Intention is a Key

Laura Vishoot and dogs at Palm Cottage FarmI can train a dog to be successful in Open sheepdog trials, and I can handle a dog.  I have to say, though, that doing so is not one of my greatest innate talents.  I’m  empathetic with animals, but convincing them that it’s a great idea to do my bidding?  To influence or even overcome  their instincts, impulses, worries, weaknesses in service of my wishes?  That’s been a long and challenging road for me.  There are trainers and handlers who are truly masterful at this arcane endeavor.  Fortunately, many of them are available to share their knowledge and skills with the rest of us.

In my defense, however, I think that my own struggles can be instructional to others.  Believe me, when I see bumbling, poor timing, lackluster stockmanship  and general cluelessness, I can relate.  I have been there, or at least to a very similar, often embarrassing place.

One of the biggest hurdles for a beginner, from my perspective, is the concept of developing a clear mental image of what we’re asking of our dogs, and understanding how to communicate this to them.  This holds true in competition as well as training.

I remember, cringingly, when one of my patient instructors was explaining to me why Delia needed to “square up” her “slicing” “flanks,”  and how I could work on accomplishing that.  There I stood, nodding thoughtfully - and without any mental picture whatsoever of what she was trying to help me to see.  Not a clue.

I was so full of B.S.!  I never did fix those flanks, either.


The Road to Big Willow

photo credit: Bonnie Block, Field and Farm Wildlife Photography,

Big Willow  2013.  I’m having a difficult time, this weekend, with managing the past.  The passing of time, and the way that it goes.  The way it just flows away behind us.

How many times have I driven up this winding and dusty road, straight into the glare of the rising sun?  Sometimes kind of sick with trepidation (maybe because I’m verging on tardiness and the possibility of missing my first run!), sometimes full of anticipation.  A Peruvian shepherd lounging  on a hillside in the yellow grass, surrounded by his dogs, distantly observes me.  Cattle loose in my path, including a massive black bull who’s considering offering a challenge to my truck.  And, over the last rise, tucked into a tiny valley dwarfed by the majesty of the endless, rolling, dully golden surrounding geography, lies the toylike mini- world of trailers, canopies, sniffing, pissing dogs, vehicles.  Handlers - my friends, nemesis, regardless,  they’re  my special community of people - milling about the tall rustic stick that’s the Big Willow handler’s post, awaiting the meeting.

Laura Vishoot and dogs at Palm Cottage FarmMany times.  I’m not really sure how many.

It’s always the same dusty road.  The same village of weirdos like me.  The music I’m playing becomes imprinted in my mind and inexorably linked to that moment of driving on that road.  Certain songs by Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Massive Attack, Elliot Smith,  will trigger forever the feelings about the state of my life when driving on that road, letting the music inside.


Saying Goodbye

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Sooner or later, it seems like a lot of life turns out to be about goodbyes.

It's very late. I don't want to go to bed. Tonight I'm saying goodbye to Ripley.

All of us who share our lives closely with dogs have experienced this. We all know that they will be leaving us far, far before we are ready to let them go. The longer they are with us, the more we must realize that they won't be staying much longer ... and the bigger the empty space they'll leave behind becomes.

Ripley. Just a year ago, she and I were on a wonderful roll on the trial fields. With her I first experienced that harmonious groove where, for some moments, it felt as if she, the sheep and I were all happily following the same upbeat script. That's rare, for me anyway. She is the dog who led me to understand exactly what it is that I am striving for during all the hours of working together with a dog, and especially when I walk with my dog by my side to the post. She helped me start to become a real handler.

Ripley loved to trial, and she was not interested in training. To be honest, she preferred not to do chores. She was, in fact, a "sport dog." The concept has been soundly disparaged among many in our little community of sheepdog folks, but evidently Ripley wasn't aware of this. She wanted to go, in the truck, to a sheepdog trial. When she got there, she'd look for the post and if I let her, she'd bound right up to it, adrenaline sparking. That was her thing. She had game.

She still does want to go in the truck, but today she's not able to get herself into it. She's been so sorry to be left behind.


Happy New Year to all of our friends!

Palm Cottage Farm-2011-Happy New YearSo far in 2011,  mother nature has been kind to us here at Palm Cottage Farm and granted us a very mild winter.  Late January smiled upon us with some blissful sunny days, and early February is promising to do the same.  We're pathetically thrilled to be able to stay outside until after 6:00 p.m. with a little tiny bit of light left.  Bulbs are starting to poke their snouts up out of the earth and nubs of buds are popping out on the branches of our fruit trees.  Now we hope for no harsh frosts to impede all these precocious signs of Spring.

2011 has already brought a major renovation to the farm:  On January 25, Steve underwent a total hip replacement.  He came through the surgery and early stages of recovery like the  juggernaut  that he is.  Ahead lies the arduous and lengthy healing and rebuilding stages.  Steve is a good patient, but I know that being inactive is a challenge for him.  It will all be worthwhile though!

Palm Cottage Farm students have been making a lot of progress over the winter and we expect great strides from them as the trial season starts to gear up soon, and my dogs are ready to hit the road any time!

Next weekend we plan to head to Idaho for the El Presidente trial, followed immediately by Zamora ... and with that, I guess that 2011 trialling will be officially launched!

2010: A "Look Back"

Palm Cottage Farm-2010 Look BackEwes are bred and expanding nicely, bulbs are tucked in, horses sporting rain sheets, dog kennels freshly bedded with cozy hay.  The ground outside this morning is crunchy with frost; inside, Palm Cottage is warm and festive with Christmas aroma and decor.  I'm snuggled on the couch sharing my  blanket with Phoebe and Petey,  and thinking about the year that is quickly closing down.

2010 has been a rewarding and productive year for us here at Palm Cottage Farm.  Steve has made some spectacular changes to the world outside.   "Wren's Pond"  which he started in 2009, metamorphosed from a blackberry choked puddle to a groomed and serene mini - resort this year, thanks to his vision and hard work.  We and our friends have spent many glorious hours there, admiring the population of salamanders, bullfrogs and dragonflies, building fires and roasting wieners and marshmallows.  The adirondack chairs, hammocks and picnic table are bundled up for the winter, but Wren's Pond is already refilled and getting ready to provide pleasure for all in a few more months.

"Ripley's Magic Forrest" has blossomed from a messy woodlot to a park!  Magic, indeed!  Thanks again to Steve, and his trusty Kubota, of course, there are wide and beautiful trails, open meadows, and serene vistas to enjoy there now.  The Forrest leads into miles of logging roads open for dog walking and horseback adventures, if you aren't too scared about maybe meeting a bear or a gnarled logger or two!


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