Dog lovers from all across the U.S. will travel to Hotchkiss, Colo., this coming weekend, May 9 – 11, to watch the 11th Annual Sheep Camp Stock Dog Trials.
Held in a scenic pasture just one block from town, the highly popular event is the second largest in the state (behind only the dog trials in Meeker).
“We’ve gotten handlers from as far away as the Carolinas, Montana and Texas,” said Marilyn Bailey, one of the founders. “Up to 14 states have been represented in a single year. That’s how wide it is. We are only able to take 65 or 70 entries, so actually end up with about 40 dogs on stand-by.”
Toss in the thousands of spectators, vendors, craftsman and, of course, sheep, and “It’s become the biggest weekend in Hotchkiss, by far — even bigger than the fair.”
Behind the scenes, “There is lots of unseen labor and coordinating,” she continued. “The pre-planning includes endless phone calls back and forth to the handlers. The whole thing costs between ten and eleven thousand dollars to put together, because there are so many miscellaneous expenses, such as insurance. We have to have community support to put this on.”
And they definitely do.
Hotchkiss, located about an hour from Grand Junction (take U.S. 50 east to Delta, turn left, and keep going) has been dubbed “The Friendliest Town Around,” and with good reason. With less than 1,000 year-round residents, it’s a place where everybody knows each other.
“It’s not about the committees here. It’s about the community,” insists Richard Bailey, Marilyn’s husband of 59 years.
After coming up with the idea of having stock dog trials, “I was told to go to a town meeting.”
From there, he was directed to the local chamber of commerce, which gave him the money needed for advertising. By the time that first weekend trial was over, he’d gotten so much support that, “When I placed a personal ad in the paper, thanking all the volunteers, there was a total of 62 names.”
It all got started in the 1980s, when Richard and Marilyn had a chance meeting with their first working Border Collie, a breed known for its extraordinary instinct for herding sheep and cattle.
“We were over at our friend Bob Davis’s house, down the road,” he recalled. “I had some lambs in the back of my truck, and couldn’t get them out. Bob sent his dog in, and it did such a great job, I started thinking I needed one.”
A year later, the couple got a pup, named Clem, out of that same dog.
“I knew nothing about training them, though,” Richard admits.
It’s been said that Border Collies are different from other dogs, due to centuries of selective breeding for distinct thinking patterns. To get help, Richard attended a special clinic in Greeley, Colo.
“A man named Jack Knox, from Butler, Mo., was leading it. He’s helped more people in the United States get started in Border Collies than anyone else.”
Clem was up and running, literally.
Yet it was Marilyn who ended up with him.
“She was raising 4-H club lambs and took him over. (Marilyn remained involved with 4H for 20 years.) He became her right hand. We couldn’t have run the sheep without him.”
The Bailey’s have since raised quite a few litters. They’ve given some away and sold others, and currently keep four, ages 5 months to 10 years old.
After somebody asked Richard, “Why don’t you put a trial on here in Hotchkiss?” he was intrigued.
First, he approached Dick Hotchkiss, who had a “good piece of land south of town. Dick also had an original trailer that his herders had lived in while watching flocks in the hills.”
On a handshake, he agreed to let the Bailey’s use it for an ad photo.
“We borrowed a mule, a .32 Special, and went out to the Adobes.”
To make it look even more original, they added sheep in the background ... and, of course, several dogs.
Larry Allen and his wife, Janet, then agreed to supply the sheep needed for the trials. Two other couples — who had Border Collies and were familiar with how trials were run — promised that they could be counted on for help. Still others supplied the wires, boards, hinges, and other things needed to put the courses together.
And finally, Marilyn came up with a name for the event.
Flash forward a decade, and enthusiasm for Border Collies has truly taken off.
Border Collies were originally imported from the steep, rugged territory between Scotland and England.
According to the standards of the American Kennel Club, the breeding selections were “based on biddable stock sense and the ability to work long days. It developed the unique working style of gathering and fetching stock with wide, sweeping outruns. The stock was then controlled with an intense gaze known as the ‘eye,’ coupled with a stalking style of movement.”
Averaging 18 to 22 inches in height at the shoulders, they come in a wide variety of colors including black, sable and merle, with white patches on the paws, chest and/or face.
Extremely hardy, this breed tends to keep on going long after other dogs start sleeping in front of the woodstove. Gordon Hebenstreit, current president of the board, says of his own Border Collie, Buzz, “He’s still very active.”
Even though the dog is now 13 years old, “We use him a lot on the Angus Simmental-cross cows on our (Cedaredge) ranch.”
Like the Baileys, Gordon and his wife, Cheryl, became fans of the breed by sheer chance.
“My sister worked at the Humane Society in Omaha, Nebraska,” he explained. “We had just lost our older dog, and were looking for another.”
Buzz came to them already trained to work sheep, and easily learned to do cattle, as well.
Hooked, the couple now owns four.
Gordon has been involved with the dog trials since 2007, making joint decisions with Richard “on anything that is needed to get them going,” including the coordination of the judges, the volunteers, and the people who provide the sheep. As president, he attends periodic meetings throughout the year “to gear up,” as well.
Cheryl is responsible for the vendors, the gate, programs and the artwork that is chosen for T-shirts and posters.
“In the past, we had art competitions. A lot of preparation went into notifying the various art clubs and guilds,” building enthusiasm for people to submit their artwork.
“We charged $25 for them to enter the contest, and then put that money towards the trials.”
Artists also provide oil paintings that are sold at silent auctions, and “we have new material every year.”
This year’s chosen painting, by Hotchkiss artist Jennifer Jung, is entitled “A Good Eye.” It’s a great way for them to get their work out there, since “all paintings are put on display in the local museum, which stays open (free to the public) during the trials.”
“Right now,” adds Cheryl, “we are looking for an official art show sponsor, as well, who will donate cash in exchange for the ad space and publicity.”
Additional artists will be setting up booths with their wares, which include food, jewelry, clothing and goat milk soaps and lotions. Also returning is a fan favorite, wool spinners, “who’ve been an incredible hit. They allow spectators to sit at their looms.”
Nearby, you’ll find Doug Hamilton demonstrating how to shear sheep.
Larry Allen will have several actual sheep camps (which look like mini-covered wagons) set up, as well, so people can step inside.
And of course, there’ll be pens set up with sheep in them for the public to hand-feed.
The key is to educate, and promote agriculture.
Cheryl concludes, “It’s a lot of hard work. Participants have to lug in their looms, tents and equipment. But it’s gratifying to teach people. It’s pretty neat.”
As for 82-year-old Richard, he says, “I’m in good shape for my age because of these dogs.” ❖