Woodward, Okla. —
Cows and horses aren't the only 4-legged animals that perform at Crystal Beach Stadium.
On Saturday, April 6 dozens of canine athletes will compete at the stadium as part of the 1000 Hills Ranch Church's 3rd annual Cowdog Trials.
Event organizer Jason Nail described the contest "in a nutshell."
"It's an arena based trial with an open class, ranch class and novice class," Nail said. "In both the open and ranch classes, there are 4 obstacles. Then we set 3 head of cattle loose and the dog's owner or handler has to instruct the dog to drive the cattle through the obstacles."
He said the course begins with an obstacle that simulates taking cattle through a gate. Then the next 2 obstacles simulate driving the cattle through an alley way, before the final obstacle which simulates loading the cattle on a trailer, he said.
"In the novice class we make it a little easier by taking out the hardest obstacle, so they only have 3 obstacles to go through," he said.
Nail said each handler and dog team has 5 minutes to complete the obstacle course.
Then the "person who is able to handle the dog and cattle the fastest" will win the class, he said.
The contest is designed to show off the dogs' talents and abilities, Nail said.
"The dogs do most of the work; in the open class particularly we limit what the handler can do," he said.
And watching these dogs work can be an amazing sight, Nail said.
"If you've ever seen a border collie work, they work with finesse; it's just really neat to see," he said.
The Cowdog Trials also show how much training the dogs have had and the partnership between handler and dog.
"A lot of these dogs are not even using verbal commands, they have whistles, so you can tell that they've had a lot of training and that these are extremely smart and intelligent dogs," Nail said.
He said these cowdogs and their owners have to invest a lot of time training, just like any athlete would.
"A lot of us has dogs out here, but we don't all have the time to invest in their training. These guys invest a lot of time," he said. "A lot of us have cowdogs that we spend all our time yelling at to quit chasing cattle. But with these dogs you can see that once their natural talent is harnessed and controlled, it's just neat to watch what they can do."
The public is invited to come out and watch the dogs perform, with the dogs competing in the open class beginning their trials around 9 a.m. on April 6.
"People can just come and go as they like and the grandstands will be open so they can sit in the shade," Nail said, noting "it's free to attend."
However, there is a registration fee for handlers who would like to enter their dogs in the contest.
Those wishing to compete in the open class, which is open to any handler and any dog, must register by the day before the event, Nail said.
"We guarantee the open class dogs will all have fresh cattle to make things fair for everyone. So we have to know how many are competing in the open class to make sure we have enough cattle there," he said.
However, those wishing to compete in the ranch or novice classes can register up until the day of the trials. The ranch class is for any handler and those dogs who have not previously competed in the open class, Nail said. And the novice class is for any dog but the handler must have not shown before in either the open or ranch class, he said.
For more information about how to sign up to participate in the cowdog trials and for entry fee details, contact Nail at (405) 368-1178.
Now in it's 3rd year, Nail said the cowdog trials are "slowly growing" in participation.
"Last year we probably had almost 60 dogs there," he said. "So I'm guessing that with the handlers and their family we fed around 200 people last year. We provide a meal to the handlers and their immediate family during the trials."
Since admission to the event is come and go, Nail said he doesn't have a count on the number of spectators, but said he would estimate that there were probably another 200 people who just came out to watch the contest in 2012.
"So we probably had close to 400 people there in all," he said, noting "we're kind of getting the word out there and are growing."
As a sign that the word is spreading about the cowdog trials, Nail said they "have had dogs that have come from Kansas and Texas to compete. And I currently have dogs entered (for this year's contest) from Louisiana. I think we have dogs from Missouri too."
And as the word spreads about the cowdog trials, Nail said that event organizers are hoping that the word of God is spread too.
"This is just a way for the church to reach out to the western culture by trying to do different events that apply to people in the cowboy lifestyle," he said.
In addition to the cowdog trials in the spring, Nail said that 1000 Hills Ranch Church also hosts a ranch rodeo in May and a colt starting event in the fall.
"We're always trying to do more events, different events that appeal to these people through the things they like," he said. "We may even have barrel racing. There's just a lot of different areas of western culture and we just want to try to reach out to them all."
For more information about the 1000 Hills Ranch Church visit their website at www.1000hillsranchchurch.com.