Mia Stovall has worked with herding dogs since getting a start in 4-H at age 14, and this year she shared on some of her knowledge at the 2017 Four States Agricultural Exposition.
Stovall, 52, was one of four clinicians at the expo who taught classes on animal care and training. The Bayfield trainer was the expo’s only herding instructor from the Four Corners area, and the only one to work exclusively with dogs. She conducted herding instinct tests on Thursday and participated in stock dog trials on Friday and Saturday. On the last day of the event, she gave farm dog certifications, a new program run by the American Kennel Club.
About 20 people competed in various classes of the stock trials, which tested dogs’ agility and discipline in herding sheep and geese, as well as the owners’ ability to work with their canine partners. Cathy Sumeracki and Anita Ramsey judged the main trials, and Stovall taught the clinics preceding them.
“It’s a small trial, but that’s to be expected for the first time in a geographically isolated area,” she said.
Sasha Ortiz, a dog owner from Rocky Ford who won first place in Friday’s sheep and geese herding trials, said she was glad to participate, even though she hadn’t heard about the Ag Expo until about three weeks ago. She and her dog, Edge, have competed in American Herding Breed Association trials for about three years, mostly out of state.
“Honestly, at least for what I run ... there’s not a ton in Colorado,” she said.
Stovall said she believes the sport of herding is important because it allows a special bond between owner and dog.
“The dogs are actually out there doing something that they’re bred for, hardwired for,” she said. “You’re out there as a partnership. Your deal is that you’re teaching them rules of the hunt. They already know how to hunt – you’re teaching them rules of the hunt.”
Stovall has four dogs, two of whom she’s trained for herding, and they participated in some of the trials on Saturday. Getting to work in the arena with her dog is her favorite part of a herding event, she said.
Although she said she’s not sure if she’ll return next year, Stovall said she hopes the herding trials will grow. Besides working as a veterinary technician for 20 years at the Bayfield Animal Hospital, she offers dog training classes in the Bayfield area and travels to AHBA trials in other states.
She advised propsective competitors to find a good mentor.
“It’s often a good idea to find an experienced handler to get the real basics on your dog,” she said. “And then at that point, I encourage people to step into the ring and start getting that relationship with their dog.”