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SASDA  -  How it all began

by Andrew Philip   

(Reproduced with kind permission of International Sheepdog News)                


2011 marked the 50th Anniversary of the South Africa Sheep Dog Association and following on from the Article published last year and the “Office to President” story in our most recent ISN Edition; we thought it appropriate to delve a bit more deeply into those early days.

 Additional material from: Andrew and Pippa Philip, SASDA;  “South African Sheepdogs Training and Trials” by Con Kingwill and Brenda Munitich and extracts from the speeches given by Chipper Kingwill and Frikkie van Zyl at the 50th Anniversary Dinner in May this year, are included to compliment the facts. 

 “The first and biggest sheep dog rally ever to have been held in South Africa was a magnificent success” (Graaff Reinet Advertiser Nov. 19 1959).   This ‘Trial’ was held at ‘Roode Bloem’, Graaff Reinet, the farm of Tim Murray and organised by ‘Bun’ Kingwill and Henry Hartzenberg on Friday 13th November in 1959.  Ten sheepdogs took part, one of which was called Tinkle and run by ‘Chipper’ Kingwill.   In this Trial there were no rules but it was judged on how the job was done and within a specified time. The dog was required to collect a flock of sheep from a hill about one and a half kilometres from his handler at the post. These then had to be shepherded into a kraal, through a race, back into the kraal and through a gate to finish.  Leslie Rous’ Skippy won the Trial showing how it was done by running over the backs of all the sheep to the front to shift the sheep in the kraal.

It was emphasised by more than one participant that the working sheepdog was a labourer worthy of his hire and the object of the whole exercise was to show Sheep farmers in general, the benefits of using a sheepdog. Afterwards it seemed that there was enough interest to hold a National gathering and as a result a Committee was appointed to investigate the possible forming of a club and Chipper Kingwill was appointed unofficial and interim Chairman.  The Committee was asked to report to the next gathering which was held at Graaff Reinet on Wednesday 16th March 1960.

Frikke van Zyl and Jakkals won this second meeting and another Trial was held in July of 1960 also in Graaff Reinet which extended to three classes – Beginners, Novice and Seniors. This trial was held on 11th July 1960 on the Union High school fields in Graaff Reinet.


After the trial, a meeting was held in the standard nine class room and the formation of the South Africa Sheepdog Association was born and Mr. Bun Kingwill was elected the first President.  A deputed committee were charged with drafting a Constitution and these good people were charged with conducting the affairs of the newly formed association until the Annual General Meeting. The idea behind the formation of an Association was to foster the concept of working sheepdogs in the Republic of South Africa.  Dogs had been imported from New Zealand, Australia and the UK but there was no structure to register records of the bloodlines. It was decided at this time not to join the South African Kennel Union as the fledgling Association wanted to follow a policy for the working ability of the dog. Correct temperament, a strong athletic body and good herding instinct were of more importance than markings. Colour, length of coat and size were not important. The Floor contributed suggestions, objections and, of importance, that sheep should not be able to escape the field!  There were 70 people at the meeting, 17 of whom joined the Association.  SASDA was born!

By this time some sense of order was emerging and it was decided to run a Field Trial which better reflected the day to day working conditions of the Border collie.  The late Lionel Pennefather was extremely helpful with the setting up some rules of Trialling for SASDA and they are repeated here:

 “The cast (outrun) should be pear or oval shaped and should finish at 12 o’clock.  A dog that covers unnecessary ground or stops short will be penalised.

The Lift should be immediate, firm and steady; not hesitant or jumpy.  The Bring must be straight and at an even pace.  The less zigzag, the better.  If the dog cannot balance his sheep and bring them in straight, then he is not a good one, no matter what else he does.

 When I am judging I put a dog that brings his sheep straight without fuss, but missing an obstacle, in front to of one that zig zags the sheep, gets them through the obstacles and penning.  If the sheep break or go round, it should involve loss of points.  The same applies to the Drive as to the Bring.  Straight bringing and straight driving are the basis to the whole of a sheep dog’s work.  The dog should keep on his feet as much as possible, his main object throughout the trial being to keep the confidence of his sheep, as far as possible and put them where they are wanted without fuss. ’In quietness and confidence shall be your strength’ is a good maxim for any shepherd.

A sheepdog trial should never be a stunt performance and every aspect of it should have direct relationship to what is practical.

Keep your course simple and open – never make an obstacle narrow.”

