Unique location for South Island champions

Preparations are well underway to host the South Island Sheepdog Trials Championships near Alexandra next month.

North Otago Center chairman Robbie Calder of St Bathans expected more than 200 trial participants and around 500 dogs to take part in four events on Earnscleugh Station over five days starting Monday May 2.

“We’re full steam ahead.”

The Omakau Earnscleugh Collie Club has its club rooms on the resort and its annual two-day trial ended Monday last week.

The centre, which has 13 clubs, has obtained a championship every ten years.

The resort would host a championship for the first time.

Officials from the New Zealand Sheep Dog Trial Association attended the club trials to inspect the courses to ensure everything was up to standard to host the championships.

A few minor tweaks were needed, but overall the officials were happy, he said.

The center was “lucky” that the Campbell family allowed the championship to take place at their resort.

Resort co-owner Alistair Campbell said he was ready for the championships to take place on the 2,000ha property.

“The earliest would be best.”

The Championship had been delayed for a year due to Covid uncertainty.

He would compete in the championships – “a few heads and a chase”.

The family encouraged dog shows as it gave herders an opportunity to train their dogs and improve in their profession.

“Dog trials are extremely important to us, especially in a big place like this.”

Dog trials have helped retain shepherds in the industry, he said.

“A lot of guys could make more money working on a dock, but the love for their dogs drives them together.”

About 4,000 of his merino sheep will be used in the championships.

Omakau Earnscleugh Collie Club chairman Elliott Heckler from Galloway said the championship venue was unique as it was the only one in New Zealand to race merino sheep in all of its events.

Merino sheep could be temperamental.

“You don’t have too many chances, if you make a wrong move, that’s it.”

His wife Nikki was part of the championship catering team to raise money for Molyneux Turf Inc to install a full size hockey turf in Alexandra.

“I’m going to live here for a week and it starts at 6am with breakfast,” she said.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan attended the club trials in support of the club that held the championships in the district.

The event was “significant” because it drew people spending money to the area, Mr Cadogan said.

“You’ve got a truckload of people coming in, going to spend a truckload in the community – it’s all good.”

During the club’s trial last week, the mayor came in for hearty criticism from trial riders over Fraser Dam Rd needing to be graded ahead of the Championships.

“I had to put my teeth back in when I got out of my car – I’m going to have to talk to the road boys,” laughed Mr Cadogan.

Mr Calder said trials riders need five qualifying points to enter the championships, but locals only need one point to qualify, which would allow up to 20 additional young trial riders to compete .

“It’s really good to encourage young fullas to try for a championship and get a bleed.”

He expected trials riders from outside the South to be struck by the rocky landscape in which they competed.

“The people of the North Island will think they’ve come to the moon.”

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About Octavia A. Dorr

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