RIO VISTA — Amid the rolling, green pastures of the Montezuma Hills, a band of shepherds and their border collies revived a tradition that once thrived on the land outside Rio Vista.
McCormack Ranch opened the gates to its sprawling property Saturday for the second annual Sheep Dog Trials, which drew dozens of competitors from Southern California to Idaho.
“This is one of the prettiest trials,” said Pine Valley resident Wilda Bahr, who brought seven border collies to the trials and competed with three.
The grassy course of more than 500 acres provided ample space for the dogs to make their initial outrun before reaching a small group of – hopefully undisturbed – sheep. Heeding the whistled commands of their handlers, the border collies made contact, then coaxed the sheep through a series of phases that tested the skills needed for competent stock work.
Bahr traded her horse for sheep when she discovered her love for border collies. She took on a stray as a riding dog but realized there was something special about the breed.
“She was so smart,” Bahr said.
After the dog died, Bahr set out to buy another border collie and never looked back. She’s been working with the breed for 20 years.
“They’re great dogs, they’re great to live with, “she said. “(But) they’re not for people who don’t have a job for them,” she said.
A strain of collie that became the foundation of the modern border collie emerged in the country between Scotland and England as the ideal sheep dog. The breed has been selected by shepherds for more than 400 years in unfenced sheep-raising areas of Great Britain.
McCormack Ranch has a few border collies on hand, said Jeannie McCormack. The dogs are owned by Ellen Skillings, who was also competing this weekend. The ranch is currently home to about 1,200 sheep.
McCormack said sheep dog trials were popular in the area in the 1930s but ceased in the ’70s after they became too popular.
“(There’s a) long tradition in Montezuma Hills of sheep dog trials,” McCormack said.
McCormack revived the tradition last year and – partnering with Soroptimist of Rio Vista – opened the trials to the public for the first time this year.
Soroptimist member Mary Ellen Lamothe estimated 600 people would attend the trials by the end of the weekend.
“I’m hoping this will become a signature event,” she said.
Reach Adrienne Harris at 427-6956 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/aharrisdr.
What: McCormack Ranch Sheep Dog Trials
When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: McCormack Ranch, 8192 Montezuma Hills Road, Rio Vista.
Info: Tickets may be purchased at Brand You Consignment, 116 Main St., and Books RioV, 187 Main St., in Rio Vista or online at http://sheepdogtrials.brownpapertickets.com.