Twenty one dogs and handlers competed in that first National Trial held at Graaf Reinet on the Rugby Field – 10th July 1961. Over 100 spectators were spellbound as 15 Novice and 6 Open dogs competed.  Based on the Australian Canberra styled Sydney Arena Trial the handler had to get the dogs to manoeuvre three sheep around a course with several obstacles en route. These were a set of gates with a 6 metre gap, flags set apart and negotiation of a little bridge with a pen before completing the course by driving the sheep between another set of flags – within a set time.  Billy Kingwill’s ‘Tess’ won the Championship; ‘Tracer’ owned by Ron Philip won the Novice cup.  Since then the SA Championship has been held every year with the addition of the Brace in 1993 and the International Double lift being introduced at the 2001 Nationals.

In an interview with the press afterwards, Association Secretary, Billy Kingwill, commented that as wool prices were now getting lower, the wool farmer had to start counting his pennies and cut down on his labour costs. Two men with good dogs could do the work of five men, he reckoned. He also pointed out that you needed to have well bred dogs to train the more easily and he added that you did not take a fox terrier to sheep merely because it is an intelligent dog!

    Chipper had this to say at the 50th Anniversary Dinner:

“In the early days there was no proper chairman and so I became the first unofficial chairman of SASDA until a proper one was elected.  Then an executive committee was appointed.  Bunny Kingwill – my brother, Henry Harztenberg, Billy Kingwill was secretary with his exercise book and nothing more;  Leslie Rous; Frikkie van Zyl  and myself – Chipper Kingwill.

We were directed to draw up a Constitution which we had to crib from overseas so that we could promote sheepdogs and organise clubs for us to spread the message of sheepdogs. 

The only problem was we had a lot to do and we only had Billy with the exercise book!  He managed for a while but then it got too much for him and we were lucky enough to get a lady secretary for a while.  Then some nineteen years ago Martie Ferreira became Secretary and since then we have not looked back. No organisation can do well if it has not good back up for admin. and legislation.  We are indeed fortunate to have Hennie Ferreira too, who is Registration Officer, working with Martie.

Frikkie probably had the best dog in South Africa – a nice big dog and there were two dogs on the Orange River that I knew about.  They had been imported but I don’t know what happened to them. So we decided that what we wanted were farmers and shepherds from overseas to come out and demonstrate to us and to take part in our trials with the understanding that they would sell their dogs to us.

Lionel Pennnefather, who had already come to SA in 1956, although I never saw him then, was the first one to come out to SASDA with four dogs and sold them all.  One nice big male dog went to went to Mr. Hartzenberg of Aberdeen, another went to the assistant secretary and another to the Eastern Cape and I got the booby prize. 

Judges were a problem as you can understand, because we had just formed a new association, and where could we get them?  We had to look for people interested in dogs and who could work with the overseas Score sheets that we’d got.  Among the judges were Mr. and Mrs. Graham and Leslie Rous, John Gibbs, Barbara Shaw, Henry Hartzenberg and his son John, as well. Dogs and handlers that came out from the UK to take part - Alan Heaton, Alisdair Mundell and Lionel Pennefather. Subsequently we have quite a few UK judges at our National, starting with Glyn Jones (Bodfari) in1990 and 1991and he ran some clinics at the same time.”

By the 1963 AGM President Bun Kingwill was able to report that although the Association was still in its puppyhood and there was a lot to learn, he was nonetheless proud to say that Sheep dogs had been put on the map of South Africa and that the standard of work had considerably improved as had the standard of dog.  This was largely due to a few importations.  Peter Murray had imported a bitch from Alan Jones and now had probably the best seven pups in the country.

One of the first tasks was to ensure sponsorship for the Trials – Dunell Ebuen and Mobil Oil Company being amongst the early supporters. The printing of schedules was undertaken and sponsored by Watermeyer and Co of Graaff Reinet.


It was also in 1963 that the National was won by Jeff Curie, a farmer from Highlands near Grahamstown with Lass. The Trial was run at Chipper Kingwill’s place, Zuurplaats, in the Graaff Reinet district. Jeff was, at the time, the newly elected President of SASDA and also took the third place with Bill jointly owned by Ron Philip, Bill being imported from the USA.  What distinguished this Trial was that Jeff commanded his three dogs with a different language for each.  Bill in traditional sheepdog language, Cindy in Xhosa and Lass in plain English!  By this time the course had been altered to accommodate more open work.  At the AGM that year Jeff expressed his concern that membership was not growing at the rate desired and in tandem with this there were not enough members putting themselves forward as judges.

The following year saw an improvement in membership and a new feature for exiting the sheep.  They were to be driven under command through a gateway and on to the back of a lorry thereby clearing the course for the next competitor. Lionel Pennefather was noted to have remarked that he had not seen this method of exiting sheep before and that apart from the time saved it provided an extra interest for the spectators.  At this time Mr. Pennefather was giving demonstrations and talks about the way forward in a breeding programme. He advised members to breed a dog ‘with a cool, firm temperament and the ability to move up freely and face the sheep – especially Merinos.’

