THE fine art that is cattle dog trialling comes to the Northern Rivers this weekend, with man and his best friend on show as part of the Australian Working Cattle Dog Trial Championships.
Hosted by the Alstonville Agricultural Society, the championships will take place at the Alstonville Showground on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Rookies and wily veterans will take part in the event, both of the human and animal kind, with novice and open divisions featuring as part of the three-day program.
This year’s championships marks a homecoming of sorts, with the first cattle dog trial held in Bonalbo more than half a century ago.
And while the sport has spread well beyond the Northern Rivers during its 55-year history, there are plenty of locals stepping up for this year’s championships.
Alstonville’s Snow Ellis will be one handler hoping to feature at the pointy end of the weekend’s competition. Mr Ellis will enter seven dogs in the championships, and said there were certain qualities that made a dog suited to cattle trialling.
“You need a dog with great obedience; that’s number one. And they need to be strong,” he said.
“The breeding is essential. You can’t really train a dog off the street.”
Just like people, Mr Ellis said dogs can suffer from competitive nerves before they get used to the championship environment.
“The first time out they’re fairly green, but they adapt,” he said.
Mr Ellis will blood two first-timers on Saturday in a competition he said will be a strong test for all the hand- lers.
“The competition is very, very strong,” he said.
“A lot of the younger fellas coming up make it harder.
“I don’t think you’d find a better contest anywhere.”
Though the contest is tough and the sport is strongest in NSW and Queensland, Mr Ellis said there would be no State of Origin-type showdown during the championships, given the camaraderie between the competitors.
“I enjoy the people who also do it and I enjoy working with my dogs,” he said.
The competition format sees each handler and their dog guide three cattle through a series of three obstacles in a five-minute period.
The handler must stand still at each obstacle and, using only hand signals and voice commands or whistles, instruct the dog to guide the cattle through a gate and into a holding pen.
Admission is free for enthusiasts and curious observers keen to see the competitors conduct their animal charges around the circuit.
The championship finals will be held on Sunday.
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