Cattle Dog Trials offer glimpse into Steamboat’s history and culture this weekend

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Dog Zoe, cared for by Jan Wagner of Nunn, Colorado, is herding a cow at the 2019 Routt County Cattlemen Classic Stockdog Trial. Dogs and handlers from across the nation will return to the Brent Romick Arena on Howelsen Hill this weekend to measure yourself.
Eleanor C. Hasenbeck / Steamboat Pilot & Today Archive

The work of Cattle Dogs is a mystery to most people. This weekend, the Routt County Cattlemen’s Classic Cattle Dog Trials at the Brent Romick Arena in Steamboat Springs will enlighten those who have no idea what a cattle dog is or what it does.

The third edition of the tests will take place this weekend and will feature teams of dogs and handlers putting their cattle handling skills to the test. Spectators can experience the animals’ impressive abilities all day on Saturdays and Sundays for free, but donations are welcome. There will also be a demonstration on Saturday at 6 p.m. on how you can start your dog in livestock farming.

“Our city has a long legacy, a cultural history linked to agriculture,” said Jeff Meyers, co-chair of the event. “People keep telling me, ‘The only thing I like about Steamboat that makes it the goal it is is that it’s a real city.’ It’s not just a ski resort, it’s not just a summer vacation spot. It’s a real city with real people living there and farming. This event helps connect this farming community with visitors and locals who don’t go to a ranch often. … It’s a chance for the community to get an insight into the things we do on the ranch every day. It’s kind of an important link to the history and culture of Steamboat. “

Meyers and his wife Erika Murphy carried out the experiments with the help of sponsors and a few dedicated volunteers. The event will attract handlers and dogs who work in ranches, as well as some competitors who only use their skills in shows. Most will be from out of town or out of state, with Meyers being the only local competitor. Most of the dogs will be border collies, but there is an Australian kelpie in the lineup.

Meyers, who is a member of the National Cattledog Association and the Mountain States Stockdog Association, will compete in the open class or most competitive with his 9-year-old Border Collie Luke. Luke has a long history of Cattle Dog Champions in his pedigree or family. He is fast and agile and “has a lot of heart”, according to Meyers.

“When we started testing, he wasn’t even 2 years old,” said Meyers. “There weren’t nearly as many trials, and the trials weren’t nearly as big. Now this sport has grown and my goodness, especially in the calendar of the mountain states there are dog tests somewhere every weekend. “

During this weekend, dog handlers and dogs have to complete tasks and not only fight against a clock, but also collect points based on how well they overcome the obstacles.

The dog and handler start at one end of the arena and the cattle are released at the other end. The dog then leads the cattle to its handler as it passes between two panels. Next, they walk around the handler and enter a slide arrangement with various entrances and exits. The handler must be outside the obstacle, but the dog can step inside to lead the cattle through. Next, the dog puts the heifers in a stall and sorts some in one direction and the others in another. Finally, they lead the heifers out of the arena and stop the clock.

“It shows a lot of people that many ranchers still move cattle with dogs without much yelling and yelling,” said Justin Warren, president of the Routt County Cattlemen’s Association. “Everything revolves around low-stress handling, this is how we want to deal with cattle.”

Coyote Creek Ranch’s Jeff Meyers and wife Erika Murphy help out at the Routt County Cattlemen’s Classic Cattle Dog Trials. He will also compete with his Border Collie Luke this weekend.
Frances Hohl / Steamboat Pilot & Today Archive

There are different classes in which teams can compete against each other. Meyers will also take part in the kindergarten class for dogs under 2 years of age with Luke’s son Tate. The dogs in the kindergarten class are younger and less experienced, but the handlers are usually among the best. Meyers believes Tate will be among the top contenders in the class, although it will be the pup’s second attempt.

“He’s just a real, really good ranch dog. He does his job, does his best every time, ”said Meyers. “(He and Luke) are different in their personalities. It’s interesting how different they are sometimes, but their style of work is similar and they both do their jobs with a lot of speed and a lot of agility. “

Meyers and Murphy run a few cattle dog clinics on their ranch south of Hayden. Meyers loves cattle dogs and says that working with his dogs is the best part of his day.

“They are work partners and friends,” said Meyers. “You are 60% hired and 40% best friend. It was really one of the great blessings of my life to be able to work with these dogs every day. “

Bandit eyes cattle during the 2013 National Cattledog Association National Finals at the Flying Diamond Ranch.
Matt Stensland Steamboat Pilot & Today Archives

The proceeds from the cattle dog trials, which are collected through donations, sponsorship, and entrance fees, will benefit Routt County 4-H and local FFA programs, particularly the cattle judge team.

“We helped sponsor the farm animal judging team when they went to the state and helped them go to the national competition,” Warren said. “We just want to be sure that we are doing everything we can to help them if it helps them to promote the livestock industry.”