Trialing in the time of COVID

Last year I was invited to judge the Cedar Stone Farm trial in Cambridge WI by trial host Merry Russel. I’m always honored to be asked to judge a trial but little did I know at the time that this would turn out to be the first trial in the Midwest to be held in the middle of a global virus pandemic and under the new USBCHA and State of Wisconsin guidelines for trials and other public events.


It was a great trial with a fun field, even sheep, and some really nice runs.


That’s a common comment on a trial but it misses out on the fact that this wasn’t a “normal” trial under normal conditions. Sure, there were some things missing that make trials more fun. There were no on-site concessions. There was no Handler’s Dinner, which has been very well done and well-appreciated in past years at this trial but for the most part all  the things that make trials fun to go to were still there. There were good, and challenging runs to watch and the fun of being around fellow handlers swapping stories and commenting on runs.


[Airing out the Porta-A-Potties is a keeper of an idea]


There were also all of the new things. People were wearing masks most of the time. There was hand sanitizer on the top of every fence post. The port-a-potty doors were propped open (between uses, we aren’t that well acquainted) to allow better air circulation and there were volunteers sanitizing them on a regular schedule. I was judging without scribes. There was a three-sided pen which added some challenges and required the dogs to do more work. There was no Handler’s Tent but instead individual pop-up tents spaced appropriately along the fence.

[Board member Mike Neary with Wyatt and Thad Fleming]


It was no big deal. That’s the take home message. We did it, everyone complied with the regulations as best they could. No one was complaining. Everyone adjusted. As a result, we were able to run our dogs, safely, and enjoy a weekend at a trial again reasonably confident that all was being done to keep everyone safe.

I think credit should be given to the USBCHA Board of Directors for all of the consideration that went into producing the guidelines for hosting a trial during the pandemic and for the support for trial hosts facing added expenses for masks, hand sanitizer, hand washing stations, and extra port-a-potties. Knowing that the HA has put the membership on notice that complying with local mask and social distancing requirements is mandatory makes it much easier on trial hosts to conduct a safe trial.

And, full credit to the handlers at the Cedar Stone Farm trial who bore it all with grace and humor. Friday was hot and humid. Wearing a mask was not fun. People did it, didn’t complain and got through the weekend. It’s too soon to tell whether or not all of the precautions were enough but there wasn’t much more that could have been done to make this a safe and enjoyable event.

[Linda Tesdahl, safely working the exhaust]

The biggest thank you goes to trial host Merry Russell who took the leap of faith that this would work and who worked extremely hard to keep everyone safe while still making them feel welcome and running a great trial. All of the extra work didn’t hamper the trial running like clockwork for three days. Were it not for the variety of face coverings, you would never have known we were trialing in a pandemic.

I think it augurs well for trialing going forward. Trial hosts can follow the HA and local guidelines and host a safe trial. Handlers can adapt to the changes required and still enjoy attending and running their dogs. It was very encouraging to see and my hat is off (but mask is on) to everyone who helped make it a success. – Pearse Ward