The St. Louis Scottish Games and Cultural Festival planned for May 6 at Schroeder Park in Manchester will provide a day for all to enjoy the treasures of Scottish culture. Among the playing of the pipes, the leaps of Scottish dancers and the groans of heavy athletic competitors, festival-goers may find themselves drawn to the bleats of sheep and barks of dogs.
Working dogs herding sheep just might steal the show.
A border collie herding demonstration is scheduled at 10 a.m. and again at 3:30 p.m., according to festival board member Neal Morrison.
Border collies were first bred hundreds of years ago in the border regions of England and Scotland to herd livestock, particularly sheep, explainer Robin Reasoner, who with Mary Mackenzie, will be providing the demonstration.
The festival committee sought out Reasoner because she is known to give demonstrations that are true representations of those working dogs, Morrison said.
“We wanted to have that purist view of what the dogs meant to the Scottish,” he said.
Reasoner said the talents of the dogs are impressive.
“When they are working, they will take the place of anywhere from five to 10 humans,” she said. “They have the stamina. They have the know how. Yes, we train them, but its more like becoming a team. The good ones are actually born with it.”
Their service to the Scottish farmer was essential, Morrison said.
“The word ‘collie’ comes from the Scottish Gaelic word that means ‘useful’ so a collie dog is actually a useful dog,” he said.
James Hogg, author of “The Shepherds Calendar,” said it well a couple centuries ago: “Without the shepherd’s dog, the whole of the open mountainous land in Scotland would not be worth sixpence,” he wrote. “It would require more hands to manage a stock of sheep, gather them from the hills, force them into houses and folds, and drive them to markets, than the profits of the whole stock were capable of maintaining.”
Reasoner said in the early years of the breed, border collies were more of an all around dog.
“They might have protected the sheep some, but they were more of an all-around family and guard dog in addition to being able to do the work (of herding),” she said.
Some livestock were guardian dogs, who lived with the sheep out in the fields and protected them from predators, she said.
“Years ago they had a lot of wolves in the Highlands of Scotland,” Morrison said.
Reasoner will bring five border collies and Mackenzie will bring two or three to the festival for the demonstrations. Audiences will see a variety of levels of herding.
“We’ll do demonstrations. We have dogs who are competing in high level competitions in this country,” Reasoner said.
The dogs will herd the sheep following the commands of the herders, Morrison said.
In between the demonstrations, the dogs will be available for petting.
“They are good with people,” Reasoner said. “The sheep will be here, but they are not particularly pets, although they are pretty laid back sheep, and are familiar with the public.”
Just as a note, organizers of the festival are requesting guests leave their dogs at home because of the animal exhibits.
Originally from Iowa and a fourth generation farm girl, Reasoner first got started with border collies when she began working at Purina Farms here in Missouri. It began as a hobby, she said. Although she now lives back in Iowa, she travels and does demonstrations several times a year focusing on performances that are true to the breeds historic working role.
Mackenzie comes to the Scottish Games from the St. Louis area. She, like Reasoner, has always loved animals. Her parents were raised on family farms, and she spent her summers on the farms as a kid. She got involved in herding and agility with her Australian shepherds 20 years ago. When she got her first working-bred border collie in 2014, she began learning what the dogs could do and was hooked, she said.
Opening ceremonies for the festival will begin at 9:15 a.m. at the park located at 359 Old Meramec Station Road.
The festival will feature athletic competitions including heavy athletics, Highland dancing competitions, piping, drumming and mass pipe bands, local bands with Scottish character, children’s activities and Scottish and American food.
Tickets can be purchased at stlouis-scottishgames.com.