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It’s a dog’s life – and it’s absolutely perfect for Katy

By Heather Large | Pattingham | Features | Published:

Sheepdog trainer Katy Cropper will be returning to compete on One Man And His Dog next month, and says she still gets a thrill from working with animals.

Katy now lives in the Cumbrian countryside

It’s almost 30 years since Katy Cropper became the first woman to win One Man And His Dog.

And now the shepherdess is returning to compete at the famous sheepdog trials for the first time since lifting the title with border collie Trim.

Katy, who used to live in Burnhill Green, near Pattingham, will be part of an England team, competing against handlers from Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

Katy Cropper with one of her puppies

This time around she will be putting her “right-hand-men” – black and white border collies Butch, two, and Abi, three – through their paces.

But while the 58-year-old is relishing the opportunity to compete at the trials, which will be shown on BBC One’s Countryfile next month, she is also remaining realistic about their chances.

“They are very young dogs and very inexperienced dogs,” says Katy, who now lives in the Cumbrian countryside. “They have very different working methods. Butch is very ‘jack-the-lad’ and full on and Abi is much more polite.

“I work them on the fells, they’ve very good working dogs – they’re my right-hand-men. But they’re not really experienced at dog trials together. I don’t think I’m going to win, they are very young but I will still enjoy it.”

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Katy Cropper

She was invited to compete in this year’s event, in the Scottish Borders, after success at other sheep dog trials with her now-retired collies Zac, 10, and Tsavo, eight.

“They could have competed again but I wanted to retire them at the top. I don’t like to see old dogs working,” says Katy, who has won many prestigious titles including the English National Brace Championship at Over Kellet, near Carnforth, with Tsavo and Scrum in 2012.

To help prepare Butch and Abi for One Man and His Dog, Katy has stepped up their training and has entered them in practice events including one taking place in Derbyshire today.

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Since winning One Man and His Dog in 1990, watched by seven million viewers, Katy has also been in demand for her sheepdog training and obedience classes.

Katy Cropper

Her victory in the competition also led to her becoming something of a celebrity and saw her publish her autobiography A Dog’s Life in the Dales, and film A Year In The Life Of A Shepherdess for the BBC, and make a sheepdog training video called One Woman and Her Dog.

Her daughter Henrietta went on to be the youngest handler to appear on One Man and His Dog in 2015, aged 12.

Katy, who is now one of Britain’s leading sheepdog trainers, remains as passionate as ever about honing her dogs’ working skills and seeing them flourish on the fells.

A sheepdog will generally begin working from the age of five to six months.

“As early as possible is best,” says Katy, who was a judge for One Man and His Dog in 2014.

“I enjoy rearing them and the whole process from them being a puppy to working them on the fells and running them with sheep.

Katy Cropper

“They are all different – they are like people. But as long as they love you and you are compassionate to them, they will want to please you.

“And as long you as you have a good bond with them, you will get the best from them.”

Katy believes the dogs also get a lot of out working.

“They love working for me and they want to please me,” she adds. “It’s what they’re bred for and they love to work the sheep. We’re a good team and they’re my family. They are good companions.”

One Man and His Dog was first aired on February 17, 1976 and Bloxwich-born Phil Drabble presented the show until 1993.

Phil Drabble

It ran for 23 years, attracting audiences of up to eight million viewers in its heyday in the 1980s as it became a staple of BBC viewing on Sunday nights.

The last regular series was aired on BBC Two in 1999, followed by popular Christmas specials until it merged with BBC One’s Countryfile in 2013.

Since then it’s continued to attract a loyal following, increasingly in popularity as the younger generations take up the baton in the rural pursuit.

For Katy, One Man and His Dog long-lasting and universal appeal is all down to the dogs and the vital role they play in rural communities.

“People love dogs more than ever because they are such good companions.

“Nothing can replace a sheep dog – you would never get your sheep off the fells without them,” she says.

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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