A long-standing tradition is once again returning to Metchosin this month.
The Metchosin/Swanwick Ranch Sheepdog Trial takes place July 28 to 29 and will bring together more than 40 handlers from across western North America in a competition unlike any other for all ages to enjoy.
“It’s such a unique thing and it’s so unique to watch these dogs,” said Brian Domney, a member of the organizing committee. “It’s a throwback to a different age. I think that’s why families enjoy it so much because it’s something that you can watch that has been around for a long time.”
As part of the event, which is sanctioned by the North American Sheepdog Trial Association, handlers and their dogs (which are typically border collies), gather at the Swanwick Ranch overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca to take on the feisty stock from the Parry Bay Sheep Farm.
At the start of each run, a handler (also known as a shepherd) will stand by the grandstand with their border collie. The dog is then tasked with driving five or six sheep towards its handler without scaring them, all the while navigating a couple of gates and keeping them in a straight and steady line. The dog will then bring them around another series of gates before moving them into a pen.
The competition is known as a true test for both the dog and its handler as the sheep are not “dog broke,” meaning they’re unfamiliar with the drill.
Sheepdog trials have been around since the mid-1800s with the first known trial taking place in New Zealand, and spreading to Britain and other parts shortly after.
The competition started in Metchosin a number of years ago, and took a brief five-year hiatus before returning last year. And it returned to resounding success. More than 1,000 people attended the two-day event and organizers are anticipating a similar turnout this year as well.
“It’s the two minds working together, it’s not one mind or the dog just listening to whatever the handler wants. It’s a team. The dog knows about what it should be doing to keep the sheep under control,” Domney said. “I just love watching the dogs work. I don’t think there’s a breed in the world that comes close to the innate behaviours of a border collie.”
The Metchosin/Swanwick Ranch Sheepdog Trial takes place July 28 to 29, beginning at 7:30 a.m. and running until roughly 3:30 p.m. There will be a food truck and admission is by donation.