BLAKESBURG— Friday morning was cold, wet and muddy — not a typical setting for a dog show, but The United States Border Collie Handler Association (USBCHA) expected them to work in those conditions.

Dog trainers from different corners across America first gathered for the USBCHA dog trials at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday and will continue until Sunday. Twenty-six of the dog trainers and border collies younger than 4 years old competed in the field trial for a chance to have a title in the nursery class.

USBCHA President Peter Hall consulted with other trail committee members for six months in to put on the trials. The process was long, but Hall said it was worth seeing different people compete, especially since he has only watched a couple dog trials in his life.

“I was very interested in watching how these dogs do it with a lot of finesse,” Hall said. “They’re not in there fighting or roughing up the cattle, they’re using their natural abilities. These are the top handlers, which makes a big difference in how well they are going through different obstacles and getting close to the end. It’s higher quality work. The border collie breed uses its ability and body position to move both stocks. It’s a demonstration on how you manage livestock.”

Michael McNutt from Ohio has been in different shows for several years. He came because he wanted to compete in the national finals for the cattle division. To him it was a big deal, hoping to do the best he could with his “new passion.” He started with one border collie and ended up with five.

“It’s a little bit of a disease,” McNutt said with a laugh. “It’s neat getting older with this new passion. I spend more time with my dogs and traveling with them.”

Passion has its share of training though. McNutt said it took months of preparation, making sure the dog was fit, using whistles voice commands and working with cattle.

“Some of it is instinct and let them work as long as it’s correct,” McNutt said, “if we want to change something we give them a command that will go against their instinct. The cattle are not real well dog broke, so they’re not used to it, they move around some, but didn’t grow up with dogs working.”

Though the competition can be challenging, McNutt said there were positive aspects about the competition. “It’s been great, there’s a lot of great people here,” he said, “it’s been a nice field, very durable, yet challenging. I hope people see how beneficial and what a unique animal they are able to see. I want them to see the good parts of working with livestock.”

Campbell Forsyth, from Manitoba, Canada, competed in dog trials for more than two decades after getting into a farming accident. Since then it has been a great hobby. Forsyth continues to compete not just because he enjoys seeing his competition, but to reconnect with them and get spectators interested in border collies.

“I hope they come and enjoy themselves,” Forsyth said, “what they’re seeing, chances are at home they’ve probably got a dog at home. Now they’re gonna come here and watch these things and see how precise it is and how they could make their dogs at home just like this.”

Ashley Wright from Washington came with her border collie, Tucker. It was special for her because it was her third national competition and because it was Tucker’s last year to compete in the nursery division with cattle. Because once dogs turn four they can’t compete in the division.

“He did a good job,” Wright said. “I was really nervous but it had a nice run. I couldn’t have asked for a better dog. It’s fun catching up with people I haven’t seen for a year. It’s a chance to hang out with people who love border collies and love cattle and work together. I listen to all these top hands who have been doing it for 20 or 30 years and learn everything I can learn.”

Wright was grateful to have competed and looked at the filled bleachers, hoping spectators got something out of the competition.

“I hope they take away the partnership handlers have with their dogs and good livestock management,” she said, “using a dog can make moving cattle or sheep easier for handlers. We come out here for fun and to test our dogs, but the truth is most of these handlers are people who go back to their ranches and work their cattle.”

Amidst all the fun spectators and handlers had, the trials wouldn’t have been possible without Tim and Scott Sandeen, who used their land to host it.

“It’s amazed at how they can handle livestock,” Tim Sandeen said. Those dogs are just as intense as if you were to take the biggest test you ever took, you’re watching them. Their mind is here and nowhere else.”

Chiara Romero can be reached at

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