ONE WOMAN AND HER DOGS: ETHEL CONRAD


A few years back, Glyn Jones was in Virginia to judge the three trials of the Virginia Triple Crown; as he handed out ribbons at the Blue Ridge Open, he muttered: "All these women!" It may be unusual in his native Wales, but women are definitely part of the trials scene in the US. This past spring Arizona's Dodie Green and her little dog, Soot, made an impressive showing here in the East by winning the Triple Crown on her way to winning the 1993 Purina High Point Award for a herding dog. Names like Barbara Ligon, Florence Wilson, Bev Lambert, Cheryl Williams, Candy Kennedy, Kathy Knox, and many others show up on lists of trial winners regularly.

But women in herding trials is a relatively new phenomenon even here. The late Ada Karrasch was the first woman to compete, and not all that many years ago. One of the pioneers among woman dog handlers was our own Ethel Conrad. She shared with me some of the early experiences in the game.

Ethel had been competing in Obedience with a Border Collie named Posey since the late 1960's. In the spring of 1975 Ethel and her husband drove to Newark, Delaware, to watch the Fair Hill Sheep Dog Trial. In those days, Fair Hill and the old Kentucky Blue Grass Trial at Walnut Hall Farm in Lexington were about the only sheep dog trials in the eastern United States. At Fair Hill Ethel met the late Fred Bahnson, president of the North American Sheep Dog Society. She became determined to start a pup "to do what it was bred to do---herd," so a few months later she and a friend drove to Winston-Salem and picked out a pup by twice Scottish National Champion, Imp. Craig, and named her Wee Bahnie.

At the same Fair Hill trial Ethel and Carol Lingenfelter (by then Border Collies were starting to catch on as obedience dogs) met with several other Border Collie owners and the United States Border Collie Club was formed, with Ethel and Carol as co-presidents. Their stated goals even then were to try to help Border Collie owners as much as possible and to try to keep the Border Collie out of the AKC breed ring. A few years later Carol's interest in herding diminished and she resigned as co-president, so Ethel went it alone.

In 1976 Ethel and Carol put on a sheep dog handlers training clinic at Sunnybrook, believed to be the first ever in the United States, with the prestigious Arthur Allen as instructor. Ethel had no sheep so had to borrow some from a neighbor. When it was Bahnie's turn she flew out to the end of her rope (Arthur had all dogs on a 20 foot rope), barking and with her tail high. Arthur threw her summarily out of the ring. But she wasn't the only one, so Arthur asked if a couple of roosters could be found. Bahnie and the other dogs who hadn't worked properly, immediately crouched, eyed them and started herding them. That was clinic number one. The clinic Ethel hosted in October 1993 was the 32nd.

At first the clinics were annual, but they became so popular everyone clamored for more, so soon they became semiannual. The late Lewis Pence did six great clinics at Sunnybrook, but became ill. In October 1980 Jack Knox was invited to instruct the clinic and has been instructing them twice a year ever since.

In 1977 Ethel went to the Scottish National at Sterling with Fred Bahnson, Arthur Allen, and Arthur's grandson, "to sit at the feet of the masters," and to visit several shepherds and trials men that Fred knew.

In February 1979 a woman in New York whom Ethel had never heard of asked her to put on a sheep dog trial in New York City's Central Park--on six weeks' notice. At the time Ethel had never put on a trial but somehow she managed to get the late Ada Karrasch, the late Lewis Pence, Ralph Pulfer, Lewis Pulfer and Jim McEwen to agree to come. A small course was set up and completely fenced in "The Sheep Meadow." Each handler ran two dogs and when it was over Lewis Pence had Spain jumping in and out of the pen. It was covered by a lot of media and was on the evening news that night, and in the New York Times the next day.

In August 1979 Ethel went to Scotland again with Fred Bahnson and his wife, Louise, and Pope Robertson. While there Ethel fell in love with a prick eared female named Jed. Jed came over a few months later and produced a lovely litter of pups. She taught Ethel a great deal about sheep herding and even ran in a few novice classes, of which there were very few then. Unfortunately that great little dog was run over by Ethel's son eight months later. Ethel was distraught and repeatedly called Tom Wilson, then living in Scotland, to send her another. He said he had nothing but a pretty wild half trained female under two years. Ethel begged him to send her and Tess arrived in October 1980.

