Lauren Vest manages the stud side of a sheep station, owns and edits Australian Working Stock Dog magazine and trains dogs.

Story Kirstie McKenzie  Photos Ken Brass

As the sun rises over Wallaroo on the NSW–ACT border, Lauren Vest enjoys a cup of coffee – one of the few quiet moments she can expect all day. Shortly, all hell will break lose as she jumps on a bike and pedals into the fog with six dogs letting off steam on their morning run. Then there’s time for a quick feed and getting everyone back in their kennels before she loads Sugar, her eight-year-old border collie/kelpie cross into her ute and they head to the Hall Village Showgrounds to compete in the Improver class at the National Sheep Dog Trial Championships. 

There are estimated to be more than 270,000 working dogs contributing to the economy of rural Australia and sheepdog trials are one way of determining the very best dogs and handlers. Herding competitions in Australia include cattle and yard trials, but this event involves only three sheep, and the dog and its handler have just 15 minutes to navigate an obstacle course. The dog has to establish a relationship in which the sheep accept it as a controlling, but non-threatening presence. It’s the handler’s job to command the dog to apply and release pressure, so it moves cautiously towards the sheep, then backs off when they respond.

Triallers say it’s the ultimate level playing field, as everyone begins with 100 points and the trick is to hang onto them. If you’re having a crap day, or you’ve drawn crap sheep, or heaven forbid, your dog does a crap, points will be deducted.

This story excerpt is from Issue #137

Outback Magazine: June/July 2021