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Backbone of Britain: Dedicated to helping young sheepdog handlers – new academy launched

After relocating from Canada to the UK in pursuit of the sheepdog trialling scene in 2007, Angie Driscoll and partner Kelvin Broad have been busy making their mark in the trialling community. Hannah Binns finds out more.

Angie Driscoll (pictured) and Kelvin Broad run a grassroots young handlers’ initiative from their farm in Llanllawddog.
Angie Driscoll (pictured) and Kelvin Broad run a grassroots young handlers’ initiative from their farm in Llanllawddog.
Backbone of Britain: Dedicated to helping young sheepdog handlers – new academy launched

From never owning a dog as a child to developing Wales’ first grassroots young handlers’ initiative to attract and retain young people into the sport, Angie Driscoll is now a well-known face in sheepdog circles.

Angie and her partner Kelvin Broad farm 28 hectares (70 acres) near Llanllawddog, Carmarthenshire, where they run a flock of 265 Brecknock Cheviots and Welsh Mules, train and compete with sheepdogs and, most recently, operate their Welsh Young Handler Academy initiative.

Despite being born in the UK, Angie grew up in Christchurch, New Zealand, from the age of eight.

She completed her undergraduate and masters degrees at the University of Otago, Dunedin, before being awarded a Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship to complete a doctorate in marketing at the University of Calgary, Alberta.

After moving there with Kelvin, the desire to train a border collie to be a working sheepdog came to Angie several years later, while she was running her own consulting company in Canada.

“I hatched a plan to have a holiday in the UK and buy a dog,” she says.

“Kelvin and I bought Jet and Blade, one each, and headed back to Canada full of enthusiasm.

Not long afterwards, I also bought an eight-week-old pup called Meg from Northern California.” It was Angie’s first trial at Scott Glen’s farm in Alberta which she says taught her the most valuable life lesson.

“I was pretty shy and worried the sport would not be for me.

At the trial, Jet shot off like a speed demon and I overheard the handlers’ behind me saying ‘she’s going fast’ and felt overcome with panic about whether I would be able to stop her at the top of the course.

“I managed, but it was a train wreck after that. During the trial, I realised it doesn’t matter what is happening behind you as you must focus on what’s in front.

I think about that every time I’m at the post.” Despite their enthusiasm, the couple soon found the Canadian trialling scene challenging, offering few trials and significant travel to get to any which were on offer.

“We had also bought dogs from the UK and the USA, rather than locals, so it was a little difficult to get access to sheep on which to train.

Scott Glen was an exception to this,” Angie says.

Angie and her partner, Kelvin.
Angie and her partner, Kelvin.

"It is so important to keep the working dog traditions going for future generations."

Angie Driscoll

Scene

 

Refusing to fall at the first hurdle, Angie and Kelvin bought their own 65ha (160-acre) farm in North West Calgary in 2006, but after a year, decided to sell everything and move to the UK in pursuit of the sheepdog trialling scene here.

After living on a large-scale hill farm near Dumfriesshire for the first year, the pair relocated to Llanfynydd, Carmarthenshire, finding lodgings with Mike and Nora Hemmings.

Angie says: “I loved our time with them, they were such a lovely couple and taught us an awful lot about Welsh culture.

Kelvin and I stayed with them, in an apartment at the top of their farmhouse, for almost a year before getting our place in Llanllawddog.” Then, in 2008, Angie competed in her first open trial at Llangadog, Carmarthenshire.

“When I turned up, I was blown away by the level of competition.

There were at least eight Welsh champions and supreme champions there, and I was utterly rubbish.” But it did not take Angie long to secure her first open trial win later the same year, and she has since gone on to achieve a set of female firsts in the trialling world.

She was the first woman to win Defaidty Hill trial in 2015, with ‘pocket rocket’ Kinloch Sioux; the first woman to win the Welsh National in 2017, with Kinloch Pippi; and the first woman to captain a winning Welsh team at the international in 2017.

“It may be a breakthrough for other women, but I see trialling as a gender-neutral sport,” Angie says.

“I am prouder of the fact Kelvin and I are the only couple to have both captained Welsh teams, Kelvin at the World Trials and me at the international.

Wales is our adopted country which we have chosen to call home, so it is a tremendous honour to have represented such a magnificent country.”

Strategy

For Angie, trialling is an unpredictable ‘game of strategy’, but also teaches individuals how to handle failure with a positive mindset.

“It’s about seeing if you can master the course and get sheep under control, as well as train a dog to compete at the highest levels.

But you also learn a lot about how to handle failure and come back stronger.

“In 2017, I qualified to compete in the International Supreme only to be disqualified not long into the run.

It was major disappointment and embarrassment at the highest level.

But it gave me the motivation to continue improving and that is the beauty of the sport.” In a bid to keep the heritage and craft of shepherding with dogs alive, Angie and Kelvin have developed the Welsh Young Handler Academy, a grassroots young handlers’ initiative to attract and retain young people into the sport.

“It is well known that our sport is in decline, with registration numbers down and an ageing population,” says Angie.

“It is so important to keep the working dog traditions going for future generations.” Unfortunately, Covid-19 has derailed the programme in its infancy, with only one junior session taking place in early 2020, but it has not stopped the couple’s enthusiasm.

“The junior day, for Welsh children aged five to 13, taught children what a dog should do and the skills needed to manage sheep.

Rob Ellis, who led the first training day, has a dog who will work for anyone, so they got to practise with him before getting the chance to run their dog and learn tips from industry experts.

Demonstration

 

“The senior day, for Welsh young handlers up to the age of 25, has been postponed until next year.

Scott Glen will be coming from Canada to do a demonstration and work with the 20 young people who have already signed up.

“We have designed the programme to make children feel special when running dogs, develop their skill set and encourage them to keep going in the sport.” Because of the academy fund set up by the couple, the junior training days are completely free for any Welsh children to attend, while the seniors pay a nominal fee.

Angie and Kelvin also welcome more than 200 visitors each year to the farm, operating a facility where fellow triallists and sheepdog enthusiasts can come and train their dogs.

“We have guest accommodation for visitors who come from the UK and abroad, with free access to train their dogs on the hill and have lessons, but people can also call in for a day’s session,” says Angie.

“We found access to sheep for training dogs a major block for us in Canada so wanted to create a place with a relaxed atmosphere where people can come and run their dogs without fear of making mistakes.” After retiring from full-time teaching, Kelvin now also works as a full-time potter, hand-building and painting one-off designs.

“Most of his work is caricatures depicting life, often sheep and border collies,” says Angie.

“His biggest market is Japan, but he exports pottery globally.

We thought Covid-19 would see people lose income and cancel orders, but Kelvin has been inundated with requests.” Ultimately, the pair’s love for their dogs is evident.

“I cannot imagine my life without the dogs.

I have been lucky from the start with Meg, my foundation bitch of the Kinloch line.

She is the lineage of nine dogs that have been on Welsh teams, as well as placed me on four Welsh teams.

She is the best dog I will ever own.

“Kelvin and I have eight working dogs at the farm but retired dogs, such as Meg, will stay with us for life.

We owe it to them to give them a lovely retirement, especially after all they do for us.”

 

MORE INFORMATION

 

Additional details on what Angie and Kelvin offer can be found at kinlochsheepdogs.com

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