Steamboat Springs It sounded as if birds were singing Sunday afternoon even as the rain started pouring on the Sasak ranch.
The shrill sound was actually coming from a stock dog whistle imported from Scotland. It was being used by Carol Lucero to direct her 3-year-old border collie, Krystal.
In a bright yellow poncho, Lucero blew into her whistle and gave Krystal, some 270-yards away, the order to start guiding a group of five sheep through an obstacle-like course.
Through the grassy pasture, in between a set of logs and eventually to where Lucero stood, Krystal ran back and forth nudging the sheep and listening to Lucero's whistles.
Distance and pressure, Lucero said, are the two keys to a working dog working sheep through the fields.
The Fort Lupton woman said just five whistles are essential in directing a stock dog: calls that tell the dog to move the sheep clockwise, counter clockwise and forward, and calls that tell the dog to stay and that the herding is finished.
How fast or slow the whistle is blown determines the pace the dog uses to herd the sheep.
Lucero is a hobby trialer, meaning she raises sheep for the purpose of training her border collies to work them.
Lucero and Krystal were doing test runs Sunday to help Marianne Sasak prepare for Steamboat's first Stock Dog competition.
On Sunday morning, Jan Koch, from Douglas, Wyo., gave a clinic for working stock dogs, and in the afternoon a group of about five did test runs in preparation for next week's competition.
Next weekend, the Sasak Ranch just off Twentymile Road, will host the Steamboat Stock Dog Challenge. Starting on Saturday, the competition will bring dogs from around the state, Wyoming, Utah and Kansas.
The two-day event will feature an estimated 65 entries in four classes: novice, open, open ranch and nursery.
The novice class is for beginners. The open class is the fully advanced course and the open ranch class is the intermediate division. The nursery class is for dogs that are 3 years old and younger.
Judge Steve Peterson will come down from Lance Creek, Wyo., and is scheduled to give a clinic May 26, the day after the competition ends.
On Thursday, 140 sheep will arrive on the Sasak Ranch from Tom Maneotis' ranch in Yampa and will be used in the trial.
These range sheep have never been worked.
One of the only events in Steamboat on Memorial Day weekend, the stock dog trial has received interest from locals who want to watch. The closest stock dog competition is in Meeker.
Sasak said she is surprised by the interest.
"What we were going to do was keep it small and learn how to run a trial," Sasak said. "But it turned into a much bigger trial than expected."
The event is also being used as a fund-raiser for Laura Crosby Meyers, who grew up in Clark and is undergoing chemotherapy treatments and radiation for a brain tumor.
Parking is $5 per car. And after parking runs out, it will cost $2 per person.
A publicity poster featuring a print by local artist John Fawcett is also for sale for $10 at Elk River Farm and Feed, the extension office and Sasak Trailers.
Sasak became interested in sheep dog trials after seeing an event at the National Western Stock Show in Denver.
For the last three years, she has been hosting a clinic and was encouraged to hold a trial
"We hope to hold it every year and will probably stay with (Memorial Day) weekend," Sasak said.
The event is sanctioned by the Mountain and Plains Border Collie Association and the National Border Collie Association.
Sasak said Susan Shoemaker and Lynn Richmond have helped organize the event. Major sponsors are the Routt County Farm Bureau and Cook Chevrolet.