Ron Philip became President in 1969 and once more the Association had an injection of energy and enthusiasm and another chapter began as he emphasised that not only was sheep dog trialling the sport that members enjoyed but it was a show window of a very important factor in the future of the Sheep Industry of the South Africa Republic.   He also pointed out that it was beginning to be recognised, that the economic value of trained dogs was being realised by the public at large and that the best method of promoting had been the demonstrations at Agricultural shows and radio broadcasting on the subject particularly by SASDA member Jeff Currie. Ron Philip continued that because of the appalling ignorance in the proper use and care of sheep dogs in general – particularly in reference to the searing heat, dogs working in over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. (That will be 40° Celsius).  He had thought to raise the issue of the value of the working sheepdog at the highest possible level – inviting a member of the agriculture department to attend a National Trial.

It was about this time that the first lady competitor took part in a trial.  This was Mrs Joan Currie who handled one of her husband Jeff’s dogs by the name of Mick.

By 1971 two day trials had been introduced and the National was again held at Graaff Reinet. This was the tenth anniversary of the Association and new President Chipper Kingwill remarked that although membership had not increased at the rate envisaged the stature of the Association had grown in all other respects. Handling ability, training and the standard of dogs had improved beyond recognition and the Association was recognised to be a responsible body providing a real service to the South African Livestock Industry.

By this time blood lines from some of the best dogs in England was present and these included Wiston Cap; Anderson’s Hope; Thompson McKnight’s Old Gael; Jim Wilson’s White Hope’s Nap and John Bathgate’s Rock.

1973 proved to be a red letter year in the annals of the Association when Ron Philip and Rodney Miles were selected to represent South Africa in the World Sheep Dog Trials held in Maryland USA.  Ron Philip flew out to the USA at his own expense in a bid to help get the World Trial idea off the ground. It was the only place at the time that could accommodate dogs from all parts of the world, and the idea was to have a world championship every three years. The team were placed third with their dogs Tag, Guy and Sally.

Chipper adds:- "We were invited to America  - Ron Philip and Rodney Miles were our first two contestants and they did reasonably well. For the 1976 Trial I went with Benny Strydom. The dogs had to fly to Heathrow and after two days rest fly to Pennsylvania and then on to the venue at Newark. When we got to the beautiful accommodation where we were to stay we were puzzled that there was no place for our dogs to stay.  On speaking with the manager he said to keep the dogs in our rooms as they would make less mess than the American kids that stayed! In the Final, Mr. Pearson, a UK handler, was doing very well but when he got to the Shute he stopped and started digging in the ground.  It seemed he’d blown out his teeth!".

As mentioned by Chipper – above - the South Africa team were placed third overall in the 1976 World Trial – again in the USA.  Bennie took Mundy and her son Trompie, while Chipper handled Drift and Jen. There were some concerns about the system of Judging and the trial was never held again.

Shepherd Trials for employees (farm shepherds) had been introduced in 1974 and held the day before the main trials. Outgoing President Jeff Currie pointed out that the future of sheepdogs in South Africa lay with the shepherds because if Trials were to remain a breeder’s hobby then they would stagnate.  But if they were seen as a training ground for employers and employees alike then they would expand and Border Collies would become the economic asset they were meant to be.  The men who handle their dogs are very proud of their status and therefore take great pride in their work.

In 1977 the SASDA registration scheme was established and it was set to become one of the most successful working dog registrations in the world. It formed the basis of what SASDA operates in the 21st century.

In 1980, at Pietermaritzburg and Durban, Lionel Pennefather demonstrated his sheepdogs at the Royal Show and SASDA later flew him and his three dogs to Willowmore in the Karoo. He took part in the three days of competitions and he did demonstrations, and judged the trial. At a symposium he spoke about being astounded with the high standard of dog presented. Great progress had been made since his previous visit but he suggested that the handlers needed more ‘gears’ in their dogs – implying that they stopped and started without slower and quieter movements between the ‘dashes’ to position. He added that there were plenty of these ‘back home’ too!  Also, he added, that more emphasis could be placed on the good dog that brought sheep evenly in a direct line without causing the flock any distress.     Lionel later sold his three dogs to Billy Colbourne, Benny Strydom and Chipper Kingwill for breeding purposes.

It is interesting to note that back in 1975 President Rodney Miles was encouraging small trials on various farms and although unable to attend all these Ron Philip had done much public relations and, eventually followed up his idea from a few years earlier, approached the Minister of Sport and Recreation to try to have sheepdog trials included in the SA Games to be held in 1981. The Minister was not too sure what working sheepdogs were and thought them to be something to do with Alsatians!  Ron invited the Minister to a sheepdog demonstration that he did at a show and after the demonstration, the Minister told Ron that that was …”a life changing experience…”.  A sheepdog trial was held at those 1981 Festival Games because of the exposure and many meetings attended by Ron. It might be interesting to note, that the Festival Games were organised to replace the Olympics for SA Athletes, because South Africa was banned from taking part in the Olympics during the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Robert and Philippa Kingwill were also writing and publishing articles about Border collies at that time.

