HUDSON -- After 20 years learning the ins and outs of the sheepdog herding world, 82-year-old Polly Simpson knows what it takes to be a great sheepdog handler. Simpson attributes her success to teamwork, guidance, trust, listening skills and humility.
The New Richmond woman is one of the oldest competitors in the country’s second-longest running sheepdog trial competition occurring annually in Hudson and she hopes to spend a few more years in the herding world.
Simpson, who lives alone on her farm with three dogs, three cats and a small herd of sheep, started out learning the herding techniques after raising miniature schnauzers and leading obedience classes.
“When my schnauzers died, I thought I’d try a new breed. I got a border collie named Jelly Bean because they are really smart. A girlfriend said I should try sheepherding and I said, ‘What’s that?’” Simpson said.
She started out competing in the American Kennel Club programs and now gives sheepherding lessons at her farm.
Different handlers approach the practice in unique ways, Simpson said.
“You get some handlers who can know exactly what the dog should be doing, there are some people like me that the dog knows what’s what and drags me along and there are handlers that take a lot of the instinct out of the dog and put in what they want and you get handlers that can work with the instinct,” Simpson said.
Picca, Simpson’s 9-year-old purebred border collie, often “saves” Simpson, she said, during competition as she can’t see as well when the sheep round the gates.
This weekend locals have a chance to witness this age-old practice of sheepdog herding at the 34th annual Wisconsin Working Stock Dog Association Midwest Championship Sheepdog Trial in Hudson. From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 30- Sept. 1, spectators can watch the competition for an all-day price of $10. Children 10 and under are admitted for free.
The competition culminates Sept. 2 during the Double-Lift final 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. where handlers must direct their dog to herd two separate sheep herds together and then through a series of gates. The run is complete after the “International Shed” where the dog and handler work to separate five collared sheep from the other 15.
The event takes place rain or shine on a grassy hillside at 772 Kinney Road, Hudson, where Badlands Sno-Park is run in the wintertime. Claudia Mahon, co-chair of the Midwest Championship Sheepdog Trials, expects around 1,000 spectators to show throughout the weekend for the event.
Competitors from Canada and ten different states will join Simpson in the event.
Maggie Hall, one of eleven Kinney siblings born to a father with 100% Irish blood, was raised on the fourth generation farmland where the competition has taken place for about the last decade.
“I love seeing our farmland being used in other ways, to show the diversity of what agro-tourism is used for,” Hall said.
The rolling pasture reminiscent of Ireland’s scenery surrounding a central valley proves to be a perfect landscape for the competition, though the event originally took place near the Sno-Park’s chalet five years ago.
In a news release from the WWSDA for the event, a judge from Wales gave comment on the Hudson location, calling it “one of the most spectacular courses he has ever seen in the USA or the UK”.
At the site, a white pole is permanently stationed on one hilltop overlooking the valley. This is where the sheepdog handler will stand and direct the dog during the timed trial. Various fences will be placed throughout the property around which sheep will be herded by the dog. The goal of the trial is to round all the sheep into a single pen behind the handler.
220 sheep will be shipped to the location and a handful of them will be sent out to the open pasture and used for each handler’s competition.
A concession stand will be run by Hall and her sisters. Pulled pork straight from the farm will be served.
Those attending can bring their own dogs on a leash and participate in an audience competition involving obedience skills during intermission.
Updates on the upcoming event may be found on WWSDA.com