Valuing working dogs

by Ann van Engelen

Bex Hughes-Baynes is one of New Zealand’s winning dog trialists, a hunter and a shepherd, who has spent many hours upskilling her dog handling abilities.

“I grew up on a dairy grazing and sheep and beef unit. I always had a love for animals and was involved in horse and hound hunting with my mum when I was younger,” says Bex.

“I am now on horseback every day as a shepherd mustering sheep, docking and any other farm work that comes my way.”

Bex works as a shepherd on large stations and is involved in sheep dog trials. She placed second in the New Zealand Dog Trials in 2018, and sixth in the South Island Championships.

“I won the first round and then got into a run-off with contestants from across the South Island. I run heading dogs, but I enjoy the huntaways more due to the countryside I work on. In the last 12 months, the girls within dog trialling have done phenomenally well.

“In 2018, when I placed second in the country — it was the highest placing a woman ever got. This year myself and two other women were in the run-off. Out of 300 competitors, there were only 10 women, and my friend Jo Waugh won that round in the South Island. In the New Zealand competition, Steph Tweed won. It is a good sport that girls are excelling at and the best part is we are all very good friends, and that makes it extra special.

“I have been shepherding since I was 19 years old and got into dog trialling when I started working at Paparatu Station as we would go to our friend Allen Irwin’s and train our dogs with him. Being involved with dog trials is a good way to upskill yourself and learn from the older guys. It is a time to socialise and see what new dogs are out there. Every dog is different and training them isn’t really hard, you just need to spend a lot of time with them. It is great to see what other people do and you take what you learn and turn it into your own style.”

Bex says all of her dogs are very well looked after with each having their own beds and coats.

“They work extremely hard and deserve nothing but the best. I always have pups coming and going as I breed and rear a lot. I pick what I think is going to be the best that will suit me. Good dogs are important as my income relies on them. You are paid to do a job mustering, and if you can’t do it efficiently, people won’t get you back. You need to be able to direct each dog and have it listen to you. It takes many hours and travelling to get advice, but it is worth it.

“Mustering other people’s stock is a huge responsibility, and they need to be able to trust their staff. I bring the stock down on horseback, and depending on what time of year it is, depends on the chores. With docking, I transfer animals from paddocks to the required yards, from one beat to the next.

Some stations are huge, so you need to be organised and confident.

“Younger people would find the dog trials really interesting, and we need more people to come through and train as judges, and helpers because if they don’t turn up the sport will die out. These days we are so lucky because in the past no one would pass on their training information. Now if you are willing to learn — people are more than happy to help.