Every man and his dog battled it out for points at the Ruahine-Rangiwahia Collie Club for entry to the prestigious New Zealand Dog Trial Championship - and one notable teenager as well.

It was the biggest day on the calendar for the small rural community of Rangiwahia in Northern Manawatū, as locals got together and hosted a top-class event for hundreds of visiting shepherds from around the North Island.

But it wasn't a friendly walk in the park. The brutal competition is something 15-year-old Phoebe Smailes knows all too well.

"Currently, I hold the record for the youngest female to ever compete in the New Zealand Dog Trials when I was 14, and I'm the youngest person to ever win an open," she said.

"It's quite a good record to hold but it doesn't really get me anything more special. I'm still treated the same as everyone else, same as the guys that have been doing it for 15 to 20 years."


Smailes has been helping her parents run the local event ever since she was born, but she quickly worked out where the real action was.

"Dad had a dog in the kennels that wasn't really going very well for him, so I thought I'd have a burn myself and she went real good and it just sort of went from there".

She's even been called a "dog whisperer".

"I don't really like to carry the dog whisperer name, I'm just the same as anyone else," she said.

"I suppose I've worked really hard to get to where I am today. The hard work certainly has paid off and my friends think it's quite a good achievement for someone who is so young and still at school and trying to get an education as well."

Pohangina Valley farmer Dave Stuart is back in the hunt for points after winning last year's New Zealand Sheep Dog Trial Championship for the second time.

"Yeah, it's a good leveler," he said.

"You're brought back to zero pretty quick. The next year everyone starts the same and away you go so you've got to try do it again. Nah, but it's pretty neat to make it into the pinnacle of the sport."


Stuart said becoming a champion sheperd is a mix of skill and finding the perfect partner.

"You've just got to be passionate about the sport and have a good connection.

"If you're lucky enough to have a break because it is so competitive, you do need a little bit of luck on your side but you're all trying to look for that dog with that little bit of X factor and they don't come around too often," Stuart said.

A born and bred local, Greg Clifton has been the backbone of the Ruahine-Rangiwahia Collie Club for around 40 years.

"It just gets in your blood," Clifton said.

He believed events like this are vital for the local community as Rangiwahia has already lost its sports day and recently its primary school.

"I think it's important to try take what you've got left in these rural communities and build on them," Clifton said.

"You don't have to add more but I think you've got to cherish what you've got left and build on it."

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