Dog trialling became a 60-year love affair

Three workers, Vergi Boyce (Seddon), wife of the centre president, Phil Gibbs (Wakefield), chief marshal, Stella Wadsworth (Wairau Valley) - June 29, 1968
Three workers, Vergi Boyce (Seddon), wife of the centre president, Phil Gibbs (Wakefield), chief marshal, Stella Wadsworth (Wairau Valley) - June 29, 1968

It is well over 60 years since Stella Wadsworth first got involved with sheep dog trials, but she still has a deep love for the sport and great respect for the shepherds and their dogs.

Originally from Blenheim, Mrs Wadsworth married into the farming lifestyle when she wed Wairau Valley farmer Melvyn Wadsworth in 1949.

For a "townie", adapting to farm life proved to be fun, and being married to an avid dog triallist she soon became involved as well.

5th Jubilee of Wairau Valley Collie Dog Club April 2011. Simon Fowler (President), Stella Wadsworth (Life member) and Doug Lane (Patron) with the Jubilee Cake.
5th Jubilee of Wairau Valley Collie Dog Club April 2011. Simon Fowler (President), Stella Wadsworth (Life member) and Doug Lane (Patron) with the Jubilee Cake.

"You soon get pulled in to help out. There were various things that needed to be done, but cooking was one of the most important," said Mrs Wadsworth. "We would be sure to give the triallists a good meal at midday; beef stew, vegetables, salad and steamed pudding made in old coppers."

Mr Wadsworth, who died 11 years ago, was a highly regarded shepherd who went on to judge and run numerous championship events. Mrs Wadsworth took up the role as commentator "many many years ago" and is still going strong in that position at the Tux South Island Sheep and Dog Trial Association Championships being held at Meadowbank Station outside Blenheim this week.

"She's the voice of the contest," said Marlborough Nelson Sheep Dog Trial Association secretary Kate Forsyth. The job involved calling contestants to ensure they turned up at the correct course on time, as well as putting out notices on the PA system.

Mrs Wadsworth loves the role. "I'm jolly thrilled to still be involved, but maybe this will surely be my last one - I don't know, I may be back doing it again."

National championship events doubled as family holidays for the Wadsworth family, with the sport taking them to all corners of New Zealand.

Mrs Wadsworth missed just one championships event, but only because she had just become a mum.

"The thing I love about it the most is the wonderful friendships between everyone. We are like one big family; people from different sides of the country only see each other at these events but when they meet up, they are best friends," said Mrs Wadsworth.

Over the years, she has seen many changes, especially in the equipment and vehicles used by the farmers, but the sport itself, and the incredible relationship between shepherd and dog, had not changed.

"We used to transport the dogs in the back of the car with hessian laid out on the seat, whereas these days they have special trailers. There was one man over in Nelson who used to turn up on his horse."

Mrs Wadsworth has never run a dog in a contest but knows the intricacies of the sport better than most.

The Marlborough Express