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MIDWAY — The art of training a dog to round up sheep has been in practice for hundreds of years and the top dogs and handlers in the world will be competing at Soldier Hollow this weekend.
The Vita Bone Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship is the largest annual event of its kind in the world, according to director and founder Mark Petersen. Competing in the prestigious event is invitation-only, and as a result, it showcases the top competitors from around the world including areas of Scotland, Wales, South Africa, South America and Canada.
"It's almost like a pilgrimage to come here," Petersen said. "It's a great honor for them to get invited and to come and it's a very, very special place."
Petersen said 64 dogs and 43 people are competing during the 13th annual event and five Utahns will be among the participants — the largest number of locals to compete in the championship since it was founded. Plain City resident Shauna Gourley will compete with two of her dogs, both of which are ranked in the top 30 sheep dogs in North America, Petersen said.
True to its roots, the competition is set on a grassy hillside and replicates the tasks that sheepdogs have in a farm setting: herding sheep from one area to another, separating them and getting them into pens. The sheep used during the competition are wild and have never been herded by dogs before, Petersen said.
It's a unique drama that you watch unfold on the hillside. ... There's grace to it, there's beauty, there's excitement. There are times when you can hear a pin drop and there are times when it sounds like somebody scored a touchdown at a big football game.
–Mark Petersen, director of Vita Bone Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship
The dog handler stands about 400 yards away from the dog and herd of sheep and gives commands with whistles and yells. The dogs and handlers are judged based on how effectively the dog can maneuver the sheep without putting undo stress on them, Petersen said.
"It's a unique drama that you watch unfold on the hillside," he said. "People that have never seen it before don't quite know what they are coming to see and are oftentimes pretty spellbound by it. There's grace to it, there's beauty, there's excitement. It's not quite like anything you have seen anywhere else. … There are times when you can hear a pin drop and there are times when it sounds like somebody scored a touchdown at a big football game."
The event runs Friday to Monday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The winner will be announced Monday evening and awarded a $35,000 purse. Family activities will be available during the competition including a wild animal show, games and a professional dog entertainment act. Admission to the event is $13.50.