The Caledonia Games Traditional Stockdog Trial is held in a football field at a high school in Athena, Oregon. I think this tradition goes back more than 6 years, but I'm not certain. My ancestors are scottish, but not from Oregon. I think in Hillbillyonia,where they originate, stock dog trials are held in hollers and instead of dogs and handlers, there are crying and the nonfictional version of Ned Beaty; obstacles include his pants, a dude with a banjo, the 21st century; and, of course, there is the human equivalent of Don Couch's sheep. The roles, however, are completely reversed.
Or are they?
I mean, I love Couch; he's funny, he's warm, he works his ass off at these trials. His sheep are the wool-hairy shit dripping manifestations of evil incarnate. These are not the sheep you count to drift into slumber. These are the sheep that will someday mutate another row of teeth, some thumbs, and an arms deal with, like, the angry half of Iceland or somewhere no one expects trouble. The sheep harbor hate and some sort of oddly aligned Chuck Norris complex. Seriously, does he let them go to movies? (Caldwell has discounts for herds over 10 on Ewesdays) Order netflix?
Jai didn't like the field or the sheep. Too much pressure, too much foot stomping. She licked her lips and blew off my flanks. I alternated between correction and encouragement, trying to help her move these sheep around the small course. I wasn't hoping for any sort of decent score, just for her to feel successful. We didn't retire and she didn't grip off, but it was exhausting for both of us to stay on that field for 5 minutes.
Pat is the Pat-O-Matic. He had a fair run on Saturday and a really nice run on Sunday. He can move these type of sheep. His lines were straight and we made all the panels. We timed out at the open pen.
In the evenings there was a Time and Points trial through an obstacle field that only lacked explosives and blinking neon to make it more impossible (for us). Pat was chased off by the worst of Couch's lot – a suspected carjacker ewe who had to weigh 500 pounds, most of it head and hoof.. I don't think I've ever seen Pat get chased off. She turned and charged and we both squealed like a pig. He ran a few feet but came back and she did it again. We let the sheep run to exhaust. It hardly seemed worth the effort to attempt to run her through the pretend clothesline and around the faux outhouse, across a cute bridge, etc etc. If they had added a conveyor belt through a screaming ban saw and into a marinade vat…well, yes.
When the trial was over, and the sheep loaded up in Couch's big stock trailer …I didn't see who drove it home, but I picture it being that particularly nasty ewe with a hank of natty wool/hair hanging off her large mean haunches. I picture her flipping Don off as she drove out of the gravel school lot, kicking up dirt and stones. Don standing there, coughing, never expecting this final indignity, although she is also wearing his hat and sunglasses. He is forced to beg a ride back to Caldwell with some trucker who does not believe his story, is tired of hearing it, what kind of man is BETTERED by a Katahdin/Dorper cross, especially in his own FANTASY? Somewhere near Baker City they are passed by a stock trailer going way too fast, careening between lanes – a gatoraid bottle filled with green sludge is hurled from the window and splatters onto their windshield. The driver is wearing a half-eaten flat rimmed straw cowboy hat. Baaa-ing.
"That was a hoof that throw'd that shit bottle outta that winder," the driver says.
"I TOLD YOU!"
Anyway. It's a fun trial. Who doesn't love tradition?