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Shepherd’s Try

A Manhattan executive finds the Sheepdog Olympics a bit harder than the boardroom

Author Tom Rowley Illustration Luci Gutiérrez

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SCOTLAND – On a wind-lashed hillside deep in the Scottish Highlands, Joyce Geier leans on her shepherd’s crook and shakes her head, her Stetson tipped over her eyes. Jim, her border collie, looks up at her adoringly. Geier gives him a grudging pat. “Normally I can count on him,” the 57-year-old says, “but not today.”

Geier has just led Jim through their run at the World Sheepdog Trials, which has been described as “the Olympics for sheepdogs.” For 15 minutes, the Team USA member whistled and barked directions at the dog, whose job was to herd five sheep into a pen at the far end of the field, but who instead stood staring at them. The sheep also didn’t budge.

“I’m going to blame it on my crook,” Geier says. “I left my lucky one at home.”

This is one of about a thousand trials Geier has attended in the last two decades, but not her finest. Up against 240 competitors from countries as far removed as New Zealand and Brazil, she does not progress beyond the initial heats. (The trial is eventually won by a Scot with a dog named Bob.)

Even if you discount the unlucky crook, Geier has an excuse. Most competitors today are full-time shepherds; she works in a Manhattan office, until recently putting in 60-hour weeks as a vice president of Xerox. “They look at me like I’m a nut,” she says of her colleagues. “It is just not something you see very often in corporate America.”

Normally, she finds handling sheepdogs a good way to relax outside the office, but not today. “Maybe at nine years old, the dog’s saying, ‘Hey, it’s time to ease up,’” she says, as Jim wags his tail beside her. “At 57, I understand that.”

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