CORTEZ – Mia Stovall has been training dogs to herd farm animals for much of her life, and this year she passed on some of her knowledge to attendees at the Four States Agricultural Exposition at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds in Cortez.
The Bayfield veterinary technician was one of four clinicians at the expo who taught classes about animal care and training, but she was the only one from the Four Corners, and the only one to work exclusively with dogs. She conducted herding instinct tests Thursday and participated in stock dog trials Friday and Saturday. On the last day of the event, she gave farm dog certifications, a new program run by the American Kennel Club.
About 20 people competed in various classes of the stock trials, which tested dogs’ agility and discipline in herding sheep and geese, as well as the owners’ abilities to work with their canine partners. Cathy Sumeracki and Anita Ramsey judged the main trials, and Stovall taught the clinics preceding them.
“It’s a small trial, but that’s to be expected for the first time in a geographically isolated area,” Stovall said.
Sasha Ortiz, a dog owner from Rocky Ford who won first place in Friday’s sheep and geese herding trials, said she was glad to participate, even though she hadn’t heard about the Ag Expo until about three weeks ago. She and her dog, Edge, have competed in American Herding Breed Association trials for about three years, mostly out of state.
“Honestly, at least for what I run ... there’s not a ton in Colorado,” she said.
In the Four Corners Agricultural Exposition Guide, Stovall said she would like to build a group of people willing to participate in local trials, so people from the region don’t have to travel to Phoenix or Albuquerque for sanctioned events.
Stovall, who has lived in Bayfield most of her life, said she believes the sport of herding is important because it allows a special bond between owner and dog.
“The dogs are actually out there doing something that they’re bred for, hard-wired for,” she said. “You’re out there as a partnership. Your deal is that you’re teaching them rules of the hunt. They already know how to hunt – you’re teaching them rules of the hunt.”
Stovall, 52, has four dogs – three Australian cattle dogs and a Boston terrier. She’s trained two for herding, and they participated in some of the trials Saturday. Getting to work in the arena with her dog is her favorite part of a herding event, she said.
She’s worked with dogs in some capacity since she started 4-H when she was 14 years old.
She has been a veterinary technician for 25 years, including 20 years at the Bayfield Animal Hospital. She works half-time as a dog groomer, and is a Certified Master Groomer. She has won several national and international dog grooming awards, according to information on the expo website.
Although she said she’s not sure if she’ll return to the Four States Expo next year, Stovall said she hopes the herding trials will grow. She offers dog training classes in the Bayfield area and travels to AHBA trials in other states.
She advised prospective competitors to find a good mentor.
“It’s often a good idea to find an experienced handler to get the real basics on your dog,” she said. “And then at that point, I encourage people to step into the ring and start getting that relationship with their dog.”