I think the biggest issue, at least for me, is cost. It costs more to enter one dog in the typical arena trial, although as entry fees rise at USBCHA trials, cost may not be as much of a factor now as it was a few years ago. I ran in one AHBA trial in the advanced ranch class, and I didn't get the impression that the other folks there cared one whit about the good stockmanship we exhibited, unfortunately. Most were so wrapped up in defending their own breed of choice that they couldn't begin to be open minded about other breeds. And I don't know how to say this without sounding snooty, but even the advanced classes aren't terribly challenging for a well-trained dog. I learned a lot about the strategy of working cattle from watching Roy Johnson run his dogs in arena trials, though.
I wish more people who had their dogs trained for USBCHA trials would attend these arena trials so that the people (not all of them of course) could see what good stockmanship is all about.
His work requires a dog that can handle the pressure of small spaces. I know that there are areas of the country that still only require a dog to work out in large areas, but around here the dogs have to be able to work tight, if set up correctly arena trials actually can help identify a dog that naturally is capable of such work, I think...
It is kinda frustrating, I have a cattle group that is interested in some working demonstrations to be produced at an upcoming event, some of our members feel they want to wow the spectators with big outruns, double lifts, etc., while others feel we need to demonstrate real work situations that the people spectating face each day, small pen gathers, alley work, trailer loading...
I'm drawn more to agree with the folks that want to produce an environment simulating the work that is available in our area vs. what the dog was originally developed to do or a trial environement.
I don't quite qet the argument that dogs need to be able to do one or the other. I personally want a dog who can work in wide open spaces and small, tight areas. As for the demos, I don't see why you can't do both. Even the national cattle finals has open field work, as well as a chute and a pen. Maybe your farmer friend's cattle willingly come up to the pens where he needs the dog to work, but in many operations, the farmer will need the dog to gather the stock, then work the pens, chutes, load trailers and so on. I think it's a mistake to classify border collies as being able to do only one or the other type of work. They should do both. Even in the countries where the border collie was developed, the dogs needed to be able to "gather the hill" and separate out and hold a ewe and her lamb for treatment (close work), or load sheep, lambs, or rams on trailers, or bring them up to the pens at shearing time, and so on. It's the reason USBCHA sheepdog trials require the big field work and the close work (shed and pen)--the dogs should be able to do both with grace and under pressure. I'm sure there are operations that never require a big field gather, but that doesn't mean the dogs shouldn't be able to do it.
I think arena trials can be fun as long as people don't mistake them as being the only real work out there. I'm on an e-mail list where people own other breeds and trial them in AKC, AHBA, and ASCA, and they tend to perpetuate the myth that border collies are strictly open field dogs and that arena type trials are the only true test of real farm work, which just isn't the case. As I've said over and over again on that list, I don't go get a different dog when I need to do close-in work--the same dog who gathers the field is also required to hold sheep in corners for me to catch and work on them, push sheep through chutes, push sheep off feed bunks and away from gates, and scoop sheep out of stalls and other small spaces, etc. I think it's critical to start exposing young dogs to the pressure of tight spaces early. As long as you use sheep that are sensible, packed pen work, chute work, etc. can go a long way toward instilling confidence in a dog. Some dogs may always be less comfortable in tight spaces than others, but border collies certainly should be (and are) able to work in tight spaces without exploding from the pressure. I remember at a trial where I used one of my dogs to go into the small exhaust pen and go around the sheep to push them out so the set out person could gather them back up. The person who was watching, an experienced handler, was amazed at how quietly my dog went around the sheep in that very tight space. I just didn't get his amazement--I expect my dog to be able to do that well and still go trial at Edgeworth and manage the 600-yard outrun. In other words, the ability to do both is not (and should not be) mutually exclusive.