Dog triallist puts new-found skill on wheels to the test

PETER WATSON
Last updated 13:00 26/11/2012

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Mark Cooper did not want a fuss but he was hard to ignore when he entered the ring in his wheelchair.

Back dog trialling for the first time since a farm accident left him disabled, the shy 22-year-old from Tapawera quietly and competently shepherded three sheep around the course with the help of a borrowed dog.

The small knot of spectators at the Nelson A & P Show watched intently as he did four runs with different dogs on Saturday and yesterday.

While none was good enough to get him into the finals, Mr Cooper said it was just good to be back doing what he enjoyed. Although he was rusty, his dogs took a while to adjust to him and he found opening some of the gates a challenge.

"I was a bit slower but it wasn't too bad and it went better than I thought because I haven't run dogs for almost two years," he said. "I want to carry on like I did before and see where I'm at."

It's been a long road back for Mr Cooper since a farm truck rolled near Geraldine in December 2010, leaving him paralysed from the chest down and lacking strength in his arms.

He spent seven months in hospital in Christchurch and another 12 living in a motel in Richmond while specially equipped accommodation was built for him on his parents' farm, but is now keen to get on with an agriculture career, using the diploma in farm management he gained at Telford Rural Polytechnic near Balclutha.

It was while down south that he kept his hand in dog trialling at local courses.

Now back at home, he is trying to sort out a vehicle he can use with ACC. He's designed a crane hoist to fit on to the back of a four-wheel-drive utility to lift him and his wheelchair aboard and is waiting for approval to use it so he can get back to work.

His father, David, said it was great to see his son competing again. "I'm pleased that he's out there because he always wanted to get back on to the land and work with his dogs again. That is what has driven his recovery."

New Zealand representative Ian Herbert said it had been a very game effort to complete two of his four runs within the time allowed.

Dog trial commentator Dennis Meade said Mr Cooper wasn't the only person in a wheelchair he knew of taking part in competition - an Australian used an electric chair. There were also competitors in their 80s, which showed the sport catered for everyone.

Rodney Biggs of Wakefield with dog May won his first show final yesterday, just holding off Mr Herbert and Storm by 97.5 points to 97.25 points. Twenty-eight triallists took part.

Meanwhile, show secretary Annette Robinson is delighted with how the weekend went, estimating between 12,000 to 15,000 people came through the gates.

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She expected the event to make a small profit. Perfect weather meant most trade sites did steady business, particularly those selling food and drink.

"They were rapt and some have already pre-booked for next year."

Some quality entertainment led by Paul Madsen and Peasants Of Eden had also attracted crowds, while the animal nursery had proved a hit in its new, cooler home, she said.

Apart from a few straying children, there were no major problems or injuries, and the only downside was the arrest of a couple of young men on Saturday night who were caught trying to break into the showgrounds, Mrs Robinson said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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