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A trial of sheep and shepherd

Anne Hughes

It pays never to be too confident on the dog trial course.

A rogue sheep, disobedient dog or a misjudged command can turn a winning run into a crash course within seconds.

Hamish Parkinson reckons he’s got the same chance at the New Zealand dog trial championships as the almost 300 other competitors having a crack at this year’s titles.

Hamish and his huntaway Shake head to this year’s competition as defending zig zag huntaway national champions.

Poverty Bay hosts the 2017 Tux North Island and New Zealand championships at Whangara, up the coast from Gisborne. The week-long event starts on May 29.

Despite already winning his first national title, the 28-year-old King Country farmer says anything can go wrong, or right, on the day.

“Anything could happen. Getting to the top’s not as easy as getting to the bottom,” Hamish says.

‘If you know your dog’s working for you and you’ve got confidence in them, you don’t get as nervous.’

“It’s you and three sheep and they’ve all got their own brain.”

Hamish and Shake earned 12 qualifying points at dog trials within the King Country during the season.

Six points are required to qualify for the NZ championships.

Hamish has also qualified to compete with heading dog Check – the pair earning eight points within King Country.

There are always a few nerves before a run.

“If you know your dog’s working for you and you’ve got confidence in them, you don’t get as nervous.

“Not as much as if you’re thinking ‘shit, what’s he gonna do today?’ ”

That’s part of what makes Hamish and Shake’s partnership successful.

“He just tries to work with you. He doesn’t try to fight you.”

Depending on how well eight-year-old Shake comes out of winter, Hamish says this could be the dog’s final trial season.

“The focus is on going to the nationals and trying to defend the title before he gets too old.”

Hamish’s dad Bruce – who has already won three NZ titles – will also be competing at Whangara.

Hamish says there is some friendly rivalry between the two, as he tries to catch up to his father.

He enjoys the chance to get out and about during dog trial season, catching up with friends and seeing what dogs other people are breeding.

“You’re always looking for the next dog to breed from.”

Hamish has a couple of young dogs coming through to start trialing next season.

Depending on the dog, he won’t usually trial them until they are three-years-old.

Trialing a dog for the first time can be surprising, never knowing how they might react to new pressures and the different environment.

“A huntaway can go out and not even bark.

“It’s like going to school for the first time I suppose.”

Hamish grew up on a farm near Raetihi, entering his first dog trial at about 10-years-old with an old huntaway he was given.

He learnt a lot about working dogs from watching his father and a long-time head shepherd on the farm.

His dad looked after Hamish’s dogs while he was at boarding school, then Hamish worked as a shepherd and head shepherd on stations around Taihape.

In 2011 he saw a lease block advertised at Owhango, just south of Taumarunui and decided to try farming for himself.

Hamish had to do a fair amount of casual work at the start, just to earn some wages.

The landowners were keen to help a young person into farming. Hamish and his parents gradually bought sections of the farm, plus another 200ha block (in a single paddock) that had been destined for forestry.

The farm is now 600ha in total, owned by Hamish and wife Katie in partnership with Hamish’s parents, who are still farm managing at Raetihi.

The farm is 100% hill country, running breeding ewes and cows. Lambs are all finished onfarm and calves sold as yearlings.

Hamish has completed a fair amount of development already, with just some more scrub-cutting required.

He still does some casual work for extra income and to give his dogs more work, also supplementing his income by breaking in and selling horses.

Hamish and Katie are expecting their first child – a baby girl – in late June.

Taking on his own lease was a bit nerve-racking, but Hamish enjoys being his own boss and leasing helped him build equity through livestock.

Working for himself can be stressful at times and forces him to think more carefully when making decisions, but it was a step worth taking.

The NZ dog trial championships are hosted alternatively each year between the North and South islands. The South Island championships were in Otago in early May. The North Island and NZ championships run from May 29 to June 3.

The top seven runs in each event (zig zag hunt, straight hunt, long head, short head) determines the North Island results. Those top five competitors then compete in the run-off (finals), with the combined score from both runs deciding their NZ championship placings.