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The World Sheepdog Trial—2008

With my Welsh friend David Rees’ help, I worked Luke and June. Each dog trialed 10 times and to my surprise, and to the Welsh’s astonishment, we won one.

Phone lines were busy. “An American has won the South Wales. And he’d never run it before. And he worked the sheep with his hat! He hadn’t a crook.”

The president of the South Wales Sheepdog Society awarded my trophy. Although he wore a tweed suit, dress shirt and tie, his thick fingers and handshake were a farmer’s who’d worked all his days.

His niece said, “In the 102 years of the Hafod Bridge trial, no American has ever entered. And an American has defeated the Welsh.” She paused for a beat. “Do you not use crooks? In America, I mean.”

It had been a rough week for the dogs. They’d been 12 hours with an airline, in the back of a cramped car four more and in the belly of an ocean ferry for three, and next morning they’d traveled from Dover to Wales. Whether training or trialing, they’d risen at daybreak and, oft as not, had eaten in the car. Walked mornings and evenings by flashlight and, since they were wet and muddy, they slept in crates in a stall. They’d had no Dog Time—without requirements, commands or leashes, just dogs alive in the world, sniffing their sniffs, investigating, going where they would.

So we went to the beach. Evidently dune sniffs are different from farm sniffs, because June and Luke’s snouts were glued to the sand. On the beach, they rolled and rolled, tongues lolling, being just as silly as they wanted to be. Grinning, June suggested to Luke that they might “play,” but that stick-in-the-mud wasn’t interested. They dashed, they rolled, they ran like the wind, they had a big time. Like tired children, they slept all the way home.

At 6 PM, Luke, June and I waited on a Llandeilo side street with 12 other Americans in bright-red World Team jackets. It was pouring rain. Television sound men tangled our leashes. Cameramen lay prone on the cobblestones to get close-ups of the dogs.

The drum major bellowed and the bass drum thumped and, in a rag-tag, intensely doggie fashion, we paraded alphabetically—Australia, then Austria, through to the United States and Wales. Clots of handlers and sheepdogs paraded through the narrow streets. More television, more cameras. Llandeilo is a small village, but there were thousands of cheering spectators.

School children waved paper flags they’d made in class, and Boy Scouts saluted. An ambulance corps in bright lime-green uniforms gave us a cheer.

The United States team was applauded, but moments later, the crowd roared when the Welsh team appeared.

My dogs hated it.
The trial was an enormous undertaking: food venders (including “Mobile Indian Cuisine”), a Renault exhibit, crook makers, artists, a cider- and perrymaker, an outdoors clothing tent. One could buy Australian boots, electric fence or Border Collie figurines. The vegetable stand was piled high with carrots and onions. Land Rover was the main sponsor, and you could have bought one Thursday, but it wouldn’t have done you any good. No car could move in this mud.

Buses brought spectators. We handlers got in before the turf was broken.

Luke and I ran on qualifying field number two, the 14th runner.

These were Welsh Mountain Sheep from one flock, brought off the hill three days previous, and they were extremely skittish. In the first 13 runs, only one dog settled them. Sheep spotters stationed a man and dog between the sheep and the fetch panels to hold them until the competing dog could get behind.

It was Luke’s kind of course—outrun 500 yards, 300 to the drive panels, 400 crossdrive.

Two judges watched from a portable tower as the announcer said, “Donald is from Williamsville, Virginia, in the States. Williamsville has a population of 16, presently 15 now Donald’s in Wales.”


Donald McCaig is a novelist, essayist, poet and sheep farmer who gained recognition with his classic man-and-dog tale, Nop's Trials, which was followed by numerous other bestsellers, including Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men and, most recently, Rhett Butler's People.

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