Sheep dog trials make triumphant return to Surat and St George

SHEEP dog trials are making a comeback in South West Queensland with support from Maranoa Regional Council and Senex Energy. 

Sheep dog trial courses test working dogs’ skills and their relationship with their handler. The Surat and St George Sheep Dog Trials were held on the back of the long running Chinchilla Sheep Dog Trial with 27 handlers and 111 dogs competing in the 10-day circuit. Wet weather forced Surat’s trial to be held at St George, but Surat and St George Sheep Dog Trials Committee Member Rohan Ballon said this didn’t affect the turnout.

“There were quite a few people who came hoping to compete, but hadn’t registered in advance, so we expect increased numbers in 2023 now they know the requirements,” he said. This is the second year that Surat and St George have held trials in more than 20 years.

“Surat and St George were considered the home of dog trialling back in the day being home to families such as the Potters, the Colleys and the Smiths who were renowned on the circuit, but the sport gradually dropped off about 20 years ago,” Rohan said. 

Preparation and pack up of the yards was much easier this year due to a grant from Maranoa Regional Council’s Community Grants Program which is delivered in partnership with Senex Energy. 

The grant was used to buy 34 transportable sheep panels from Roma Wire and Steel, saving organisers hours in building and dismantling yards made from wire, mesh and star pickets. “It took us months to pull the yards down and return the materials last year, so these panels saved us a huge amount of time and are a long-term solution which can also be used by other community organisations,” Rohan said.

Senex Energy Community Relations Manager Trevor Robertson said the trials boosted both towns’ economies with fuel stations, pubs and grocery shops benefitting from increased trade. “This is about Senex working with local community groups, in partnership with Maranoa Regional Council, to support initiatives like the sheep dog trials which attracted competitors from NSW, Longreach and Brisbane and contribute to the vibrancy of the region,” he said. 

Rohan attributes sheep dog trialling’s resurgence in popularity to the rebuilding of sheep flocks since exclusion fencing was introduced and the airing of documentary Muster Dogs.

“There’s a mix of handlers, about half are old hands, but there’s plenty of newcomers who see trialling as the best way to unlock and develop working dogs to their full potential,” he said. 

Toowoomba’s Bailey Knight is one such competitor scoring an almost unheard of perfect 100/100 score with his three-year-old Border Collie Camara Gwen in the first round and a score of 93/100 in the final round of the Surat Improver Trial to claim victory. He also won the St George Open Trial with Knights Ron with a final score of 187. Bailey’s success over his short career has made him one of sheep dog trialling’s next big things. 

Greg Campbell and his five-year-old Border Collie M.G.H. Patrick from Allora won the Surat Open Trial with two scores of 98/100.

Local MP Ann Leahy and her dog Molly also competed, making it into the Encourage (beginner) handler finals for both the Surat and St George trials.

The committee said the future is bright for the sheep dog trials after this year’s success. “Holding our trials straight after Chinchilla really does attract the cream of the crop, and we can’t thank our sponsors such as Maranoa Regional Council and Senex enough as it would be impossible to run these events without their support,” Rohan said.