In Search of Knowledge
By Patrick Shannahan

As published in American Border Collie Magazine in Nov/Dec 1993

My trip to North Wales was not set up at the most popular time for sheepdog trials. In fact, if I could have delayed it for 2 weeks there would have been a trial nearly every day and some days I would have had a choice of 3-4 trials to attend. But my main goal was to see the dogs and how they are used in Wales.

Since this was my first trip to Great Britain I had preconceived notions of what the country would be like. Of course I knew it would be green and that there would be sheep - but not that green and not so many sheep! After arriving I was simply amazed at the number of pastures and the large number of ewes and lambs grazing the abundant grass.

I arrived on a Thursday afternoon as the guest of Selwyn and Audrey Jones of Ffestinoig. Although I was tired from the 19 hours of nonstop travel, I was quite excited about all the coming days that 1 would be in Wales. Our first "trial" day took us to three trials. We arrived at the first trial at approximately 9:00 a.m. This trial was on Anglesey Island off the coast of Wales. Selwyn entered two dogs on the spot. There was no pre-registration at any of the trials we attended. The course was not large, it had about a 200 yard outrun, lift, fetch, drive, and pen. There was no shed or single.

As with all the trials I attended the problems the Welsh had were similar to ours. The sheep were varied, some good and some bad. And the dogs were varied, some good and some bad. That first day I spotted several dogs I liked and would get to watch over the next few weeks. My host had good runs at the final trial that day and ended third with his dog Mirk.

The amazing part of watching these local trials was the number of dogs that they ran each day. They could run up to 110 dogs with a standard being set during the early afternoon. As the day went on, the standard would be that as soon as you missed an obstacle, you had to retire or were called off. This includes runs that had been near perfect up to that point.

Another part of their trials that surprised me was the lack of attention to having the sheep settled at the top. Most of the sheep were run out of the let out pen and were left to set close from the top fence. It was quite lucky if a dog was able to get around his sheep and settle at the lift. Most of the trials used three sheep and had no shed or single.

Selwyn took us up to the mountains to push ewes higher on the hill. He took two dogs - 4-year-old Gwen and 11-year-old Jim. The dogs worked magically on whistles as they were being commanded up to 1/2 mile away. Gwen showed tremendous stamina covering large quantities of ground and not showing any signs of fatigue.

Selwyn runs approximately 1100 Welsh-bred sheep and pastures older ewes in the valley while putting young ewes on the hills. The hill sheep are conditioned and bred to stay on his section of the mountain as there are no fences to separate them from other farmers' flocks. Most of the ewes had singles and those with ewe lambs were put on the mountains to condition and train the lamb to learn their boundaries.

A friend from the States, Lena Bailey, supplemented our tour of Wales. She took us to Aled Owens to see his dogs. Aled has had tremendous success the past few years with dogs from his highly successful Jess and Ben lines. This was of great interest to me as many of the young pups I start have these lines bred into them.

Aled showed us a coming 20-month-old son, Roy, who he thinks is much like his father Ben. We were also treated to watching two litter brothers, Craig and young Ben, put through their paces. Craig was fourth at the International last year and also won at a trial I got to see a few days later. Aled and his wife, Jane, have a beautiful farm; part of the farmhouse dates back to the 1200's.

Another day was spent going to the lamb auction in Bala. Much to my surprise all lambs were weighed and then sold in the pen in which they had been put. The auctioneer went from pen to pen announcing the weight and then selling the lambs by the head. The crowd of buyers and interested parties followed the auctioneer even in a light rain.

One of the highlights of our holiday was a trip to the Royal Welsh Exhibition. This was an agricultural show with approximately 65,000 people attending daily. We saw the best of Welsh livestock including 2000 sheep of 38 different breeds. We were also treated to a trial and sheepdog demonstration given by Katy Cropper. The Welsh are very proud of their livestock and it was a treat to see the line-up of champions. The most popular attraction was the Welsh Cob stallions as people lined up early in the morning to get the best seats.

Sunday we went to Glyn, Beryl, and Ceri Jones for dinner. The Bwlch Isaf farm is nestled above a beautiful valley with a tremendous view. Ceri and Glyn showed us their promising young dogs and Beryl treated us to a fabulous roast pork dinner. Wynn Edward (he won the International in 1981 and 1982) stopped by to work a young son of his dog, Don. The Jones' dogs mostly go back to the great Bwlch Talf.

The rest of our time was spent looking at young dogs in various places. I noticed that at the 8- to 16-month-old stage their dogs are much further along than ours are. The pups I saw were working well on whistles and driving. The other difference I noticed was that their pups had much cleaner and wider flank commands. This of course is necessary because of the flighty Welsh sheep.

Although I saw beautiful dogs, I came away feeling that we are on the right track in this country. I did feel our dogs would have been quite competitive, as would our handlers. But it was still a treat to see past International winners Alan Jones, Glyn Jones, Wynn Edwards, and Sydney Price. All of the Welsh people made us feel at home and at ease and I appreciated their warm hospitality.