Adrian Bancroft and his Sheepdogs

Adrian Bancroft and his Sheepdogs

by W.R. Mitchell

First published in September 1974

Adrian Bancroft

ANNE, a Border collie living near Dunford Bridge, on the Southern Pennines, helped to gather sheep from about 2,000 acres. At 9.30 a.m. the next day, she was in Cardiff, ready to compete in the international trials.

“Anne had the ideal temperament, she did a fair spell of ordinary farm work and went straight on to the trials field,” says the man who won distinction with her. “I don’t think I’ll ever again work with as good a dog,”

Adrian A Bancroft, one of Yorkshire’s most successful trialists, keeps dogs for work as well as to star at sheepdog events in many parts of the country. He manages Newlands House Farm for Mr Robert Morphet, of Bank Newton. Anne, Tim, Gael and Gwen, “four generations of my own breed,” help to control a flock of Swaledale ewes that grace the slopes of Penyghent, in North Ribblesdale.

The sheepdogs are descended from Maddie, who is now living at Penistone, Adrian Bancroft is “just as interested in breeding dogs as in running dogs.” A sheepdog comes into its prime at from five to seven years. By the age of nine, a hill dog is beginning to slow down.

This terrain is a little easier -for dogs than Far Dean Field, a hill farm where Mr. Bancroft was reared and where his father, George Bancroft, still lives. (Father shepherds his flock with dogs bred by his son).

Far Dean lies near_ the road between 882 Oakworth and Colne, in an area where sheepdogs have to master Lonk-Dalesbred sheep crosses, animals that quickly exploit any weakness in a dog. In country with much outcropping limestone, dogs are exposed to considerable pad wear,

Adrian “Bancroft instanced the Cardiff trial as revealing the best type of dog-one with a consistent temperament, “so you can have confidence in it every time you take it out.’’

We met at a farm that is tucked out of the gaze of those using the main Ribblesdale road. The by-road petered out, and a track began, climbing and turning to end-half-a-mile and two gates later-in the yard of Newlands. Beyond was a vista of fresh green fields, edged by limestone walls. Penyghent looked down on us like a benign grandfather.

Adrian Bancroft’s country of origin is, in contrast, dark, rather heavy, with protruding gritstone. As a schoolboy he became interested in working dogs, an interest fostered by Mr. Sam Dyson, of Ponden Hall, in the Bronte country.

There followed an introduction to the Yorkshire Sheepdog Society – and the trials field, on which he has competed with distinction for about 12 years. The Sheepdog Society draws most of its membership from the middle reaches of Airedale and has friendly relations with four other societies, one in Yorkshire and the others in Lancashire.

Nursery trials are held. And-claims the Yorkshire society- such events have led to a conspicuous improvement in – the quality of ordinary working dogs.

The full season for nursery trials extends from October to March. Before that, the national and international events have taken place. Adrian Bancroft has competed in the hired shepherd’s class of the English national on three occasions. He won the event once and came third on the other two occasions. The dog used was the dependable Anne.

Adrian’s best performance in an international was a second placing. His major success in the English national came in l 973, and he went on to take fifth place in the international event open to the best talent from the nationals.

MANY busy farmers buy dogs broken in to work. For Adrian Bancroft to do this would be unthinkable. He rears and trains his own dogs, from the time when they are between eight and nine months and are showing interest in gathering sheep.

The age when training begins varies greatly from dog to dog. “You’ve to keep your eye on a dog and watch it until you think it’s ready. A dog can be spoiled if it is trained when it is not yet ready. For instance, a dog that is too young may not be big enough to keep up with the sheep and become disheartened. On the other hand, you can spoil an animal if you keep it fastened up when it’s ready for work.”

Anne, ready to move off. A trials dog can “give” as much in the eight minutes of a trial as during several hours of work on the fells.

Adrian sets a young dog gathering sheep. Some dogs are natural; they do not crowd the sheep, taking a fairly wide run. Others have to be made; initially, they have little idea of the finesse of sheep gathering and may even attempt to run down the centre of a flock.

Wherever farmers meet there is frequently talk about the alleged distinction between a working dog and the star of a sheepdog trial. In the case of Andrian Bancroft’s dogs, there is none. They work and take part in trials.

Trials dogs must not bark. “Yet in some parts of the country where there are rocks and bracken a barking dog could be useful for flushing out sheep.”

Working dogs by very remote control (which is, in effect, what the shepherd does when he stands and whistles at a dog that may be moving a mile away) is a tense business. The successful man is not an impassive man, suppressing all emotion.

“I think you must get excited a little, you must have a bit of nerve about you, and put a little tension on the dog.”

Each man has his subtle variations on the whistles representing the commands – go right, go left, go on, stop. Mr Bancroft has a hollow whistle which tells a dog to go from one group of sheep to another.

The average trial lasts from eight to nine minutes. “And you can take more out of a dog in that short time than if you had been working it on the fells for several hours.”

ADRIAN Bancroft has travelled extensively in England and Wales. Only once has he been to Scotland, and that was to take part in a two-day invitation trial. He returned with a first-prize cup and cash.

Another time, when a trial was held at Sutton, near Thirsk, 70 dogs were competing. Adrian had contributed three and came back with three award cards for third, fourth and sixth positions.

Sheepdogs are more than just a hobby; in Adrian’s case they represent a considerable part of his life, which is why he features regularly in the awards at Yorkshire trials and, through his success in national and international events, has ensured that Yorkshire dogs and know how about them continue to keep the men of other regions “on edge.”

Another dalesman who has an international championship to his credit is Michael Perrins. The performance of his animals also underlines the importance of good breeding in working collies. Gone are the days when anything on four legs would do.

Article reproduced from the original September 1974 Dalesman


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