Euro-Champion Sheepdog Trials for Vienne

Synonym for a sheep dog (clue: 6 letters), that must be collie, border collie to be precise. Once there were almost as many breeds as there were regions herding sheep but today in Europe, the collie is the dog of choice.

Border collies can be seen in action in trials at Liglet (86) between 19 and 22 August at the Continental Sheepdog Championship

So once a year on the continent they gather for three days of trials. This year’s host is France and from August 19 to 22 the trials are being staged at Liglet (86) about an hour north of Limoges and three and a half hours south west of Paris.

The annual Continental Sheepdog Championship brings together 14 competing countries and the 100 best sheepdogs, to select 15 finalists. This year it is being held in the very rural Vienne département, a strikingly beautiful part of the country. In the Finals on Sunday contestants compete in individual and team events for the title Champion of Europe. The qualifying trials are on Friday and Saturday. The fifteen highest pointed dogs in the qualification rounds go through to the Finals. and the winner is hailed as Continental Champion. The Qualifier is set out as follows: Gathering, Driving, Shedding, Penning and Single sheep for a total of 110 points. The full regulations can be found here in a downloadable pdf. The main website for the event is here

The shepherd, his sheep and sheep dog have been pastoral bywords for millennia and there was time when breeds differed widely across Europe.

But, to the dismay of shepherds in the Pyrénées (Le berger des Pyrénées) or the Hérault (34) who still use their own special breeds, today the highly refined and trained border collie, is top dog.

Where shepherds once walked their sheep up to mountain pastures and man,dogs and sheep stayed together for the season, today the sheep are trucked up to these same spots and the sheep are allowed far more room to roam.

See this Fête de la Transhumance site (in French) for details of one of several Transhumance festivals in the country. Google “Transhumance” for lots more similar events. The website offers fascinating details about projects aiming to sustain the sheep farming traditions in the region. It includes a report by Marc Lecacheur, who cycled 14,000 km in the company of shepherds in Europe. The account is of his cycling journey and of his encounters with shepherds from Spain to Finland. There are also travelogues written by collegians at Clapiers and Clermont- l’Hérault participating in educational projects run by a local ethnologist, Marion Lavabre.

One of the Continental Sheepdog Championship organisers, Gillian Hugo, a British collie-handler and winner of several competitions in Europe, said, “There are 100 dogs running and while the participants in the trials will mainly be in camping vans or in tents, spectators coming for the event will need to search around a bit if they want accommodation in hotels or rural gites”.

Mrs Hugo, who herself lives in Vienne, told French-News-Online: “The judges come from across Europe including the UK. As a sport it’s quite specialised in the spectators it draws but the BBC’s One man and his Dog TV series certainly made sheep trials very popular when it first aired.”

This veteran show about sheepdog trials used to attract as many as eight million viewers back in 1981 – but when axed 23 years later it was pulling in just 1.6 million according to a report on the BBC’s own website.

Robin Page (left) and Gus Dermody the show’s two presenters (Image: BBC)

She said that with the exception of big sheep breeding countries like Australia and New Zealand border collies have since the ’70s become the de facto world standard sheepdog. “The German shepherd and the berger des Pyrénées these days are bred for dog shows not for work,” she noted. She said dog handlers in France can do courses on shepherding, some financed by the Chamber of Agriculture, but “no amount of training supplants the need for talent and for rapport with both the dog and the sheep”.

The contest is being staged in Vienne because it requires a very large field, the trials have a 400m minimum outrun, and because the farmer — Roman Deshais of Domaine Peers — whose fields are being used, has lent his flocks to the organisers of previous French-hosted trials. Equally the farm is in a very attractive part of the country and “well worth a visit”, Mrs Hugo said.

France hosts the contest only every 10-12 years and previous such contests were in 1994 at Tours and 2001 in the Yvelines. Competitors and their dogs this year come among others, from Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Faroe Islands, Norway, Netherlands, Italy, France, Finland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Belgium, Germany.

Spectators are welcome and cost of entry, which includes attractions offered alongside the trials, is : 4 euros/person – Free for under 18s. A 3- day pass costs 6 euros.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday visitors can watch presentations of draught horses of different breeds, demonstrations of plowing and wood-hauling, and enjoy carriage rides. They can also view a Speed Shearing demonstration by the number two Champion of France 2009 a man who clips wool faster than the local barber wields his scissors.

There will a Farmers Market and plenty of opportunity to sample local produce and buy Cahors, Sancerre and Beaujolais wines.

Onsite catering is available as are disabled parking and toilet facilities. There are no ATMs on site, but (French bank) cheque payment or cash is accepted. Dogs are allowed but they must be leashed

See also:
International Sheep Dog Society;
Association Française du Border Collie;
Société Centrale Canine

Domaine des Pairs
English: Gillian Hugo 06 74 44 71 82
Français: Antoine Brimboeuf 06 85 81 62

Story: Ken Pottinger

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