Amanda Milliken, of Kingston, Ontario, Canada, helps her dog and teammate, Ethel, cool off during the 23rd annual Meeker Classic Championship Sheepdog Trials last year. Milliken and Ethel were the overall winners out of more than 120 handler/border collie teams in the event. The 24th annual Meeker Classic is scheduled for Sept. 8 through 12, with numerous contests and entertainment lined up for spectators.

Piper Worcester/Courtesy

Amanda Milliken, of Kingston, Ontario, Canada, helps her dog and teammate, Ethel, cool off during the 23rd annual Meeker Classic Championship Sheepdog Trials last year. Milliken and Ethel were the overall winners out of more than 120 handler/border collie teams in the event. The 24th annual Meeker Classic is scheduled for Sept. 8 through 12, with numerous contests and entertainment lined up for spectators.

Meeker Classic to open 24th annual event Sept. 8

If you go

What: 24th annual Meeker Classic Championship Sheepdog Trials

When: Sept. 8 through 12

Where: West of Meeker on Colorado Highway 13

• A five-day pass costs $30 for adults and $10 for seniors and ages 8 to 16. A single day pass costs $10 for adults and $5 for ages 8 to 16. Children younger than 8 are admitted for free. For more information, contact 878-0111 or 878-5510 or trials@meekersheepdog.com.

The 24th annual Meeker Classic Championship Sheepdog Trials are almost at the gate.

The world-renowned event will provide days of entertainment for humans and canines alike.

Taking place Sept. 8 through 12, the sheepdog trials are a competition for border collies experienced in herding and entertainment for the crowds that come to cheer them on.

More than 120 dogs and handlers will be competing in this year’s event, hailing from locations across the United States and Canada, while the lineup of standby competitors has people from as far as Italy and South Africa.

Dogs will herd sheep across an obstacle course and will be judged based on how well they follow commands and the handling of their wooly charges.

Experienced sheepdog trials announcer Art Unsworth will return to voice the competition, which will feature a minimum purse of $20,000.

Haley Howard, a champion of the sport who has competed in events in the U.S. and abroad — including the Meeker Classic — since age 12, is this year’s judge.

“Almost all the judges are former competitors,” said Sandra Besseghini, publicity chair for the event. “We always seek out people who know what they’re doing and the only rule is that they can’t be part of this year’s competition.”

Meeker Classic organizers only recently began focusing on bringing in judges from the U.S. and Canada. Originally, they contacted judges from nations like Scotland and New Zealand.

“Judges in North America have really matured in the sport, so we bring them in and they’ve really had competent, level-handed judging,” Besseghini said.

The five-day competition will include a variety of entertainment for attendees, besides the early morning dog runs.

Crowds will enjoy pancake breakfasts, afternoon barbecues, a craft festival, an art competition, a vintage car show, performing bagpipers and more.

People wanting to learn more about border collies will be able to hear a lecture from border collie expert Mark Neff and learn training techniques from Chris Jobe, a current competitor from Alberta, Canada, who trains her dogs using ducks.

Besseghini said the amount of additional entertainment is what makes the Meeker Classic unique, with crowds of about 5,000 people every year.

“A lot of other trials you go to, there might be some handlers and a few spectators and maybe a vendor selling burritos out of a truck,” she said. “You don’t find this kind of event anywhere else.”

Besseghini said the usual spectators keep returning for the trials because they’re well versed in the rules and get to know the competitors, which makes them feel welcome.

“A lot of people have been coming since it began,” she said.

The Meeker Classic began in 1987 as a way to combat the town’s fledgling economy by returning to the heritage of sheepherding.

Besseghini said competitors in the inaugural year used range sheep, which were hard to handle.

“We got a reputation for having the toughest sheep in North America, and the word spread,” Besseghini said.

The sheepdog trials became one of the town’s biggest events of the year for tourists and locals.

The event’s outreach to area elementary schools has allowed students to observe the event for more than 10 years. The field trip is a favorite for Craig second-graders.

In 2000, the group of volunteer organizers received the Colorado State Tourism Board’s Award for Local Initiative.

Following this, economics students at Colorado State University performed a study on the Meeker Classic and found that it had brought in about $1 million per year for the town, as well as about $250,000 for outlying areas like Rangely and Craig.

Besseghini said the revenue from the event has remained steady because of organizers keeping admission prices reasonable.

“It’s a very affordable event and we try to keep it that way,” she said.

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