Sky the limit as Collins retains title

Paul Collins and Sky on the longhead course at the New Zealand sheepdog trial championships in...
Paul Collins and Sky on the longhead course at the New Zealand sheepdog trial championships in Taranaki late last month. PHOTO: JORGE COPLESTONE/WALLAGO PHOTOGRAPHY
You can’t keep a good dog down.

South Otago farmer Paul Collins and his stellar bitch, Sky, rose to the occasion at the recent North Island and New Zealand sheepdog trial championships in Taranaki to win back-to-back titles in the longhead.

Achieving consecutive wins in the same class with the same dog at the national championships was extremely rare and Mr Collins had no expectations when he headed north to Mangamingi.

In fact, he described his chances as "pretty bloody slim". The last thing he thought he and Sky would be doing was coming home winners amid a field of about 250 dogs and tough competition.

After a season that had not gone particularly well, the Tahatika club member considered not taking Sky to the championships. It was a mate who said he would be silly not to.

In their first run, the pair were second in the North Island championship longhead with 96.5 points out of a possible 100, just 0.5 of a point behind East Otago’s Lloyd Smith and Guide.

In the run-off to determine the New Zealand championship, they were the top scorer with 94 points, beating Mr Smith — on aggregate — by 0.5 points.

It was a southern trifecta as Brian Dickison and Jake, from the Greenvale club, were third in the New Zealand championship. Mr Dickison was also sixth in the same final with Cole, while Michael Lucas, of Lowburn, was fifth with Kate.

The class was judged by Omarama’s Scott Hunter, who was later named in the New Zealand test team with Lucy to compete against their Australian counterparts. Mr Collins and Sky were named non-travelling reserves.

Mr Collins promised the New Zealand championships run-off was the last run for Sky, although the pair’s test selection meant they still had to keep their hand in.

Their success was remarkable given the pair have both battled their own health issues. In November, 2019, Mr Collins was diagnosed with advanced peritoneal cancer. Powerful chemotherapy and the removal of 5kg of mass followed.

Then it was Sky’s turn. While sorting out two fighting bulls, one fell on her and broke her front leg which required major surgery. A mishap with a farm vehicle and a run-in with rat poison complicated her recovery.

She rallied to win last year’s national longhead title in their home territory of South Otago and, since then, there had been a few trips to the vet clinic "trying to get her dead right".

Winning the title for a second year came as a nice surprise and he was happy for his dog. The 7-year-old bitch stepped up for the "big show" and always gave 100% to the task.

"It’s very hard to win one New Zealand [championship] but very, very, very hard to win two," he said.

He bred Sky and knew from a young age that the very trainable bitch had the X-factor. Initially, a litter mate was his first pick but then Sky started "ticking all the boxes" and he gave the litter mate away.

Mr Collins quoted prominent Omarama dog triallist Ginger Anderson who said that champions were born. He felt very lucky to have had such a dog, modestly saying he just had to "tweak the edges".

Sky was a "dog of a lifetime" and her most recent success was a nice way for her to end her career. It was also nice for his wife, Roxy, and the couple’s young daughters — "I’m glad to make them happy"— and his mates.

He thanked his travelling buddies, Boyd Tisdall and Cam Bain, saying it was a ‘bit of a team effort".

"It’s good to get everything right, it helps travelling with the right people," he said.

Back home on the farm last week and busy with shearing, Mr Collins joked it was a little hard to get motivated. Asked what he had in the kennels to campaign next season, he said he "might be a bit thin" — "she’s irreplaceable".

While Sky’s trialling days were over, she was not retired from farming duties just yet, which included helping out with shearing last week.

"They don’t like sitting doing nothing," he said.

Mr Collins had tried to get some pups out of Sky but had not yet been successful. However, he would try again. Her litter mate had already had pups so the breed would continue.

Even though he was non-travelling reserve for the New Zealand team, it was "pretty cool" to be selected and he had his New Zealand blazer and would attend practices.

Mr Collins was full of praise for the organisers of the championships who did an "awesome job".

The championship courses suffered significant storm damage in late 2022 and had to be rebuilt.

With challenging times in the rural sector, it was great to have a week off-farm.

"When you come home with a bit of silverware, it’s not too bad."


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