HUNTSVILLE -- The acres of sweeping fields at Kelley Creek Farm are perfect for border collies to show off their natural herding ability.
There's a platform for the judges tucked up under the shade of several trees. There's also a swell overlooking the fields, just perfect for the audience. That's why Kelley Creek Farm has been the site of national-sanctioned sheepdog trials for seven years.
It's all exactly the way Brent Dickens would have wanted it, said his widow, Patsy Dickens.
Patsy Dickens revels in the hushed excitement that follows the sheepdog trials, where owners, handlers, spectators, and the just plain curious congregate for three days for the Kelley Creek Farm National Sheepdog Trial.
Dickens and her late husband purchased the 85-acre farm specifically because it had all the makings of a sheepdog trial course. It's a favorite trial location of Patrick Shannahan, a handler from Caldwell, Idaho, who has attended every year.
"It's beautiful scenery, well organized, great sheep, and we are treated well," said Shannahan, the 2010 United States Border Collie Handlers Association champion. The Huntsville event is sanctioned by the same association, so handlers were earning points to progress to the 2012 national trials.
Shannahan regularly attends 10 trials a year and handled five dogs at Huntsville. He said training dogs for trials can take two years and most of the 80 dogs competing this year are between 4 and 7 years old.
The object is for the dog to move livestock in the straightest and most efficient way around the course, which usually takes about 9 minutes. This keeps the sheep unstressed and fattened up.
"Trials are the perfect way to see what the border collie was born to do," said Dickens, an Arizona native. "They are bred for herding instinct, not appearance."
Shannahan said it takes four things for a dog to win: a good dog, a good handler, good sheep and old-fashioned luck.
"The best dog doesn't always win," Shannahan said. "There's a lot of unknowns."
Interest in the unknown brought Dan Christensen and his family from North Ogden to the farm on Saturday afternoon. He's not a handler, dog owner or even a sheepdog trial follower.
"It is so interesting, and different from what we've ever done," said Christensen. "And we knew it would be pretty here."
Not only have border collies and kelpies been herding livestock and sheep for generations, they continue to do so. Although some owners and handlers at sheepdog trials consider such events a hobby, many others bring dogs that actually work every day.
The dogs listen for five commands from their handlers: left, right, forward, stop and return. Dogs are able to herd sheep, in this case sheep that have never been herded before, through eye contact and body movements.
Although the Huntsville trial usually attracts handlers and owners from surrounding Western states, Dickens has hosted contestants from all over the nation and even countries such as South Africa.
"As long as we can financially afford to do it, we want people to come to enjoy the sport and the beauty of the valley," Dickens said.