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Dear Doggers,

Next weekend (Oct 11 &12) will be our 25th Occasional Highland Sheepdog Trial. Our first had twelve entries and the field so many woodchuck holes, dogs went tumbling and I was terrified some dog would break his leg. That was sometime in the 80's.

Since I thought "Annual" and "Classic" were more burden than a hillbilly trial could bear, ours became the "Occasional". We canceled twice - once when the river was raging at the edge of the trial field and another time when Anne and I were overwhelmed.

While we've filled the woodchuck holes, there's new problems every year. This year's big questions: How to attach 300 feet of black plastic to the exhaust fence so we might, maybe, be able to reuse it (75$) next year. We're burning up: grass is gone except for the trial field. We wormed 220 ewes before put them in our hayfields and were hoping for a hard frost to kill worm eggs before reintroducing them to the trial field. They're grazing scattershot and I'll move them tomorrow.

And there's the brisket. We are an hour from any restaurant/supermarket so we feed the handlers. We usually draw several hundred spectators so we feed them too (contribution suggested).

I don't like prefrozen hamburger patties so a couple years back I researched hamburgers. Turns out that the best metro bar hamburger (8-15$) is brisket on Martin's Potato buns. Hand patties. Our spectators pay "by contribution".

So I put in my order at the meat market to be picked up Thursday morning so Thea and Anne can pat all that meat into patties. Got a call from the store manager: their ground brisket supplier no longer supplies so they'll grind the meat themselves which is going to cost $7.99 a pound instead of $6.99.

Which is $!00. extra for the weekend.

As a benefit, we don't pay prize money but last year we donated $500 to Border Collie rescue.

Ours is a poor county and I don't want to raise the gate ($8 per carload), nor will I gouge handlers. So I'm praying for good weather and plenty of leaf watcher spectators.

My fussy bells and whistles aren't worth two hoots. I've run at trials where you peed behind a bush because there wasn't a portopot and others where if you didn't bring your lunch you went hungry. I enjoyed them all. What does matter is a fair go: even sheep, interesting course, hardworking judge who gets the placements right.

I am grateful to hosts of every trial I run at. Each is a reflection of its host, his/her ideas and is created by love of our beautiful dogs. Thank you all.

Hell, frozen meat patties never hurt anybody.

Donald McCaig

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Thank you, Donald, your trial and trial location are a treat!


It's on my bucket list to attend again some time but life (and calves on feed) keeps getting in the way. Next year will be our last with the calves so maybe...


Highland County holds a special place in our hearts. As grad students at VPI (what Va Tech was called back then), we went to Highland County to judge a wildlife food plot competition. We spent a couple of glorious days in unimaginable Appalachian beauty, and a night at the old hotel on Main Street, then called the Monterey Inn and now the Highland Hotel (I think). Bathroom down the hallway, sink in the bedroom, dogs welcome, and a great home-cooking restaurant downstairs. We were young then, and it was marvelous. Short but the honeymoon we never had otherwise.

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I'm happy to eat frozen hamburgers. What I really come to dinner for is your world famous strawberry-rhubarb pie! (And Anne's amazing homemade bread, back in the day. And Thea's infectious good cheer.)


I fear that the weather forecast is not looking great, but I sincerely hope it changes. We will be between the peaks of the Draconid (10/8) and Orionid (~10/21) meteor showers and Yucatec Farm has to be one of the best possible places on Earth to watch such events. More stars than you can hope to see even in the more rural locations in the rest of Virginia. Lovely, lovely, lovely.


I for one am glad the trial is not as occasional as the name suggests. Your set out crew looks forward to this trial from the Monday following the previous trial....


(And I was hoping to get someone to spell me at the top briefly so I could run Pip this year, but he's managed to injure himself again. But team Lark and Nick are raring to go!)



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Lovely, lovely day on Saturday. Kiefer and I attended (as spectators).


