Yorkshire Sheepdog Society president on why trialling and handling competitions are thriving with the younger generation
Ian Ibbotson of Far Pitcher Clough Farm in Oldfield near Keighley had his interest ignited when he was 15 years old and says there are now far more young people coming into the country sport.
“There’s a lot more interest in it. I think social media plays a big part. We have a lot more younger people coming through. It only seems a few years ago we were saying there were no younger ones, but when you look at these big trials today there are loads. Wales has a dearth of good young handlers. They may not all be in their teens or twenties. In this country pursuit 35 is still young.
“Wales seems to have both the best dogs and best handlers at the minute, handlers like Kevin Evans and Dewi Jenkins. These younger ones seem hungrier and hungrier and they are getting better and better. In this generation I think we’re seeing some of the top handlers of all time, including Ricky Hutchinson from England and Fraser Shennan who just won the International championship, the biggest of them all. Most of them are in their 30s and 40s.
“In Yorkshire we have Philip Mellin who is a very good young handler and my daughter Victoria has a really good dog called Chap at the moment and has won a few open trials with him.
Ian hasn’t given up on his own sheepdog ambitions either. He’s captained the Yorkshire Interclub team and was in the England team.
“I’m hoping to get back into the England team. I won last weekend with Lonks and Gritstones, what we call heavy sheep that you can get on a straight line and keep them on it. This Saturday I’m going to a trial and we’re on with Swaledales. It will be only the third time my dog Sal has run but she should be able to handle them every bit as well as Lonk and Gritstone.
“If I have a good trial dog I will keep it forever. The dog I got into the England team with in 2009 was Zak. We got through into the final.
Ian has always enjoyed training sheepdogs and recalls how his own interest came about.
“I started going to International Sheepdog Trials every year when I was 15. I went with my brother-in-law Tony Wilson and two of my brothers Richard and Alan. Tony was a good dog trainer and he got me started on the job.
“We went mainly because Tony liked to breed pups and the best dogs turned up at the International. Tony was always looking for a good dog to try and breed the best pups.
“My first dog was Don, a pup I bought out of Scotland and was the smallest pup I’ve ever seen from that day to this. He was a very good dog but unfortunately went blind when he was two years old with weil’s disease that dogs get off rats.
“The man who took me under his wing and showed me how to train dogs was a feller called Sam Dyson from Ponden Hall, that was the inspiration for one of the farms in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights owned by Heathcliff.
“I remember getting a good bollocking from Sam, he probably took after Heathcliff in that way, but it was because he was a perfectionist. We used to go every night up into the fields and up on the moor.
Ian says that a trial dog has to react differently to an ordinary working sheepdog.
“A trial dog has to have the ability to take commands and react to them immediately, with no arguing, no thinking about doing this or that. It must just do as it is told.
“Some dogs grow on you, some you can look at straight away and think this is a good dog. Others are what we call just workdogs and that’s no detriment to them, they’re just not suitable for trials. They’ll be a good farm dog.
“It’s about the dog being attentive and bid-able, willing. Your dog has got to try to please you, whereas a dog on a farm, all he has to do is get the sheep into a pen.
“All dogs are different. They can be bred by using good trial dogs, but we are getting to a smaller gene pool now. Every now and again though, a great dog will turn up out of the blue, not out of any breeding but just a proper dog.
“When you buy a pup it’s the early stages where they learn to cooperate with you, but it has to be a combination of the two, you and your dog.
Ian has four dogs at present – Sal, Rock, Jake and Ann. They are all at various stages. He starts them all on Ernest Ellison’s Herdwicks.
“Sal is trialling, Rock is training and the other two are just pups and will hopefully be ready next year.
“Sal, who won the trial last Sunday at Jim and Christine Scriven’s is a top class dog. She’s only young, just seventeen months but has it off already, but you’ve got to handle her with kid gloves. She’s had a lot of training, but doesn’t need a lot because she’s just got natural ability.
“Rock is a big red dog who is full-on. He’ll be as good a dog if not better than Sal but you have to be boss of him all the time and let him know he can’t get away with anything, because he’s one of those dogs that will try and take over.
“I bought him at about 8 months old at Skipton Dog Sale and straight away I knew he was a proper handful. He’s 18 months now and it’ll take me another year with him to have him ready to run at trials, but once he’s ready he’ll be a top dog.
“Certain dogs are just not suitable, so when I finish their training I find them a good home on a farm. They all make fantastic farm dogs because they are well broken and have had a lot of time spent on them.
Ian has store cattle and sheep at Far Pitcher Clough, which is a smallholding of nine acres, plus another 60 he rents. He works as assistant manager on Highways for Keighley.
Ian has sold sheepdogs in the UK and abroad.
“The furthest I’ve ever sold was a bitch into Japan. The buyer came to see me when I was judging at Kilnsey Show.
Ian says he’s always grateful to those who host trials on their land.
“Without them we’ve nothing. Our next trials day is next Saturday 4 November at Andrew Throup’s Sycamore Farm in Silsden.