It takes more than a cyclone and weeks of isolation to stop Hawke’s Bay farmer Clark Chrystal and his trusty sidekick Jude in their tracks.
The pair have just returned to their Tutira dairy farm after claiming not only the national zigzag hunt title at the New Zealand Sheep Dog Trial Championships at Warepa, near Balclutha, but also the South Island title. They were the only team to win a national and island title at this year’s championships.
It is all the more remarkable given that Chrystal’s 150ha farm was battered during Cyclone Gabrielle, severely limiting their preparation for the trials.
His family had no electricity and were isolated on their farm for three weeks, and then had limited access for several more weeks. His cows had to be dried off within days of the cyclone.
“We got hit pretty hard. We were sort of right in the middle of Tutira and it came right over us.
“The farm was a bit of a mess but we’re getting tidied up now and there are a lot of people worse off than me.”
The cyclone damage meant Chrystal’s focus was on getting the farm back in operation. Attending the national trials was the furthest thing from his mind.
However, he and other triallist in the region were thrown a lifeline by the New Zealand Sheep Dog Trial Association when it relaxed the qualification criteria for those impacted by the cyclone.
“We couldn’t get out to qualify so the New Zealand association made a dispensation. It was pretty cool that they did that because it took a lot of the pressure off.
“Their thinking was that we had other things to worry about, rather than running all over the country trying to get qualifying points. It was very much appreciated.”
Chrystal said it was still difficult to find time to train for the trials as repairs around the farm had to take priority.
“I was pretty lucky with the dog I’ve got in that she didn’t need a massive amount of training. The work had already been done.
“I said to some mates I would be better off going in the Golden Pliers rather than the dog trials because we’ve done so much fencing over the last few months.”
Chrystal was thrilled to claim his first national title, which has been 30 years in the making. He took up trialling as an 18-year-old, and since then had made the final run at nationals about 14 times.
“I’ve been second a couple of times but never won one until now.”
Winning an island title at the same competition “was pretty cool but, no disrespect, it’s the New Zealand title that we are all after”.
“It was a pretty nondescript sort of week for me to be honest. I ran right at the very end of the first round. I was all packed up ready to go home but the run was alright so I was in the final the next day. The week got better I suppose.”
Despite working on a dairy farm, Chrystal says Jude has no trouble switching her focus to sheep. He bred Jude five years ago and she is “the fourth or fifth” generation of dogs he has raised.
“I’ve got half a dozen sheep that I train them on and I’ve been doing a bit of casual mustering work in the past 12 months.
“She’s an easy dog to work. I’m pretty happy with her. She works for me and is not a hard dog to hold. She knows how to play the game.”
The pair didn’t have long to bask in their success. After winning the title and a 26-hour road journey home, it was back to fencing, track repairs and fixing water systems.
“Just back to the grind, I guess.”
North Canterbury dog triallist Neil Evans and Tess claimed back-to-back national titles after winning the short head and yard section at Balclutha. The pair, from Omihi, claimed the same title in 2022 at the Taumarunui nationals. Evans also finished fourth in the same section this year with another dog, Smoke.
Ethan Smith and Chub, from Patearoa, won the straight hunt, while Paul Collins and Sky, of Tahatika near Owaka, ensured there was a local presence in the winner’s circle by claiming the long head section.
New Zealand Championship final results
Long head: Paul Collins (Sky), Tahatika, 1; Barry Thompson (Bolt), Tai Tapu, 2; Michael Lucas (Dixon), Lowburn, 3; Anthony Barton (Jess), Waikari, 4; Lloyd Smith (Guide), Waihemo, 5; Neil Evans (Tess), Omihi, 6; Mark Copland (Don), Methven, 7.
Short head & yard:Neil Evans (Tess), Omihi, 1; Bob Bruce (Susan); Te Aute 2; Brian Dickison (Jake), Greenvale, 3; Neil Evans (Smoke), Omihi 4; Fergus McLean (Dan), Omihi, 5; Ian Stevenson (Zac) Omihi, 6; Lloyd Smith (Ted), Waihemo, 7.
Zigzag hunt: Clark Chrystal (Jude) Waikoau, 1; Gavin Drake (Short), Mataroa, 2; Samantha Shaw (Rogue) Mātāwai, 3; Samantha Shaw (Lottie), Mātāwai, 4; Grant Plaisted (Coke), Waikari, 5; Lindsay Wink (Grace), Weber, 6; Brian Sparrow (Jerry), Greenvale, 7.Straight hunt: Ethan Smith (Chub), Patearoa, 1; Robbie Calder (Angus), St Bathans, 2; Fergus McLean (Suzie), Omihi, 3; Dan Broughton (Louie), Banks Peninsula, 4; Steve Kerr (Charge), Mackenzie, 5; Craig Johns (Clay), Raetihi, 6; Dave Stuart (Jade), Rangiwahia, 7.