“Da dunt dunt daaa....dunt da da daaa...da dunt dunt dunt da daaa.”
The art of dog trialling, once so popular it had its own television show and jingle, is sure to be a star attraction at the Horowhenua AP and I Royal Show early next year.
The sport was a hit with television viewers in the 1980s as stockmen and their dogs were beamed into living rooms, putting their skill to the test in competition against the clock. Complete with edge-of-your-seat commentary, it was truly gripping stuff.
All it took was for one sheep to turn and face the dog, stamp his front foot, and make a run for it, for chaos to ensue. It was high drama.
Dog trialling might have vanished from our television screens, but showcasing that working bond between man and heading dog in the white-hot arena of competition can still draw a big crowd. The herding of sheep is a thrilling watch.
A large field of entries is expected at the Levin show again. Like shearers, it gives those supremely proficient in their demanding daily roles a chance to put those skills on public display.
In addition to ribbons and cups, there is fairly healthy prizemoney on offer - $800 to the winning dog.
But you can’t just drag any old sheep off the hill the morning of competition. A lot of preparation will go into having the sheep ready. An estimated 200 sheep will be required, supplied locally from Lakeview Farms.
Lakeview stock manager Jason Barber and shepherd Tom Whiteman both have a dog each entered in the trials as it was on their back doorstep. They will be kept busy behind the scenes, though, with Barber also taking on the role of chief steward at the show.
Barber said a mob of sheep would be brought in off the farm three weeks ahead of the show and worked in smaller groupings so they wouldn’t be too skittish come show day.
“They’re used to running in a big mob so you have to work them in smaller groupings ahead of the show so they’re not so unsettled,” he said.
“Because they’re used to being part of big flock you have to break them in a wee bit, otherwise they’re likely to jump the fence.”
Entries will be taken on the morning of the show. Most of those competing come from out of town, but there will be a small handful of local entries, like Barber and Whiteman, and their respective dogs Steel and Bru.
Barber said the beauty of competition is it gives the wider public an insight into farming and gives those competing a chance to showcase their skills and close relationship with their animals.
Dogs had to work the sheep through obstacles before calmly getting them penned.
“It’s replicating what we do on the farm on a smaller scale,” he said.
Heading dogs were specifically bred for the job, but there was a large amount of training that went into a dog before they began to earn their keep.
Some of the competitors are retired stockmen and women who keep their hand in the game with a dog or two and enjoy a chance to showcase their art.
Barber said the show is a way of not only showcasing dog trialling but also giving youngsters an insight into farming as a way of life.
“It’s a good way to get young ones interested and hopefully encourages them to become involved,” he said.
The Horowhenua AP and I Association Royal Show for 2024 will be held on Wellington Anniversary weekend at The Showgrounds, January 20-22.
- Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ on Air.