Finding new ways to photograph existing subjects is always a challenge and when you revisit regular events several years in a row, it becomes increasingly difficult to find a new ‘angle‘ for a story. So with the Berryden Sheep Dog Trials on once again this year, I was really pondering what I could do that was different from last year and the year before. Ironically, several weekends prior prior to the trials, we were asked to baby sit a neighbour’s 13 week old Border Collie pup, which we of course were quite happy to do. After a weekend of experiencing a small, four-legged, hurricane around the house and two completely worn out Labradors, there was a surreal stillness that followed when she went home. Though she did pop up at our front gate later that day (not unexpected) and had to be escorted back home.
This of course gave me an idea and so for this year’s Berryden Sheep Dog Trials, I decided to see what I could do to show the dogs that are brought to this event and the numerous other ones held throughout Victoria and Australia. The dogs really are the stars of these trials, sort of like the X-Factor contestants of the animal world, with their owners acting as coaches. Some perform well, while others require a lot more training, and others try hard but the talent is simply not there. Though Border Collies tend to dominate, there are other breeds as well, with Kelpies being the second most popular. Transport varies considerably but, all in all, I suspect that the contestants are generally happy no matter what the mode.
While some of the contestants reside within their vehicles, others find temporary homes within the sheds on the property, sharing space with old tractors and whatnot. It’s probably not a bad place to be, as it’s out of the wind and rain (which seems to be prevalent each time the trials are on), but that also means that they can’t hear or see how the other contestants are going. So there’s not much else to do but sleep, stretch on occasion and wonder at the passing parade of people, dogs and the occasional photographer.
Then there’s also a sort of sin-bin (from what I was told at last year’s event) for the rowdier lot, or perhaps those that are somewhat skittish around the other contestants. I only managed to get a few shots before the closest one decided that I was not welcome and began a barking session that would wake the dead. Well, it woke who I think was the owner, who was slumbering nearby in a tent and made it clear to the dog that silence is golden. Since the little one was going barking mad, I thought it best to amble on and allow things to settle down. No use making a nuisance of oneself.
And when it comes to letting sleeping dogs lie, there was plenty of that to go around. Wherever I looked, there were snoozing dogs everywhere. Maybe they’d already done their trials and needed some rest or were just getting some beauty sleep for when it came their turn. Most were so deep into their slumber that they didn’t even notice me, expect for the odd one, who quickly fell back to what they were doing when they noticed that I wasn’t going to provide them with anything of interest.
Those that were closer to the action and could at least hear what was going on, if not actually see, were generally the most alert. Their heads were always turning about listening to what was happening in the hidden field, clearly thinking that that’s where they’d prefer to be. That’s at least the way that it appeared, as every time certain sounds and calls could be heard from the paddock afar, heads would turn and they’d begin to shuffle about. Again, I was mostly ignored, with only one or two taking some momentary interest in what I was doing.
Those that were somewhat within eyesight of the action were the most alert, especially if they could see others moving about, stretching their legs, or waiting for their turn to shine. I’m not sure if these ones were the happiest or the most frustrated of the contestants, but there was certainly one very happy contestant displaying the biggest grin off the field when I wanted to take a photograph. Honestly, I couldn’t have staged such a candid shot if I’d tried.
I’m kind of glad that I took the opportunity to go early on the Saturday, as later that afternoon it bucketed rain and the next day was somewhat awash as well. In fact the last few years have been fairly wet when the trials have been run, so I was kind of expecting this anyway (even though I’m always suspect of weather forecasts). Anyway, after seeing so many snoozing dogs this morning, it reminded me of that afternoon when Bella and our two Labradors finally snoozed off, maybe dreaming of things that could be and things that might have been.
I have to say that covering the ‘dogs of the day’ simply confirmed how gentle and obedient they are, even though some may bark a tad. It’s a comforting feeling when you’re wandering about an area with so many dogs (though dogs are my best friends) and there’s nothing but an atmosphere of calm, despite the fact that the dogs are all here to do some contesting (which this year I decided not to cover).