Move over fellas
Move over fellas these Women training and working their stock dogs are working to make a place for themselves in the trialing arena.
I am a female farmer, horse breeder, trainer and competitor and stock dog breeder and trainer. These things are simply extensions of my farming life. I write this as a personal account, acknowledging rural women and how their roles with working stock have evolved over the years.
38 years ago I entered the dog trialing arena, Back then there were very few women involved other than the wives who went along to support their competing husbands. I certainly wasn’t successful or good, but I learned a great deal along the way.
This was invaluable to me and taught me so much, however what took me on my way to making the decision I would train my own horses and dogs was buying a first farm and watching blokes work their dogs to get jobs done.
My respect for the working stock dog grew from that.
I’ve had all breeds and cross bred stock dogs and it left me with an appreciation of all breeds and their attributes. Now I say, “I don’t care about the breed, but I care about the breeding because a good dog is a good dog.”
Today I see so many more women hands-on in roles that were traditional male roles and stepping up running huge operations. Incredibly empowering.
When I see women competing their own horses they have trained and their own dogs. I have an enormous sense of pride for my sisterhood.
Stock dog trialing today is very competitive. As is Cutting, Campdrafting and Challenges within the horse arena. All these events have women that have stepped up to levels where they are equal in ability to their male competitor. In these sports, unlike most sports, strength isn’t the requirement for the person to be successful. The success of the competitor is determined by their skill in their horse or dog.
Women are really good at the technical training and invest it in their dogs and horses.
Let’s take a look at women in the sport of stock dog trialing
Women are competing in stock dog trials right across the country, but they are the common few in a sport dominated by blokes. It is a competitive sport in which dogs — usually kelpies and border collies — herd sheep or cattle around a course, directed by their handler.
At the Australian Stock Dog Spectacular in Tamworth NSW this week, organiser Margo Hogan estimated fewer than 10 per cent of the competitors were women.
I was surprised at this still low number.
“In the past few years, Margo has seen more females take to the ring but said there was still a big gender gap that she would love to see tightened.”
“At most of the local trials there are ladies’ trials … a lot more ladies are cattle dog trialling than there has ever been,” she said.
“Like attracts like so most of us have husbands or partners who trial and that is how most of us got involved in it in the first place.
“If there are ladies out there who want to have a go, there are people out there willing to give advice.
Sheep trial judge Michael Condon said it was true that the uptake of female competitors had been slow.
Particularly when you consider the sport was hundreds of years old.
“There are two [women] out of 10 [people] in the finals, so that probably sums up where they are at,” Mr Condon said.
“It has been a bit of a men’s club … slowly and quietly they are starting to include women, and that is how it should be.”
All of these women said the sport and the bonds they had with their dogs provided a sense of achievement.
Queensland competitor Fenella Neilson spends many hours training and working her dogs.
“The hours you put into training them and then to bring it out onto a public arena and display your training … it is really confidence-building,” Ms Neilson said.
“It is just going out there and getting a job done together and you know that they respect you,” added Cassie Clark.
Most of these kelpies and collies also work beside the women on the farm.
“They are part of you, seven days a week,” Ms Neilson said.
“You get up in the morning and the first thing you do is you go to your dog and the last thing at night is putting your dog away.
“To take them out on the weekend and do what they enjoy, there is nothing better.”
For Jane Eveleigh, her dog is her best mate.
“My kids have all left home now and it is the last person you put to bed at night … they are loyal, very loyal.”
For Ms Hogan, her dogs provide relief from the business of everyday life.
“We come home in the afternoon and go and grab a couple of stubbies and go and get pups out and play in the round yard for an hour,” she said.
“That is how it starts.”
Jane Eveleigh said she found male competitors were welcoming.
“They are quite accommodating and very, very helpful but I think they think we will give it away,” she laughed.
“But the men have been really wonderful, perfect gentleman.”
“There is a mutual respect between men and women in this sport and it is an even playing field,” Ms Neilson added.
However, it would seem men and women handle their dogs differently.
Mr Condon said often women were softer handlers and dedicated to training.
“They work hard at the sport … they are very dedicated handlers and they will be a force to be reckoned with in time.”
Perhaps, though, Ms Eveleigh puts it best.
“My husband demands respect from a dog, whereas I will ask,” she said.
This is a key I believe to women training their dogs. There is a great affinity built between any handler, but a female handler and their dog are generally much softer and biddable. It’s more than a job to this dog, they do it for commitment and loyalty to their handler. I see that devotion daily in my own dogs.
The Men have their way with their dogs, we can’t handle dogs in the same manner, so we changed it up.
‘Ásking’, is more suited to the female psyche. We love the equal playing field and feel grateful for the support of the blokes within the sport. We can get in and show our skills in our dogs.
The First Dog Trial
Cassie Clark remembers her first dog trial well.
“My first one was at Gladstone in the maiden and we ended up actually placing fifth so I was stoked [but] bloody nervous,” she said.
Ms Eveleigh’s first was a three-sheep trial, where the dog — under instruction — works three sheep through a designated course.
“I made every mistake in the rule book and I still think that is the best way to learn … I have never shaken so much in my life,” she said.
Ms Hogan came involved through her husband, Peter.
“He basically got me started so I started yard trialing and then decided I was going to have a go at this thing called cattle trialing,” she said.
Female competitors want to see more women get involved in stock dog trials.(ABC Rural: Lara Webster)
Ms Neilson has worked with dogs on the farm her entire life, but it was lessons learnt from her dad that began her journey towards the sport.
“My dad always had working dogs but he never had a real good handle on them and I just said to myself I don’t want to be like that,” she said.
“So here I am, I love it.”
From small beginnings great things grow. If you’re a female farming or involved with the above I’d love to hear from you and tell your story.