Graeme proves a top dog man
IT WAS 20 years ago, but Graeme Heath still recalls being a little nervous the first time he walked into an arena to put his working dogs on trial.
Ironically he made his competition debut in Warwick, the same place he'll sit in the judge's seat next month for the Australian championships.
But two decades ago he was far from being the polished handler he is now.
"My dogs and I were used to the paddock, so it was very different performing in front of a crowd," he admitted.
So pre-competition he was feeling pretty jittery, until a seasoned, old trialist encouraged him at the gate with: "you won't be able to do anything we haven't seen before".
Truth was Mr Heath had had his share of livestock experience.
Back then he was managing Calm Downs, a 4451ha grazing property carrying 8000 sheep near Glenlyon Dam.
The vast property at the southern end of our local government region was owned by Fairfax during the 15 years the Heath family called it home.
"I had had working dogs always," Mr Heath said.
"My father had dogs too: always border collies.
"I think you are either a kelpie or a collie person when it comes to working dogs.
"Personally I always found border collies easier to train."
For a long time he worked the backyard during working dog trials at his home centre of Stanthorpe, supplying the stock and penning up.
Then he stepped into the arena and in many ways he hasn't stepped out.
Each year he travels throughout Queensland and New South Wales, taking between eight and 10 dogs on a circuit he plans around work on the 500ac Possieres property he has semi-retired to with his wife Kathy.
"Sometimes Kathy comes with me, other times she stays home to look after my spare dogs."
He clarifies the latter comment to mean the half-a-dozen young canines with various forms of education and experience that represent his future on the trial circuit.
On a personal note, the highlight of his competition history would be winning first the novice then the open with the same dog one year in Stanthorpe.
"A cool temperament and good stock sense would be two of the most important things on the trial circuit," he said.