It was slightly overcast, but not raining when I was there - ~10:30 - 2:30. [i had a 2+ hour drive each way.] The fall colors were glorious. Note to people who like to leaf-peep: Don't expect to see the best, richest colors (even at high color) on a brilliantly sunny day. A light overcast really allows the colors to glow. I know of what I speak as I grew up in Vermont.


I saw some wonderful runs and enjoyed those frozen hamburgers and fresh, farmer's market tomatoes. Ann was a wonderful host and came through the spectators a couple of times bearing crumbled burger or hot dogs (some may have fallen on the ground or been overcooked.) They didn't go to waste as she shared the meat with the dogs that were lucky enough to be around. Kiefer snarfed up a couple of rounds of burger. He was on his best behavior (sitting pretty) when Ann showed up. Then he had to eat kibble at night - what a letdown.


Hopefully, Alchemist will post some photos. Hint, Hint.


All in all, I enjoyed it immensely. Thank you to Donald and Ann and all the volunteers.

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Jovi, I'll do my best! I did capture a few snapshots both yesterday and today. My fall break starts on Wednesday (driving up to New England) - it may be Thursday before I manage any time in front of the computer for photos!


It was a splendid trial. I was thrilled to finally be able to make it. And Kiefer is one handsome dude!!!

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Dear Doggers,


The running was very good this year. Congratulations to Bruce Fogt and Beverly Lambert, our winners.


In 2009? I heard a really, really good musical group on our local (very local) radio's fundraiser. Wonderful old-timey mountain music. We have a Saturday night BBQ at the Highland Occasional so why not a little music afterwards? I called Paolo Marks http://paolomarksviolins.com/ and he, his family and friends drove over from West Virginia, ate with us, played late into the night camped out breakfasted with us and watched the trial for a couple hours before driving home.


They've come back every year since.


Bryan Obaugh, who is the fourth generation at the Obaugh Funeral Home, grows the hottest peppers known to man, plays music, farms with his Border Collie Caley, and loans us a handsome, sturdy. if somber tent for the trial.


Saturday night, the musicians arrive somewhat flustered because their van has thrown its transmission on the way and the van carries their camping gear. Oh well. They sit down for BBQ. The big white guard dogs arrive and join the festivities. I have this mental picture of 2 year old Benjamin Thomas, face to face with Roxie, whose head is bigger than his and surveys the tot with equanimity. After everybody eats, Thea strings lights and the musicians lay down a carpet under the tent (instrument protection) and tune up.


I listen to a few tunes and go up to the house to bed. Geezer privilege. About one o'clock I get up to pee (Geezer necessity) and look out the window where the bottom of the trial field is lit up like a parking lot and a soaring violin explains country joys and sorrows.


Bryan and Thea split the band for the night. They slept on thier floors, had breakfast with us (lots of leftover pie), watched a few runs and went home next morning.


Paolo Mark's wife, their cellist couldn't come because she's due to have her third but she'll be back next year.


Year before last, Dan King asked her if she'd ever had classical training and she bowed the opening notes of Vivaldi's Spring.


Donald McCaig

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A wonderland in Highland County VA!


Thanks to those who have written about it, for those of us who could not be there. Reading about it is the next best thing, and envisioning the beauty as we read the words.

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The trial was wonderful and I really enjoyed the musicians. We were the last sheepdog handlers there (except for Alice playing her drum), though Tom Wilson nearly stayed until the end too. They ended at 10:30 (or at least they packed up their instruments then) but perhaps they took them out again later. It was a real treat to sit in on what was basically a jam session by some very talented musicians. I wish more of the sheepdoggers would have stayed to listen! The hospitality is top notch, thank you so much. Looking forward to next year...or the next time you host the trial.



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Next time I'll arrange to leave Baltimore earlier - that way I won't be arriving on a Friday night at an outrageously late hour (keeping my poor host and hostess up until past 1:30 AM after we've spent a couple of hours chatting). Maybe then I'll have the energy to stay for the music. *If* I'm not cold and wet. I guess (sigh) that I'm turning into a geezer myself...


The strawberry-rhubarb pie (which I understand that you, Donald, personally made) was the stuff of legends!

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