31 July 2022
Manawanuitanga. Against the Grain.
writer: JESSICA DERMODY
photographer: FRANCINE BOER
Dog trials have been a family affair for Lana Chrystal for as long as she can remember. Lana, who is only twenty, has just competed at her first South Island sheep dog trial championships with her two dogs, Belle and Carla.
"It's funny, I'll happily get up at 3:30am just to travel to a dog trial," Lana says. "But in comparison to work, getting up at that time it's like, 'Oh, man.' But dog trials? So excited!"
Growing up on a 160 hectare dairy farm in Tūtira, between Wairoa and Napier, Lana recognises the irony in the Chrystal family’s success with dog trials. She’s been dog trialling ever since her father, Clark – who is a bit of a legend in the dog trialling scene himself – gifted an old trialling dog, Punch, to her when she was sixteen.
“We don’t even have sheep, so it’s quite funny really,” Lana says with a laugh. “Mum usually has to milk the cows while we go dog trialling. There’s a lot of young people who don’t get into it, because it’s so scary getting up in front of so many people and running. The only reason I wasn’t as scared was because my dad came and stood with me for the first few trials, and that made it alright.”
While Clark, 47, may have twenty years of experience on Lana - "There's even photos of me in a car seat at the trials as a newborn, it's just what I know," she says -that doesn't stop father and daughter from pushing each other in any competition. The nature of trialling means Lana and Clark often compete against each other, with recent results seeing Clark only a quarter-point ahead. "I would love to beat him, but I think he's just super proud to even see me there. He would want me to beat him."
Now a shepherd on Kellys, a 2,500 hectare farm outside of Taihape, Lana happily wakes up long before the sun and spends hours on the road to compete - even sneaking in two trials on one weekend if she's lucky. While her weekends may be full, it's all worth it for Lana, who now breaks in her own dogs and managed to have her huntaway, Belle, competing at only eighteen months old. "Getting my first placing with Belle hit different. All that work and time you put into that dog and seeing it being able to work, it's just so cool."
"In the long run, getting into a runoff would be the dream."
But the competition isn't trialling's only calling card. Shepherds tucked away in the depths of rural New Zealand, with houses few and far between, have relied upon dog trial events to connect and catch up ever since the late 1800s. Lana's quick to acknowledge this aspect is one of her favourite parts. "There's always a fun get-together after. It's very social and you meet so many people."
Following her go at the South Island Championships, where Belle successfully completed two runs in a pleasing effort, Lana is hopeful she'll have a clean run at the New Zealand Championships in Taumarunui on 30 May, which was just on the horizon at the time of print. "In the long run, getting into a runoff would be the dream. But for now, I'll go to the champs and put up the best run I can, and hopefully get my dogs to behave."
This story is part of THREAD, a year-long project by Shepherdess made possible thanks to the Public Interest Journalism Fund through NZ On Air.
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