SPONSORED BY CSJ – A big thank you to Ceri and CSj for sponsoring me.

This year was always going to be very special because it marked 30 years of marriage and having Jo and Kieran present to support me made for a truly wonderful occasion. Since having my entry accepted for the brace run with Cody and Todd, it is true to say that I was looking forward more to running in brace than the singles. My preparations, throughout the year have been hindered by injuries to all three dogs. Even the day before the brace run Todd was lame with a thorn but recovered in time to take part. Many of you will know that since winning the 4 Nations Nursery Final Cody has been suffering from epileptic fits and as they have now become more frequent it was time for Mist to step up. Despite having been pointed up for three years, I have never run her at the Nationals as we didnt quite gel. This year I decided to reward her good form and tinkered with her training in such a way that would usually be unimaginable for a working dog. Mists weak areas have continuously been shedding and penning and I decided to address these specifically by breaking down the elements and using clicker training. This approach led to a much happier Mist as many of you will have heard her howling at trials.

Day One – Todd and Cody ran 3rd and it was a fight to keep the sheep on course. Cody, in my opinion, worked wonderfully and tirelessly despite not penning. Oh, and Ricky and Jimmy did what they do best – they made it look easy.

Day Two – Todd with the last run of the day got a good hold of his sheep but they were hell-bent on missing the fetch gate. He stopped them on one side only for them to miss the far side. After the fetch gates, the rest of my run has to be one of the most pleasurable runs I have ever had at any trial with Todd, working as he does at home, in contact with his sheep. The disappointment of not making the top 8 was immense and still is. Ricky and Jimmy did what they do best – they made it look easy once again.

Day Three – James Dumbleton showed us that the sheep could be worked and managed with care and took the lead with a class run. Mist ran in the early evening in strong winds and rain, and made friends with her sheep early on. After the past few weeks, I had now begun to trust her with the shed and pen elements. She did not let me down. Meanwhile, Ricky and Jimmy did what they do best – yep, they made it look easy. Ricky, in particular, had arranged for the winds to be stronger and the rain to come down in torrents just so that he could rub salt into the wounds. Sergio did likewise in similar conditions and showed what a gritty character he is. Gladly, both fell short and Mist finished the day in 1st place. Ricky did what Ricky does best, he messaged me to congratulate me. Forever the sportsman and gentleman and a wonderful example to us all.

Day 4 – The Run Off – Ricky ran first as I stood behind the judge’s box, choosing not to watch apart from the good start he had. I started well with a good but tricky lift with the sheep pulling to the right as they did for for all the handlers. I chose to keep Mist in contact with the sheep, rather than hold her back and subsequently missed the fetch. I then tried even harder to achieve good lines and turns but my return from the cross drive was poor, leading to yet another good finish. David Wood ran last and put up another good run. I have seen David roll his sleeves up and go for glory so many times and he is a seasoned professional at chasing gold. He knows all about coming second and, feeling that I had blown my chances, I would love to have seen David become the National champion, and I am sure Ricky would not have begrudged him either. But Ricky did what he does best, he stood tall and whooped the best of the English, all 148 of them. We all need something to aim for and I for one hope to be short, ginger-haired and slightly more talented enough to win the National title just the once.

I cannot finish without mentioning the organisation and commitment of all the helpers. They are a hardened and most committed bunch of guys who worked their wet socks off and smiled right to the end. Without them and the support of Myerscough College, this amazing and memorable event would not have taken place.