Pastoral pastimes abound at sheepdog comp

By Erik Lopez, Red Pulse Staff

Labor Day was first celebrated in the late 1800s by New York City’s Central Labor Union to give the working man a day off. Since then, it has been adopted not only as a day of rest but as marking the end of summer and the beginning of the new NFL season.

Events celebrating summer’s waning abound. In Knoxville they host Boomsday, the Southeastern state’s largest fireworks display, while in Chicago they host the Taste of Polonia, the largest Polish-themed festival in the country. And you can’t forget Jerry Lewis’ annual Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.

With all these amazing events going on, it’s easy to miss one of Utah’s (and the country’s) best-kept secret Labor Day activity: the Soldier Hollow Classic.

The Solider Hollow Classic is the world’s most prestigious sheepdog competition. Spread across four days, this invite-only competition showcases the skills of sheepdogs from more than 14 countries and five continents.

Mark Petersen, sheep dog aficionado and the event director of the Soldier Hollow Classic started the contest six years ago.

“In 1994 I took a trip to England and saw a sheep dog event and was blown away by it,” Petersen said. “Americans love dog competitions and so I decided to bring a competition to the states.”

Petersen spent several years looking for the right place to host the event. The best venue had to remain true to the Scottish heritage and tradition that spawned sheepdog contests-it needed to be rugged and have a sloping hillside. Just as he was about to give up the dream, Petersen found that perfect spot.

“The spring after the 2002 Olympics I found Soldier Hollow. I quickly arranged a meeting with the director of Soldier Hollow two weeks later and he enthusiastically supported my idea to host a sheep dog competition.”

The first few years were tough as Petersen tried to establish and build this little-known event into a summer blockbuster.

“When you tell people that you are into sheepdog competitions they give you a quizzical look,” Petersen said. “But what I tell them is to close their eyes and imagine Wimbledon…it is just as dramatic and has a tense ambience with a touch of hushed elegance.”

After two to three years time, it has become the world’s leading sheepdog competition due to the beautiful, natural, tucked-away landscape, the large area-and its outstanding BYOB policy, for good measure!

The course consists of one run that is scored in seven sections. The seven sections are the outrun, the lift, the fetch, the drive, shedding, penning and the single.

During the outrun, the dog runs up the hill to make contact with the herd of sheep while the handler whistles commands from a post. The handler cannot move from the post until the penning. From the outrun, the dog must control the sheep and get them to the fetch in which sheep must be brought through a gate. After the sheep have gone through the gate, the sheepdog must “drive” the sheep through two more gates and on toward a ring near the handler where the shedding is to take place.

In the shedding, the sheepdog must not only bring the sheep into the ring but must split them into groups (the single) after which they are herded into a small pen with the help of the handler. The handler holds onto a 6-foot rope, whistles commands to the dog and helps the dog bring the sheep into the pen as the final test. Dog and handler must do all these tasks within 12 minutes. You get no time bonus for doing it faster. The point is to do it steadily and humanely with an eye toward completion and workmanship.

Having gone to the event for the past three years, it is utterly engaging watching sheepdogs herd sheep.

“There is something…about the activity of sheepdog herding that brings people together,” says Petersen. “I have seen people from the country mesh with city folk, and together they become experts on the competition in two hours. It has an intellectual quality that is not only complex but strategic.”

The Soldier Hollow Classic will be held Aug. 29 to Sept. 1. Tickets are $12 a day and $15 for the awards ceremony. Discounts are offered for three- and four-day ticket bundles. For more information go to I’ll see you there!

[email protected]