Thousands gather in Utah for sheepdog championships

Posted at 5:56 PM, Aug 31, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-31 23:55:44-04

SOLDIER HOLLOW, Utah -- Some of the world's finest athletes took to the field at Soldier Hollow Sunday.

The course was made for Olympic cross-country skiers, but this weekend the participants were border collies trained to herd sheep, and they were competing in the Soldier Hallow Classic Sheep Dog Championship in Midway.

The event director, Mark Petersen, explained how it works.

"You have a handler and the dog, they go out at the base of this hill," he started.

Dog handlers describe sheep herding as a challenging game of connect the dots.

"They go up to the top, and they bring them down in a straight line," added dog handler Lise Andersen. "But these sheep can be very cantankerous, and so we are trying to help our dog, by whistles and by verbal commands."

In 13 minutes or less, the dogs must lead the wild sheep through a series of obstacles on a course stretching more than 600 yards.

"There are so many elements that can go wrong out there, the sheep, the weather, your dog can be off," dog handler Norman Close said.

The judges look for efficiency in the dog's work and how it takes care of the sheep. There's no advantage to doing it faster, just doing it well.

"And every deviation from the line, you lose points," Close said. "You start out with 100 points, and you start losing them as you go down."

The Soldier Hallow Classic Sheepdog Championship draws a crowed of nearly 30,000 over a three-day stretch, making it the largest event of its kind in the world.

The competition finals run Monday, September 1.