Retirement is a new trick for two old dogs

2016 International Sheepdog Trial, Tywyn: Brace champions, Julie Hill with Mac and Ban.   Picture: Lisa Soar
2016 International Sheepdog Trial, Tywyn: Brace champions, Julie Hill with Mac and Ban. Picture: Lisa Soar

Two talented dogs from a Heriot farm can retire happy as they and their human won the brace competition in the International Sheep Dog Trials in Wales.

When nine-year-old Mac and eight-year-old Ban – with more than a little help from just as talented tenant farmer Julie Hill – soared to victory in Tywyn at the weekend, it was their last hurrah in competition, but they will still be working the farm and doing demonstrations.

And for Julie, the part of her job that became a hobby has now gone full circle and become a paying part of her business, as she is one the most successful trainers in the history of international sheepdog trials.

Her list of titles is impressive – and she puts her success down to her technique for training dogs – called the Natural Way – understanding and utilising the language of the dog as a pack animal, enabling Julie to communicate with dogs through body language.

She runs demonstrations at Carcant Farm, Heriot, for small interested groups to coachloads of tourists.

Julie, who is originally from Scunthorpe but has been at Carcant since 2005, said that the brace competition is one of the most difficult challenges available to the dog handler.

She said: “It’s quite intricate. You have to command both dogs at the same time and use different whistles and commands for each dog, but in order for the brace to work smoothly, they have to work in sync with each other, and with the sheep, and must be able to react to the sheep themselves.

“Mac and Ban are fantastic dogs, probably my most successful ever brace team. They connect so well together it just works really well.

“They are, I suppose, my good buddies.”

Julie, 53, works the farm with her partner Bobby Henderson, who also competes in the sheep dog circuit to a high level. Before moving to Scotland in 1988, Julie worked with horses in Cambridge, but she knows she has now found her calling.

She said: “It’s not a job, it’s a way of life. The competitions are a hobby, I guess, but they are really enjoyable.

“We love it here in the Borders – it is a great place to be – and we are really lucky to have such fantastic landlords. They are really supportive of everything we do.”

For more information on Julie’s demonstrations, visit nethhillbordercollies.co.uk or telephone her on 01875 835249.