In 1988, Pittsburgh Township was calling for events to celebrate its bicentennial—that was the year the first Sheep Dog Trial was held at Grass Creek Park. This year will be the 30th time this ever-growing, family-and-dog-friendly festival will take place on the lovely banks of the St. Lawrence River.
Those first Trials were modest, with about forty 40 dogs competing. But it didn’t take long for people to cotton on to the beauty of sheep and dogs moving together and, especially, to the great relationships the dogs shared with their handlers. Side attractions were added that complimented the trials to entertain and educate the crowds. Then, as now, canine sports and jobs figured prominently in the roster—the Kingston Police Canine Unit, Flyball, Agility trials.
Since then, Pittsburgh Township has become part of the City of Kingston and the Kingston Sheep Dog Trials has grown in leaps and bounds. The number of spectators has increased annually and now regularly surpasses 7,000 a year.
The list of competitors has also grown significantly. Last year, we ran 168 dogs, making it the biggest trial in North America. Running that number brings organizational challenges, not the least of which is the procurement and care of 700 sheep.
We share this history so that newcomers can know from whence we came. The handlers and dogs that appear for their glorified nine minutes on the trial course, have spent much of their current lives preparing for those moments.
They prepare for knowing their dogs inside and out. They prepare for knowing how their dogs will respond to the wild Waupoos sheep. You will see dogs commit breathtaking beauty, in a lyricism that has no real peer. You will watch the miracle of an outrun—some folks burst into spontaneous tears when they see it for the first time. The romantic notion of it is powerful. The demanding relationship between dog and hand, their triumphant focus on the job, is a thrill to do and to watch.
And, of course, there are plenty of side attractions for the whole family, dogs included, to enjoy (the site is fully accessible): food vendors, entertainment, chances for children to interact with animals, a craft market and sheep-to-shawl competition, just to name a few.
Please join us to celebrate 30 years of the Sheep Dog Trials Festival August 11 to 13 in Kingston, Ontario.
Come make some wonderful summer memories with us!
—Amanda Milliken, Founding Trials Chair