Christy Leichtnam comes to the Sheep Dog Trials at the Black Hill Stock Show each year to admire the speed, agility and intelligence of the border collies in the ring.
The Rapid City music teacher is amazed by the dogs' sheepherding abilities but, after a day of wrangling classes of students, Leichtnam admitted that she is more than a little jealous of their ability to put three obstinate sheep through their paces.
"I wish I had one in the classroom," she said with a laugh.
Sheepdog handlers like Gerald Bunney, Jamie Spring and Dennis Edwards were all business Monday as they competed for a share of a $5,300 purse at the 2012 competition.
Twenty dogs made it to the semi-finals, and three of them were Spring's.
The young Union Center woman ranches with her husband, Lee, on a fourth-generation cattle and sheep operation. She has been a huge fan of border collies ever since she got her first one nine years ago, fresh out of college. That dog, Reese, is now a 9-year-old veteran, and she helped Spring take an early lead Monday night with her combined times of 5:16 to twice herd three sheep through an obstacle course and into a pen before a large and appreciative audience.
"It's not just their intelligence, although they have that," Spring said. "It's their heart. Border collies have so much try in them. They just never stop working. They never give up," she said.
Her 2-year-old male collie, Cort, shivered with excitement as he waited his turn in the arena. Young and inexperienced, Cort worked hard even when he ran into three "naughty" sheep who gave the young dog a hard time in the ring. Instead, Spring called him off mid-way through the timed trial. "He did everything right. He kept his head, but the sheep were kind of naughty tonight," she said. "And I want this to be a good experience for him."
Border collies are great team workers, she said. "They're amazing. They just keep coming back and coming back, trying to figure out what you want them to do."
Winning takes both luck and skill, said Duane Hofer. The chute was giving many dogs a hard time Monday, as several contenders were disqualified for nipping a sheep in frustration. "It takes a lot of luck and a good dog," Hofer said.
Veteran handler Gerald Bunney, 72, of Aladdin, Wyo., and his 12-year-old dog, Ladd, had luck and skill on Monday.
Ladd's experience made short work of three sheep, penning them in 2:39 seconds. The large, old border collie is so big and has a coat so thick that Bunney jokes he "also uses him as a sled dog."
Despite Ladd's advancing years, he is still working cattle on Bunney's Wyoming ranch every day. "He doesn't want to quit and I'm too hard up to," Bunney joked.
Spring, who also competed with a 4-year-old female, Hope, said all her dogs love to work livestock, whether it is sheep in the ring or cattle on the ranch. Reese may be 9 years old, but she acts like an enthusiastic puppy around livestock.
"Every morning when I let her out of the house, she runs down to the barn," she said. "They live for this. They really do."
Contact Mary Garrigan at 394-8424 or email@example.com