Calgary – It’s a feat to behold: a handler communicating with their four-legged partner through a series of high-pitched whistles and voice commands, herding a trio of sheep through a challenging course in front of a hushed crowd of thousands.
For Norm Sommer and his border collie Mark, the fancy footwork under the bright lights came from countless hours working in the slightly less glamourous environment of the family farm. The duo wowed the standing-room only crowd Sunday night at the Agrium Western Event Centre with a winning run of one minute 32 seconds to take the Calgary Stampede’s World Stock Dog Championship.
“It’s the best training there is. The way I feel, they have to be able to do it at home. If they can do it there, then they can come compete,” said Sommer, 56, of Pleasantdale, Sask. “If I have trouble with them doing a chore on the farm — if I go get another dog from the kennel to do it — then I find a home for them. They have to do the work.”
Sixty handler-and-dog teams competed Saturday and Sunday through two rounds for one of the 12 spots in Sunday’s sudden-death final on a 21-point course. In the event, sanctioned by the United States Border Collie Handlers Association and the Alberta Stock Dog Association, the handlers directed their dogs through a combination of whistles and voice commands with the goal of penning the sheep as quickly as they could under the four-minute limit while completing the required movements on the course.
The action-packed evening saw two competitors time out and one disqualified for contact. For the first time, the competition featured an Australian kelpie, an Australian shepherd and border collies. Sommer received $10,000 for his win, along with a custom shepherd’s crook. Reserve Champion Ken MacKenzie from Drayton Valley, Alta. took home a cheque for $4,000 for his time of 1:55 with his dog Grace.
“We haven’t competed in Calgary for the past 10 years. Every year for the last three or four years, we’ve watched the competition on Ustream. I always say we aren’t going to go, then I was saying, ‘Gee, I see all my friends there.’ And I’m very competitive. Now, we’ll be back next year for sure,” said Sommer, who has been working with stock dogs for 20 years.
Taylor Platt of Shaunavon, Sask. is at the other end of the spectrum. The 15-year-old has been in the sport for a scant four years, and 2017 marked her competitive debut at the Stampede.
“I work my dog every day that I can after school, and then I compete every weekend in July. I do about 20 trials in a year. He’s my style of dog. He’s a very one-person dog and a little bit of all work, no play. He takes his job very seriously,” Taylor said of her border collie Kep. “The connection with the dog, that relationship, is what got me hooked. It’s led me into a whole world of opportunities.”
She was introduced to the sport after her dad attended a stock dog clinic. His dog did better with Taylor, so she took over. Since then, she’s been learning the ropes from Jamie Gardner, the handler who held that clinic. At the Stampede, Taylor didn’t progress past the first go, while Gardner made it to the second go with two of her dogs.
“She is super smart and she has a feel for animals like I have never seen before. They will do backflips for her,” Gardner said of her protégé. Gardner received the Sponsors Choice Award from BarT5 Trailers on Sunday for her contribution to the sport. “She makes good decisions. This girl is going to whip by me and keep going.”
For the full results of the World Stock Dog Championship, please visit calgarystampede.com
About the Calgary Stampede
The Calgary Stampede celebrates the people, the animals, the land, the traditions and the values that make up the unique spirit of the west. The Calgary Stampede contributes to the quality of life in Calgary and southern Alberta through our world-renowned 10-day Stampede, year-round facilities, western events and several youth and agriculture programs. Exemplifying the theme We’re Greatest Together; we are a volunteer-supported, not-for-profit community organization that preserves and promotes western heritage and values. All revenue is reinvested into Calgary Stampede programs and facilities.
For more information, please contact:
Western Events and Agriculture
Community Engagement & Communications