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Crowds flock to Hotchkiss stock dog trials

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With the exception of a little wind, the weather couldn't have been more cooperative for the 14th annual Hotchkiss Sheep Camp Stock Dog Trials. The three-day event drew some 75 dog/handler teams, and some of the biggest crowds in recent history.

The trials went well, said event manager Gordon Hebenstriet. "Excellent crowd," he said. Except for Saturday's winds, "The weather's been a little more cooperative."

He and wife Cheryl have taken over organization of the event after co-founder Richard Bailey stepped down last year. Bailey, who entered 6-year-old Abbie in the trials, remains involved in the event. On Saturday, Bailey's late wife, Marilyn, who passed away last November, was honored ahead of second-run competition. A tribute to Marilyn Bailey was also included on the inside cover of this year's program.

Saturday's competition also drew the largest crowd since 2012, said Hebenstreit, who credited a combination of good weather and efforts by volunteers to get the word out about the event. The roughly 75 handler/dog teams came primarily from the western U.S. -- Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and California, as well as from Minnesota, Missouri and Oklahoma.

And while weather can be a factor in drawing spectators, the success of future trials could depend on another factor. "We just need more volunteers," said Hebenstreit. This was an exceptionally difficult year for volunteers after two key people had to drop out due to emergencies, one right before the trials and another during the trials. Some out-of-town volunteers were also unable to make this year's event. "That hurt," he said.

"We think we're benefiting the community," said Hebenstreit. Numerous events and fundraisers have grown up around the trials, and a lot of out-of-town visitors come for the weekend. What they really need, he said, is a good core of local volunteers to ensure that the event returns year after year. "They don't have to be dog people," he said. "It's a fun event to put on, and you can't ask for a nicer place to have it."

Habenstreit acknowledged those who do make the event possible. The Hotchkiss Lions Club has helped with the event for the past three or four years. "They've been super," said Hebenstreit.

Other volunteers come from far away, including Lyle East, a handler from Missouri who helped with setting the course. Richard Bailey's son, Kevin, comes from out of town to help, and Sharon Northrup and Dave and Sally Ryan also travel to help with the trials. Handler Ray Masse feeds the sheep and watches over them at night.

Locally, Stretch Faulhaber pitches in, and trial announcer Les Mergelman also works with DMEA and others to make the event happen. "He's becoming more and more knowledgeable every year," said Habenstreit. "We wouldn't want to put it on without him."

They really need help with preparatory work, he said. Putting the event together is a year-round process, but the need for volunteers is during the three or so months leading up to the event, and of course, during the event. Volunteers help with details like coordinating with the Allen family, which provides the sheep, and the Hotchkiss family, which provides the land for the trials. They could also use help with advertising and getting the word out.

It's not hard work, nor is it terribly time-consuming, said Hebenstreit. "It's just that we need more people to do it to spread it out a little bit."

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North Fork
Hotchkiss, Sheep Dog Trials
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