Steamboat Springs A local competition for sheep dogs and handlers from across the country is back after a one-year hiatus.
The Steamboat Stock Dog Challenge will be held Sept. 3 and 4 at the Stanko Ranch on Twentymile Road, organizer Mary Sasak said. A meeting for volunteers who want to help run the event is Thursday night. The two-day competition, Sunday and Monday of Labor Day weekend, could bring as many as 100 teams of border collie "sheep dogs" and their handlers to Steamboat Springs, Sasak said.
The local stock dog challenge began in 2003, a few years after Sasak first watched a sheep dog competition at the National Western Stock Show in Denver and fell in love with the event. She organized Steamboat challenges during Memorial Day weekends in 2003 and 2004, and moved the event to Labor Day this year to coincide with the Meeker Classic Sheepdog Trials, a high-profile competition that brings teams from as far as New Zealand.
This year's Meeker Classic is from Sept. 6 to 10.
"It will work really well for us to tie in with that event," Sasak said. Meeker competitors will likely use the Steamboat event as a warm-up, giving the town a tourism boost and giving local enthusiasts a look at some highly trained, intelligent animals.
"There will be some really nice dogs here," Sasak said.
Teams in the Steamboat challenge will guide small groups of sheep through obstacles such as gates and pens, in addition to splitting off specific sheep from the group, a process called "shedding."
"It's similar to what they would do for chores," Sasak said about the obstacles. "Each dog and handler will work a group of five sheep."
Sasak said the most difficult aspect of the challenge, which will award prize money as much as $500, is that handlers only can use voice commands or whistles to direct their dogs.
"That's what surprises most people," she said. "The dog can be as far as 300 yards away from the handler."
Sasak said that although most of the teams in the Steamboat challenge will come from outside Colorado, she has been hosting sheepdog clinics and lessons for locals this summer. A group has started coming to regular practices Monday and Wednesday nights, she said.
"We're trying to build the local group," Sasak said.