The Vashon Sheepdog Classic

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Imagine relaxing in a meadow in the June sunshine, the sweet smell of grass in the air, along with a hint of something delicious to eat. The sounds of neighborly conversations and children’s laughter rise and falls around you, and then a swell of excitement ripples through the crowd. An old and magical sport is unfolding before your eyes, and you find yourself cheering at something you may have never expected to find exciting: a group of sheep making their way into a small pen. The gate closes, a whistle splits the air, and a Border Collie proudly accepts her praise due, as spectators break into spontaneous applause.

Set on the majestic meadows of Misty Isle Farms in the center of Vashon, “the trials at Misty Isle” have been giving spectators a chance to step back in time since 2010. Sheepdog trials originated in Britain and New Zealand in the late 1800’s so shepherds could show off the talents of their canine partners, and the sport has surged in popularity in the 21st century. More than 1,500 dog and handler teams will participate in 2018 herding competitions in Canada and the U.S.A. Top teams from across the country participate in the Vashon Sheepdog Classic, the largest event of its kind on the West Coast.

The competition’s course is based on classics in the United Kingdom and North America. The hilly topography at Misty Isle is ideal for challenging the contestants, while a sloped edge creates a natural amphitheater for spectators.

Handler and dog work together to complete a series of tasks based on jobs required of working farm dogs. Competing sheepdogs are frequently Border Collies because of their speed, intelligence and ability to apply gentle pressure to move sheep. Some dogs are full–time farm workers, some are pets that have trained for the sport. Regardless of each dog’s background, their handler’s expectation is the same: that dogs handle the sheep in a calm, efficient, compassionate manner through the set course.

A vibrant, uniquely Vashon, country fête has grown around this competition that celebrates the canine–human connection. In a nod to the sheep, Vashon spinners, knitters, weavers and felters make the trials more colorful than the average herding event, thanks to the fiber artists’ décor of the festival grounds. Course gates and markers are yarnstormed (think graffiti, but yarn!) with colorful wrapping and felted flowers, and bright, bunting flags upcycled from Granny’s Attic woolens adorn vendor tents. Fun for all ages includes:

• Fiber Arts Village with free workshops and demonstrations,
• Craft vendors from all over the Northwest,
• Children’s tent with hands–on fiber activities,
• “The Story of Wool” educational exhibit,
• Healthy, delicious festival food choices,
• Spirit garden in the shade with clear view of the competition,
• Bagpipers procession during release of the flock into the field.
All proceeds from the Vashon Sheepdog Classic benefit local charities focused on the health and education of Vashon Island youth. The event has raised over $150,000 since 2010.
• Thursday–Sunday, June 7–10, 2018, dawn to dusk.
• General admission $10 / Four–day pass $25 / Kids 10 & under free.
• Advanced ticket purchase required: brownpapertickets.com
• Information: vashonsheepdogclassic.com