A small flock of sheep â€“ 330 of the bleating ungulates â€“ was released onto Soldier Hollow’s dry southern hillside on Wednesday. They rode there from their home pastures near Goshen in the back of tractor trailers for this weekend’s Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship. Though they didn’t know it, the sheep would play a central role in one of sheepherding’s biggest events of the year.
From Friday to Monday, competitors hailing from nations ranging from the U.S., South Africa, the U.K. and Switzerland in tandem with their herding dogs, are showing their skill in rounding up and moving the wool-bearers through an established course. Up for grabs is $20,000 in prize money.
When the sheep arrived, they ran down a ramp which the drivers mounted to the back of the trucks. The sheep were reluctant to emerge, but eventually ran down the incline, leaping over the seam where it met the ground.
Chris Averett, one of the truck drivers and a hand with Okelberry Livestock, said hauling the animals over the hour-long drive from their pasture is different from hauling freight.
“You can feel them,” he said. “It’s a little bit like being on a boat â€“ they sway back and forth a little bit.”
They are also unaccustomed to competition herding, as is standard for competition shepherding.
Though this year’s event is expected to have the look and feel of the previous 15, it is under new leadership. For the first time, the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation is organizing the event, as opposed to years past when founder Mark Peterson oversaw it.
According to Melanie Welch, a spokesperson for the foundation, Peterson still had an advisory role in the event, connecting the organization with members of the Utah Wool Growers Association and the Utah Stockdog Association.
“Our goal was to keep it as similar as it has been from year to year because we don’t want any regular visitors to be disappointed with any changes, so this year we’ve really kept on par with how they’ve always done it,” Welch said.
Originally strictly a herding event, the weekend has become one-stop shopping for canine-based entertainment, including a splash dog contest â€“ long jumping, but for dogs â€“ a clinic on teaching them to pull, a demonstration on their sense of smell and agility demonstrations.
There are also demonstrations of Native American culture, traditions and crafts, a bird of prey show, bagpipe performances, and the highland games â€“ the Scottish predecessor to today’s World’s Strongest Man competitions. All of those events are held over the course of the weekend.
Welch said the event has drawn a diverse crowd in the past, which has fluctuated between 10,000 and 30,000 attendees.
She said the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation currently has no plans to expand its stock-based programming, but Welch didn’t write it off as a possibility.
“We will have to just wait and see,” she said. “With the foundation, you never know.”
The herding competition will conclude with an awards ceremony at 4:30 p.m. on Monday.
For a complete list of schedules, visit the event website at https://soldierhollowclassic.