“I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line.”
In this song he wrote for his first wife Vivian, Johnny Cash tells of his battle to slow his chaotic, distraction-burdened life and exhibit self-control. He sings of using his powers of observation and a higher-level communication as tools to saddle his addictive personality. He does this for love and his desire to make the relationship work. We all know how that worked out for Cash. Regardless of the outcome, investment in “self” work always garners a return.
Seven months into our sheepherding training I was moving past the futility and grasping the concept of working stock with my dog. Despite my enlightenment, I was unable to control Boo to achieve a pace that would allow us to learn. The round pen continued to be a rodeo match and the big field was a free-for-all.
I became frustrated. Boo felt every piece of it and tried desperately to please me in the only way she knew – making her own moves and decisions in a very robust manner. That led to an out of control, trailer-park-emptying debacle that took every ounce of physical strength I had to stop her.
One day in June, Mike gave Boo and me enough rope.
“Your new tool,” he said about the very long blue and white cord he handed me. “Start with keeping the sheep from taking off on you – controlling the stock.”
The sheep turned to look at us.
We took two steps toward them.
The sheep turned and fled all way down the field.
I looked at Mike.
“I guess you had better go to your sheep,” he said.
The next three months, Boo and I observed and we learned a lot about sheep. Even better, we learned about one another. Slowing down the process allowed us to learn and begin to work and to build control.
The big field will always be a special place to me – as it was there I first began to hear Boo. It was quiet and peaceful – our minds cleared and then they touched.
The long cord became more than a control tool, it became a line of communication. I began to pick up on Boo’s thoughts and energy – the way her ears prick or go back, the slope of her tail, how she placed her feet approaching the sheep – we began to sync through our movement and our unspoken intention.
What at first took two hands and planted boots to correct or stop evolved into a slight movement from my wrist. The loosely held cord in my hand elicited an immediate correct response from Boo.
I began to earn her respect and she began to earn my trust.
Together we learned to tell the lead sheep and just how much influence that sheep would have on the rest of the sheep. We learned all about pressure. We began to use visualization to predetermine our moves and the sheep’s moves.
It taught us both control of our frustration levels and when to stop, reset, and start again. We learned to “go quiet inside,” and how to send this to one another and then out to the sheep.
Picking up Boo’s line continues to be our go-to tool. Sometimes things fall apart or we need to gain a foothold if we experience slippery territory.
I pick up the line and say, “Let’s do this together.” Boo understands. We shed frustration or pre-conception, clear ourselves and reset. There’s nothing better than having this ability not only in our herding work, but our other work as well.
How far we get in sheepherding work isn’t as important as this preternatural relationship it has brought me with my dog, who simply insisted I learn to speak her language as we walk the line.