For the last 25+ years Slaven Ranch has hosted The Zamora Hills Sheepdog Trial. This year, Art & Ag artists were invited to visit during this annual competition. Peggy Wines, daughter of Bill Slaven, who passed away in 2013, explains how the tradition got started. “My parents watched their first sheepdog trial while on vacation and my dad said, ‘Hey, this is what I do every day.’” Bill was hooked and in the early 90s hosted the first sheepdog trial on the ranch. The event has continued ever since through the dedication of Slaven siblings, Peggy, Susan and Michael.
The ranch was purchased in the late 1800s by Bill’s grandfather who came over from Ireland. The family raised sheep, grew barley and bred border collies on the land which today still retains the feel of a farm not all that different from a century ago, with weather-worn fences, an old red barn, and vintage outbuildings and farm equipment. And in the sheepdog trial circuit it is considered among “the most beautiful and challenging trial courses in the world.”
The sheepdog trial is an event that the family looks forward to rain or shine. “It’s like a reunion each year with a lot of the same people coming out, and the only time we get to see each other”, says Susan. Peggy, who is also a handler, looks forward to ‘magical moments’ of watching handler and dog working in perfect synchronicity, and the chance “see the ranch get worked again.”
If you’ve never watched a trial here’s how it works: Handlers run the sheepdogs using a series of whistle commands. The course takes the dogs up the hill to find the sheep, bring them back down, and then guide them through an obstacle course of wood panels and towers.
Most sheepdog trials nowadays take place in arenas, but these trials are still on the land, in a real sheepherding setting. As a result, people come from all over the state and the country to compete in this sanctioned event where the top 20% earn qualifying points toward the national finals at the end of the year. Judges often come from overseas, and the top prize is $1000.
This was an opportunity for artists to capture a glimpse of Yolo County agriculture that is rarely seen by the public, on a farm redolent of the past at the height of spring. “I want the artists to experience the green hills, the sheep and the dogs,” says Peggy. “This is true agricultural land and a working sheep range. There are not too many of these family ranches anymore.”
Read an award-winning poem HERE + by Julia Levine, current Poet Laureate of Davis, CA inspired by her visit to Slaven Ranch.
Top: Charles Vincent McDonald (Portrait of Peggy and Sue Wines with artists William Lum and Marlene Lee)
Second Row: Donald Vanderloo
Third Row: (right) Sarah Mayhew