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Kingston Sheep Dog Trials

Gary

by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams

Going To The Dogs…

Finally no rain! It’s the day after our rain drenched trip to Shelburne to visit the Canadian Open Fiddle Championship (and now we are going to the dogs! The Kingston Sheep Dog Trials are talking place and we have been looking forward to attending for some time! It’s amazing how a beautiful sunny day can brighten one’s outlook! The trip to Kingston seemed to pass far too quickly. The trials were taking place in a large park, Grass Creek, located just east of Kingston. We found the exit off Highway 401 and headed south towards Lake Ontario. The park was easy to find. It was on the south side of the road. We turned right into the park’s drive and followed it to the parking area. The lot was already almost full! Volunteer parking staff showed to a parking spot under an old maple tree. Horse drawn wagons were on hand to take visitors to the trial area. Fortunately our parking spot was fairly close to the trials grounds, so Judi and I decided to walk the short distance. They had given us a program guide when we entered the park, so we started to review the various activities. The Sheep Dog Trials weren’t just dog trials! They organizers were offering all types of interesting activities! Here is a list of some of what was being offered in addition to the sheep dog trials: Crocodiles of the World, Jungle Cat World Show, Birds of Prey Show, Sheep Shearing Demonstrations, Craft and Artisans Fair, Face Painting, Pony Rides and a Petting Zoo and a performance by the exciting family fiddling sensations! We couldn’t wait to start!

Where To Start?

With so many great activities being offered, it was hard to know where to start! As we walked from the parking lot, we noticed several event areas had been set up. On our left was the Canine Games field. Jumps and other game equipment were set up. It looked like we had just missed a show. On our right a petting zoo and petting zoo were attracting lots of kids and their parents. Further along came the Crafts and Artisans tent. It was a large open tent housing several vendors. Nearby another tent had been erected for “Mad Science for Kids”! This attraction looked very popular. Finally we came to the main tent and food area. Several food vendors were busy serving hungry customers. Smoke from their fire pits was billowing up skyward, while the sweet aroma of freshly cooked food filled the air. Near the tents, signs had been posted telling visitors where different events were being held. We wandered to the crest of a hill and looked down towards the St. Lawrence Seaway. A large Kingston bound ferry could be seen in the distance. At the water’s edge was the park’s fabulous play area. It was full of children laughing and playing. There was a large pyramid apparatus in the middle of the playground that seemed to have captured the imagination of most of the children! Part way down the hill, three soldiers from Fort Henry were practicing playing their flutes and drum. The whole atmosphere was magical! Back up the hill we moved towards the Kingston Sheep Dog Trial area. A large show tent had been set up close to the trials field. Inside the tent was information about the Sheep Dog Trials plus the art of Trials “Artist in Residence”, Michael Walker, was on display. Just outside the tent an auction was taking place. Several people had gathered around the auctioneer. A beautiful handmade shawl was being auctioned and the bidding was lively! Once the auction was over and the prize won, we walked back to where we had noticed several activity signs. It was time to see what else was being offered!

Cats and Friends…

We walked back to where we had seen the event directional signs. Each sign showed when each performance was taking place. We were just in time to see the start of the “Jungle Cat World” show. A crowd of people had already formed around the Jungle Cat World tent. As soon as they were ready, the two animal handlers came to the front of the tent and the show area and introduced themselves. One assumed the MC job, while the other managed the animals. The first animal to be introduced to the audience was a “Rind-tailed Lemur”. The beautiful little animal perched itself high on the handlers shoulder. Here, it gently accepted grapes. The children in the audience loved it when it was brought to them for a closer look! The next guest was a “Stripped Skunk”. The audience “shrunk” back when the handler put it down on the ground to have a look around. She assured us that we were quite safe! With the skunk securely back in its cage, out came a “Red Fox”. The handler carried it in her arms. It seemed a little bewildered by the crowd! Next came a black coloured “Wolf” pup. The children were fascinated and I am sure most thought it was just a young dog! Once down from the handler’s arms, the Wolf pup played and rolled in the grass! A long legged Lynx was the next one to be taken from its cage. Its long legs, made for speed, dangled over the handlers shoulders. The love and care that each of these animals received was apparent by how they responded to their handlers! The star of the show was last out. A baby Tiger, complete with its own stuffed Teddy Bear, was carried out it its handlers arms! The audience, adults and children, “oohed and awed” as the Tiger cub played on the ground with its handler. The crowd reluctantly allowed the star of the show to be re-caged! After the show was over, the audience was invited to the tent to ask questions and see the animals close up. Judi and I headed back up the hill. We were going "back to the DOGS”!

Back To The Dogs…

We walked back up the hill to the Kingston Sheep Dog Trial field. The viewing area on the east side of the field was elevated. There were several shade tents set up along the hill. A fence separate the viewing area from the trial field. Off to our left there was another mound. The judging and announcing tent was there. In front of this area was where the handler stood and controlled his/her dog. On the far northwestern part of the field a group of sheep were released from their pen. A man herded them onto the trial field. Standing by his controller’s side a Border Collie patiently waited for the “go” command. All of a sudden the command was given and the dog took of like a shot! He raced up the hill towards the waiting sheep. The dog, being well trained, was careful how he approached the sheep. He didn’t want to scare and scatter them. Quickly he gained control over them and started to herd them towards a gate opening. All this was accomplished through the dog’s training and the handlers whistle commands! Slowly the sheep were herded to a predetermined spot and held there by the Border Collie. The controller then walked down from the mound and together they herded the sheep further. The whole performance was like a carefully choreographed dance! Once the trial was over, the judges marked their scores. This “dance” continued throughout the afternoon with the sheep sometimes out manoeuvring the dog and handler.( It was great fun to watch! The hard work and dedication necessary to train these beautiful dogs certainly showed in this competition. Judi and I left the field with a sense of awe. We headed back towards the directional signs. There was more to see.

Reptiles and Raptors…

From the directional signs, we followed the arrow to Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo, that is, I did! Judi stayed at the top of the hill! I walked down the hill towards a large shelter area. There was a crowd surrounding it. This was where the Reptile Zoo was located and the show was in progress! At one end of the shelter a number of people were crowded around a handler who was crouched low to the ground. She held a small crocodile in her hands. The children and adults around her were fascinated! In the middle of the shelter another of the Zoo’s staff sat cross-legged on the ground. Cradled in his arms was a medium sized alligator. A young girl was stroking the alligators back! While all this was happening each handler patiently answered any question that was asked of them. Fro the Reptile Zoo I walked back up the hill to where Judi was waiting. We were then off to the Canadian Raptor Conservancy area. The show was about to begin. A large group of people had already gathered outside the taped barrier! Judi and I have seen the show several times with James Cowan, the Conservancy’s Director, leading the performance. Today, however, James was nowhere in sight and the show was being conducted by his wife, Shauna. Although their styles are different, the information given to the audience is the same. No matter how many times I have seen their show, I never tire of watching these magnificent birds perform! I am sure that James and Shauna must feel the same! After the Raptors’ show, we decided to head home. The Kingston Sheep Dog Trials certainly were worth the trip to Kingston. The Trails were interesting and exciting and the additional activities were “icing on the cake”!

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