Sheep dogs focus on job in Orange

ORANGE, VA -- As a border collie walks to the starting point with its handler, it can sense that it's showtime.

It can feel the judge's eyes. But it knows its mission lies straight ahead—across nearly 350 yards of pasture.

There is an extreme degree of focus in the dog's eyes. For it's the eyes that are a working border collie's finest attribute.

A border collie can stare across an open field with the accuracy of a laser—searching for its sheep.

A quality dog can maneuver a herd of sheep in any direction with a glance of its eye or by reacting to its handler's whistle.

In seconds, a border collie can cover hundreds of yards with tongue-flailing glee.

It's called the release.

At this pivotal moment a handler should be completely silent.

Trust is the name of the game between handlers and dogs. Handler and dog are a team, together they perform the centuries-old job of sheepherding.

A long row of border collies serves as spectators along a fence line with their handlers—they watch, riveted.

Border collies enjoy watching the often difficult work of their peers.

Predominantly black and white in color, collies are Spartan, loyal and hardworking to a fault.

They're Calvinists through and through: Joy equals work for a border collie.

After a rather disappointing run, Dick Brewer of Virginia Beach sat with his 6-year-old female border collie, Pepper, stroked her coat and gave her encouragement.

There's no scolding, only love and pride when he speaks of his hardworking ball of black and white fur.

''We finished, that's about it,'' said Brewer. ''We're having a great time here; it's the third year we've come here.''

Brewer's dog is a lively testament to the benefits of a patience, love and the work done by organizations like the Virginia Border Collie Association, a sponsor of the trials.

''Pepper was a rescue dog. She's been a good dog for me,'' said Brewer with a measure of pride.

This was just one of the scenes at the 13th annual Fall Fiber Festival and Montpelier Sheepdog Trials. On Sunday, hundreds of people visited the grounds of historic Montpelier Station in Orange County to celebrate a common interest.

The two-day festival, sponsored by the Charlottesville Fiber Artists Guild, was a celebration of natural fibers: those made from the wool of sheep, llamas and goats.

The festival offered classes on weaving, Scottish dancers, sheep shearing demonstrations, shopping and those energetic border collies.

Rows of tents housed an eclectic mix of artisans, weavers and crafters selling their goods.

One such vender sold hand-crafted Orenburg lace shawls, made in the Ural Mountains of Russia.

Each shawl was individually hand spun and knitted from mohair.

''It takes over 300 hours of work to complete one shawl,'' said Nina Siyanko, who is part Ukrainian and Russian. ''I found these wonderful craftswomen in Russia when I was a student there.''

The designs on the shawls are as delicate and light as a spider's web, but the shawls are warm, too, she said.

''When people buy our shawls they're sustaining a weaving tradition and a way of life for these Russian craftswomen.''

Siyanko has an eye for the intricacies of natural fiber, like many of the crafters and merchants at the festival. The blending of cultures—Scottish, traditional American, Russian and Native American—was every bit as interesting as the woolen blends for sale.