The trials of life for dedicated farmers

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Sheepdog trials started in the 1870s when farmers and shepherds found them to be an excellent way of comparing their dogs’ abilities.

England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, each held a National Sheepdog Trial annually in July and August.

From this a team of 15 went forward from each country to the International Trials, which were held in September.

Every year a different country hosted the International Sheepdog Trials. The winner was known as the Supreme Champion.

The course was over half a mile long and represented a supreme test for both man and dog, resulting in a true champion. Without doubt it was a most prestigious event to win.

Farmers throughout the local area would regularly compete in sheepdog trials with considerable success and this is a pastime that still continues today.

During the 1950s and 1960s both Harry Huddleston of Park House Farm, Wray, and my uncle, Joe Gorst of Mealbank Farm, Wennington, were regular competitors at the trials.

The following extract, headed Success for Lune Valley Farmers in the National Sheepdog Trials of 1953, is taken from the August 1953 edition of Farmers’ Weekly.

“For the first time since 1937, the Lake District town of Keswick housed the English National Sheepdog Trials last Friday and Saturday. It is rarely that there has been so close a contest as this year in the farmers’ championship.

In the morning Harry Huddleston, with Duke, had a run which was almost as perfect as it could be.

His gathering and driving were accurate; his work in the closing stages accomplished in quick time, although the sheep were, undoubtedly, more than usually helpful here.

By lunchtime it seemed as though only a ‘super run’ could deprive Harry Huddleston of his first National Championship win.

Early in the afternoon, however, came his near neighbour and relative, J K Gorst, with Bett. Bett started with perhaps the best outrun of the trials and throughout the gather and driving she never seemed in the slightest danger of losing control of her sheep.

Working immediately behind them there was nothing in the way of pressing – only driving in the approved text book fashion.

The sheep were perhaps not as helpful as Huddleston’s had been in the shedding ring, but Bett was in complete command.

Ringsiders were divided on the merits of the two runs, and not until the final result was announced was the issue, which gave rise to constant assessments and arguments throughout the afternoon, settled.

Gorst had got home with one point advantage – 108 out of 110 as against his rival’s 107.

It was a tribute to the drivings of both that they were selected to take part in the final test for the driving championship.

Here the best three driving dogs go over a special course and once against J K Gorst was the winner.

Lancashire, and indeed the Lancaster area, was certainly to the fore in the 1953 championships, for the third placed collie in the farmers’ championship was Tim Longton’s Dot, a former champion, sixth was the same handler with Roy, and seventh Tom Longton (son of the handler just mentioned) with Mossie.

The County Palatine thus supplies five of the 12 dogs that will represent England.

Farmers’ Championship

1 J K Gorst, Wennington, Lancaster, with Bett, 108.

2 H Huddleston, Wray, Lancaster, with Duke, 107.

3 Tim Longton, Quernmore, Lancaster, with Dot, 104.”