Tess is a story in itself. "Pretty wild" was putting it mildly. Ethel's son had gotten some sheep by then, thinking he might go into the sheep business. After Tess's arrival there was no longer any need for a sheep shearer as Tess had wool flying all over the farm. Several people, including Fred Bahnson and Jack Knox, advised her to get rid of Tess. As she matured, Tess won her share of good trials, including the Pennsylvania State Championship, the State Fair in Richmond and being the top open dog in Virginia in 1983.

In 1982 Ada Karrasch, who gave Ethel a great deal of support, said that the next Kentucky Blue Grass would be their last. As it was the most prestigious trial in the country Ethel became determined to run Tess in it. Tess had an amazingly excellent run to not only qualify but stand in 6th place. It was even hotter on Sunday and Tess ran midday. She had another very good run, almost collapsed from the heat, but at the end of the day Tess was in the money, in 15th place.

Ethel's next dog was Imp. Jan from Alasdair Mundell in Dunoon. Ethel had actually seen Jan run in the International at Blair Athol for the Scottish team the year before. Jan didn't place in the International but she did have some good wins over here, including the Blue Ridge and Best Outwork at Oatlands.

In 1984 Ethel was invited to bring her Border Collies to be on the David Letterman show at Radio City in New York City, to herd ducks. Ethel flew up with Tess, Bahnie and Mig. There was a very loud band within ten feet, a large audience in a small studio and David Letterman getting in the way. Tess made a little outrun and brought the ducks to a small wire pen and penned them. The crowd went wild. Then David Letterman tried to help get the ducks out of the pen, but he was scared to death of them. Tess then drove them to the other end and put them in another pen with Bahnie as the gate. David Letterman was so impressed that he was very polite and he bought a Border Collie later.

Ethel was invited by the Department of Agriculture to put on an exhibition on the Mall in Washington, D.C., in front of the Smithsonian when the Secretary of Agriculture presented their 1984 Yearbook of Agriculture to the media. There were about 15 Park Police horses demonstrating how quiet they were in crowds and with sirens and horns screeching. They were ridden by rookies and when Ethel unloaded the sheep the horses went berserk, snorting and bolting in all directions. Everyone was afraid the horses would end up on Capitol Hill and the rookies would be scattered all over the Mall.

Earlier in 1984 Ethel had gone to Scotland with five friends and stayed with Tom and Isabel Wilson in Lauder. They went to the Scottish National at Glasgow where Tom ran his Moss, who just missed making the Scottish team. Tom borrowed dogs from friends and entered the ladies in the group at a trial at Westruther the next day and he let Ethel run Moss. They had only 24 hours to get to know the dogs, but Moss ran quite well for Ethel, though they didn't get a pen--but none of the Scots did either until the trial was more than half over.

Ethel's Tess, Jan, Fern, Meg and Belle have all qualified and run in the USBCHA finals several times, although none got in the money. Her current open dog, Jen, is qualified for 1993.

Ethel put on the first judging seminar at Sunnybrook in 1983 with Lewis Pulfer. It was one of the first in the country and was held mid-winter. Each phase of a trial course was worked on separately, first on a blackboard in the house and then four or five dogs ran outside and were critiqued. Ethel has run the Blue Ridge Open trial at Sunnybrook for more than ten years, and also several of the Mason-Dixon trials and some novice trials.

With the help of Carla King, Kelly Bradley, Donald McCaig, Frank Moffett and others Ethel does six or eight exhibitions a year. She has done them at several National Trust places like nearby Belle Grove and Montpelier, in Orange, home of James Madison. She has also done them at Frying Pan Park, at Airlie, near Warrenton, for the Piedmont Environmental Council, and at Great Meadow, in The Plains, during the Virginia Gold Cup races. In 1993 it was before a crowd of 60,000 people.

Anna Hunt, a member from North Carolina, writes: "I can not say enough about Ethel Conrad; this wonderful lady who has certainly touched my life in a very special way and I'm sure others feel the same. A dear friend of mine once said `She's done a lot for the Border Collie' and that is an understatement! Not to mention how she has opened not only her home but her heart to us. Think how long it must take her to find things in her kitchen after one of our invasions!!" Lovely Ethel has set many standards that we should all follow and think about. Not only would the sheepdog be improved but the world in general would be a better place in which to live. Thank you, Ethel, you will always be very, very special.

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