History of the American Herding Breed Association

by ahba

The American Herding Breed Association was founded in 1986 in response to the increasing interest in herding activities by owners of a wide variety of breeds.  The AHBA was set up to help provide information in response to inquiries from those interested in herding and the herding breeds.  The focus of the AHBA program is on practical herding work.  While recognizing that many individuals will not be in a position to use theri dogs daily in practical work, the AHBA desires nonetheless that herding be taken seriously and does not desire that it be viewed as a casual hobby.  The AHBA has an interest in all aspects of herding and the herding breeds, and the investigation of canine behaviors which relate to herding ability.

– Introductory paragraph on the American Herding Breed Association website

In the 1980s a general trend was building directed toward the development of organized programs for working-oriented canine activities. There had, of course, long been sheepdog trials for the working collies that became the registered Border Collie. In the 1970s stockdog trials were established for the Australian Shepherd, first limited to Aussies, and by the early 1980s other breeds were allowed to take part and earn ASCA titles. Some local all-breed stockdog herding groups became active in the 1970s and 1980s.

Prominent among the influences that led to the development of the American Herding Breed Association was the herding program of the American Working Collie Association. The AWCA was formed in 1980 with the goal of acknowledging and encouraging a variety of working activities for Rough and Smooth Collies. Among those activities was herding. Around this time the Bearded Collie Club of America developed a formal herding instinct test and began issuing herding instinct certificates. Learning about this, members of the AWCA adopted a similar program for Rough and Smooth Collies. Wishing to go further in encouraging work at higher levels, the AWCA’s Herding Committee set up a trial titles program, with the titles HTD (for Herding Trial Dog), HTDX (Herding Trial Dog Excellent), and HTCh. (Herding Trial Champion), acknowledging both open field work, adapted from the traditional trials for Border Collies, and arena work of the type used in the ASCA stockdog program.

As the AWCA program became established, people with other breeds began attending AWCA events. Interest grew in these kinds of programs, and it became apparent that there was a place for an organization that could provide for standardized testing and record-keeping for all herding breeds. In June 1986 the American Herding Breed Association was founded by Linda Rorem, Rita Carr (now Rita Crawford), and Peggy Prater. Linda was one of the members of the AWCA Herding Committee, and Rita and Peggy were Sheltie owners who were involved in performance activities with their dogs. The first program of the AHBA was an all-breed herding certification program like that of the BCCA and the AWCA, with certification earned by passing a one-leg test.

The response was very positive. While the initial activities of the AHBA were focused on instinct tests, plans soon were made to develop a trial program as well. Several AHBA members in Southern California held a few small trials in the process of developing ideas, and in December 1986 the first AHBA-affiliated trials were held. The first AHBA newsletter appeared on Jan. 1987, with a list of dogs certified for herding instinct in 1986 and an article explaining the working style and characteristics categories on the herding instinct certification form, and the next issue featuring articles about herding trials in France in the present and in 1898. The first published trial rules appeared in the Sept./Oct. 1987 issue of the newsletter. The early courses for the Herding Trial Dog (HTD) title varied to some extent, while requiring basic skills such as gathering, driving and penning. Trial runs at that time weren’t scored numerically, but judged on a pass/not pass basis, as was the case with the instinct tests. For the first several years the instinct test program was the largest part in the AHBA, but the trials program was growing. On January 1, 1988 the revised trials program began. Course suggestions were provided, but variation continued to be allowed in the courses, again with basic elements being required. At this point, both pass/fail or numerical scoring were acceptable — the sponsor could choose which to use — with the qualifying percentage for numerical scores being 60%.

Many of the people involved with the early Bearded Collie, Rough/Smooth Collie, Belgian Tervuren and AHBA herding programs were also involved in the development of the AKC program. There was some thought that with the advent of AKC herding program, the AHBA would come to an end. It proved to be the case, however, that a herding-focused all-breed organization was still desirable, and, along with some growing pains, the AHBA programs continued to develop. For a period in 1989 and 1990, while developments involving the advent of the AKC program were being worked out, only a standard course was used, essentially the HTD course as it is today. In January 1990 the one-leg HIC became the two-leg Herding Capability Test (HCT). The Junior Herding Dog (JHD) program was established. Titles became stock-specific and scored numerically, with the percentage for qualifying continuing to be 60%.

New trial rules were published in the Oct.-Nov.-Dec. 1991 newsletter. In addition to the standard course, alternate courses were again allowed and reference was made to ranch courses. Over the next few years, more attention was given to these variable courses, and by 1995 some ranch-type trials and a large-flock French-style trial were being held.

New for January 1995 was the Herding Trial Championship (HTCh.) program, the criteria for which remain essentially as they were established then. Trials continued to increase in number, and in January 1996 the Herding Ranch Dog (HRD) program was approved. At the same time, the qualifying percentage for qualifying in trials was raised to 70%. Because sizes of HTD courses continued to vary considerably, from minimum-sized arenas to large open fields, there was some concern about consistency in the HTD titles. The eventual solution was to set up separate titles for trials held in arenas. After considering several options, it was decided to add an arena course title to the program, and the Herding Trial Arena Dog (HTAD) program was established in January 2005. Four basic courses were set out, from which a sponsor could choose, with some standard variations allowed on the courses. In January 2007 the Ranch Large Flock (RLF) option was added to the program, to encourage the holding of trials using larger groups of stock – sheep, goats, cattle or geese. The newest development, added in March 2012, is the mixed stock designation for HRD and RLF trials that utilize different types of stock in the same class. For several years occasional thought had been given to ways in which more than one type of stock could be used on a course, and the advent of the ASCA Farm Trial program, which allows a mixed stock option, provided an impetus. In the case of the AHBA’s mixed stock trials, the groups of animals may be worked concurrently for suitable stock, such as sheep and goats in the same group, or consecutively, such as working sheep or goats and then ducks or geese, etc.

The sources of the AHBA program are varied and many people have contributed to AHBA over the years. The programs of the AHBA were influenced by earlier programs of other organizations, such as the instinct tests held by the BCCA and AWCA, the trial program of the AWCA, the traditional courses of France and the ASCA ranch courses, among others. Adaptations were made, original ideas proposed, proposals discussed, and the AHBA officers and board, with input from the membership, would ultimately decide on the implementation. While some individuals have been more active and involved than others, it is not accurate for any single person to claim that they “originated” or “developed” this or that program or came up with this or that concept. The programs of the AHBA always have been the result of collaborative efforts, with influences and ideas building upon one another.

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