On a sunny Thursday morning in Leicestershire, Willow and I set off to Launde Abbey to take part in a sheepdog training experience. We drove though the countryside until we saw a sign that said ‘Launde Abbey.’ We initially parked at a big house thinking this was the Abbey, but soon found out we had to keep driving down a hill, until we reached a grand building and parking area. Nij was waiting for us by his green pick-up truck, and after we were acquainted, he guided us inside for a hot drink. He explained that having a chat over a cup of tea is a chance for him to find out what inspired the customers to do this experience, so he can tailor the day to suit their preferences.
We walked to the pick-up truck, where the sheepdogs were patiently waiting in the back. We drove into an open space where the dogs were released. There was Mac and Mist. Mac is 12 years old, and has retired from competing to enjoy his life on the farm. Mist is 6 years old, and as soon as she jumped out the car, she came up to me and rested on my leg. This was an immediate friendship! Cody is Mac and Mist’s baby, and has a long coat with wonderful orange colourings. Finally, another dog hopped out of the car: a 4 month old puppy named Lara! She was so adorable, and had a red lead on her to prevent her from running off after sheep. Her energy was contagious, and she was so excited and happy to meet new people… not as happy as Willow and I, however, who are both puppy obsessed!
After we had all made our introductions, we hopped back in the truck and headed to our first location. There are four fields that Nij can bring you to, each for different sheep with different temperaments. It wasn’t long before we arrived at a field of Scottish sheep. Cody rounded them up and put them in a pen, so we could practice herding them on an easier level. Nij demonstrated how well-trained the dogs are by rounding up the sheep with a few commands. I was initially struggling to understand what these commands were, before I was told some of the dogs are trained in Welsh, Cody being one of them. We watched in awe as Nij effortlessly told the dogs what to do, and the dogs obeyed. I was given much insight into how laid back and disobedient my dog is at home! Then it was time for Mist to have a go. She was quiet, speedy and in control. When two sheep were separated from the group, Nij was able to direct her left to right until they were reunited with the others.
The time had arrived for Willow and I to step up and find our inner sheepdog trainer. Mac jumped out of the car, and waited on the outside of the pen. He is almost deaf, but very intelligent. Nij informed us of how sometimes he can hear you, but will completely ignore you - and you can never tell if this is due to lack of hearing. I was up first, and had the mission of telling Mac to go left, right, or stand when I say so. After learning “Away” means to turn left, and “Come-bye” means to turn right, I shouted to Mac, but got no response. After a few tries, I was told my voice was too gentle and not very authoritative. Willow’s voice is deeper than mine, and Mac listened straight away! This was very irritating, so before we left, I had to ask for a second go. This time, I’m happy to say that Mac listened! (Even if I lost my voice in the process…)
By this point, we were really intrigued to see what 4 month old Lara could do. Her excitement to see the sheep meant that she didn’t always listen to instructions. However, she was remarkable at circling the sheep and showing no fear! I thought a herd of sheep with horns would intimidate such a little puppy, but no! In fact, I was the only one who found the sheep intimidating. We were told that Lara was showing great promise for the future, and with 5 minutes training a day, she is quickly becoming more obedient. On our way back to Launde Abbey, Nij noticed that one of his sheep, Fred, had escaped into the neighbouring field. We pulled up, got Mist out the car and began walking.
A white fluffy sheep came trotting up to me, whose name was Wilma. She began nuzzling me like a dog, and Willow and I instantly fell in love with her quirky nature. She tried to gallop with the black sheep, who didn’t seem as impressed. We reunited Fred with Wilma and went on our way. Nij expressed that no two sheepdog experiences are the same, and are very much based on real life, spontaneous events. We shortly arrived back at the abbey and said our farewells.
This experience is different to anything else on our website, and extremely popular. Now we know why! A huge thank you to Nij for inviting us to take part in his Sheepdog experience. We had a wonderful time.