisfaction" in breaking a dog in and giving it to someone who, in turn, did well with it.

"You only need to be having a crap day in your chair medically ... and you go out and have a good training session with your dogs and you're a different person," he said.

sally.rae@odt.co.nz

- Otago Daily Times

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