Sunday, April 03, 2005

National Cowdog Finals 2005, Big Lake Classic

Most years, when you head out to Big Lake, Texas, you're not likely to find much standing water. This year is different, however, this year there is some water standing in Big Lake's copious "dry" lake bed. Still, Big Lake, at around 70 miles due west of San Angelo, could be characterized as a dusty oil town. With around 2000 denizens, Big Lake is a pretty fair-sized frontier town, and it is the county seat of rural Reagan county.

Shot of downtown Big Lake, Texas.

Big Lake hosted the 2005 National Cattle Dog Finals, and I must say they did a great job of it. The venue was uncrowded, and the field was in excellent condition, with a beautiful blue/gray grama that often tempted the trio of cattle to stop and graze a bit while the dogs worked them.

The competition featured a course with specific judging and rules of engagement. Essentially, three head of cattle were brought close by the dog through specific obstacles, then pushed through a chute and finally penned. The caller remained behind a chalk line until the dog managed to bring the bovines through the third obstacle, then the handlers could become a helper in getting the cattle through the chute and then penned. There is a ten-minute time limit to get the work done.

Here a competitor brings the cattle around a close waypoint and then back out to negotiate another obstacle.

The dogs I saw compete were exclusively Border Collies, and most were of the black and white persuasion. These dogs strike me as being extremely energetic, hard-working, good-natured and eager to please their masters. They are also very happy companions, and many could be seen about with their masters while the others worked the cattle.

A competitor cools off in a tub after a long run.

The dogs worked the cattle in what seemed to me about a 40 acre field. They ran out very hard, and most were extremely disciplined, following their caller's commands precisely. Sometimes it worked out, and sometimes it was a little tougher...

Competitor Lana Rowley of Sandy, OR, with her trusty dog Blue after a very nice go-round

Competitor Steve McCall of Glade Spring, VA with his dog Jessie getting down and dirty in the chutes

If you have the opportunity to go see some of these outstanding canines work in competition, I highly recommend you do so.

If you plan on shooting the event, take your biggest lens, and maybe a monopod to help you steady your shots. There were several pro-photogs shooting the event using tripods and huge glass that I could unfortunately never afford.

Still, many shots are available if you get in as close as you can (without disturbing the competitors) and strategically plan your shooting.

And if you're in Big Lake, be sure to stop in at the Dairy Queen (yes, they have one!) and get some lunch or a treat!


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