The winner of the Lanark, Lothians and Peebles (LLP) ‘Young handler’ award – established by patron Stephen Cobbald in memory of his daughter Charlotte, has been announced.

Made to the person who best demonstrates their grasp of ‘the natural way’, both in relation to the theory and in the practical handling of their dog, this year’s winner was Alan Maclarty, who participated in the training scheme the previous year.

This year, he was working with a new young bitch, Nell, just 14-months-old at the start of the training.

Alan said: “There is no better feeling than to go out with a calm, reliable, ‘natural way’ trained sheepdog. Having the chance to be involved with LLP Young Handler Scheme, I have learned and gained so many wonderful skills and training methods that will help me so much in in the future.

“I am so grateful for Stephen Cobbald for giving me the opportunity and for Julie Hill for her teaching and all the members of the LLP for all their wise words and help in the past year.”

He started in agriculture at Lanark Market and then had nearly four fulfilling years at Midlock before moving to Shawhead, and now Alan looks after 800 ewes and all the cows at Crawfordjohn Mill Farm.

He said: “I want to keep improving the livestock and farm set up, with the dream of one day breeding a champion at the Royal Highland Show. I also hope to keep improving my sheepdogs, which are a big part of my life and, of course, essential members of my working team.”

Twelve-year-old Tyler Mckinlay got a special award for her commitment and determination in working with two young dogs and her demonstrable drive for success in competing in the LLP Novice League with a third, Hazel Brown’s retired trials bitch Pat.

She won three out of the seven trials against 10 other adult handlers and is not from a trialling family, but lives on a hill farm with her family.

Tyler has been helping Hazel on a nearby farm and it was she who encouraged Tyler to think about trials.

In its third year of running, the young handler autumn/winter training programme saw a major jump in numbers, almost tripling to 11 youngsters honing their understanding and skills in handling and training their dogs over the course of seven days, at fortnightly intervals.

While most were in their 20s, there were two teenage school-leavers just starting out in their first apprenticeships on sheep farms and three aged 12. There were also two ‘observers’ who have already signed up for next year’s course.

The trainer, Julie Hill, has years of shepherding experience on hill and rough grounds and is an experienced teacher of both beginners and hardened trials competitors. Her record at trials is outstanding – the only woman to have won the International supreme, she has also won the International brace, the Scottish National singles and brace, and has judged and given clinics all over the world.

Julie commented: “The most important thing is stockmanship and how to develop an affinity for sheep so that youngsters can educate their young trainee dog how to have a feel for sheep so that s/he moves them in a stress-free manner.

“If you are a shepherd or farm hand, the sheep are your job and the stock are the most valuable thing on the farm. As an industry, the welfare of all stock has to be the priority and we need to ensure that the highest standards are promoted and upheld by all involved.”

Not only does the young handler scheme pass on traditional shepherding skills and values to a younger generation, it gradually builds a sense of community and a supportive network that can mitigate against the mental health challenges that working in isolation can bring.

The next full session, though, starts in November, 2019.