A new Club was set up in Natal in 1982 and ‘unofficial’ trials were set to take place every six weeks. It was also the year of the ‘coming of age’ of the Association. It was pointed out that the names Kingwill and Philip were synonymous with sheep dogs in South Africa and that after 21 years of faithful, active service as chairman, executive member and a keen and successful triallist and breeder of Border collies, founder member Chipper Kingwill, and Ron Philip - although not a founder member but who attended the first Nationals - were still in harness.

It was at this time, that the executive of the Association was in negotiations with the ISDS to set in motion the bringing out of two of Britain’s top handlers, with two dogs each, so that an International competition could be held. And this agreement came to pass after the Nationals at Willowmore when Con Kingwill’s three legged Craig, already Junior Champion, also took the senior National title.

Alasdair Mundell from Scotland with Ben and Roy, and from England, Allan Heaton with Chad and Ken were invited to take part in this historic trial. The South Africans were split into four teams and there followed ‘tests’ at three separate locations – Judges were J Hartzenberg and Barbara Shaw. The South Africans took the first four places with the UK team last. Owing to the quarantine laws in the UK, the UK handlers had to sell their dogs in South Africa, which meant they did not bring their best dogs.

By this time SASDA began to grow much faster. Eastern Transvaal and Witwatersrand both started clubs and these were invited to an unofficial triangular meeting in 1984 in Natal. Ron Philip with his flair for Public Relations, in the early days, was always the man responsible for the promotion of the economic value of trained sheepdogs as a labour saving factor on stock farms in South Africa. In 1983 he was given an Award of Honour from his Alma Mater, Grootfontein Agricultural College and the Citation reads “… that it has been through his devotion and energy; he has promoted the awareness of the economic value of trained sheep dogs as a labour saving factor on stock farms in South Africa. Through his diligent efforts that not only trained sheep dogs and their handlers had now been placed in positions of prominence in South Africa but their importance in agriculture has also been secured.”

In 1990, three USA handlers, including Bruce Fogt and his famous dog Hope, came out to take part in a series of Internationals. He could bring his best dog out as there are no quarantine restrictions between USA and SA and he did very well and set the scene for new ideas within SASDA. One of the ideas was introducing the shed and he demonstrated his skills at shedding. Bruce came out again in 1998 to judge and run a clinic.


As mentioned earlier, since those early days, a National Trial has been held every year and because of the vast distances that competitors have to travel, trials are always held over two days with two championships held during that time.  And as there has been a greater number of city based handlers – ‘hobby’ handlers – and these folk need to be back in the office on Monday morning, trials are now run on Saturday and Sunday instead of Fridays and Saturdays as was the case until the mid ‘80’s.  This change of days has also the added benefit of the general public attending trials as they have the same work pattern as the hobby triallists!

It will be noted that in general the National Trials are held near large centres of population so that people might attend the trials and of course it followed that Sponsorship was more easily gained to support the added cost.  This year the National will be held at Mark and Lynette Trollip’s farm near Johannesburg.

Faansie Basson, a top South Africa Handler now regularly competes and Judges overseas but in 1995, handlers from Netherland, Belgium, UK, USA and France were invited to RSA to compete in what would have been a world first with a competition between three continents. Unfortunately internal politics interrupted and as a result only one handler form UK, the Netherlands and Belgium were able to compete. Serge van der Sweep from the Netherlands won that series.

Since that time no International handlers have visited SA but in 2005 two South African handlers went to USA for two top International Trials. One of the handlers, Faansie Basson, was in the final of both events and since then he made two places on the podium with his two dogs proving that SA has top quality handlers and dogs. He still competes regularly in the USA.

Chipper summed up his speech by saying that as  time went by Clubs were being formed in all points of the country all joined by the common thread of training and trialling their sheepdogs.  He thanked the many, many people who have contributed to the continuing success and improvement of SASDA.

Just a final story from Chipper “when we started with Judges we had a system that if a competitor was dissatisfied with his placing he could deposit R10 and complain to the Trials committee and if the complaint was upheld he got his R10 back.  But if the Trials committee did not agree then he lost his R10”. (This still stands today, but the fee is now R100! But this is not accepted in a National).

Chipper and Frikkie said that they would like to thank everyone who had made this Anniversary event happen.  As with all things all it takes is someone to put his foot forward, because if you don’t do this then nothing will happen. For those who had the initiative to go ahead, our thanks to them.

From those humble beginnings a smart and cohesive organisation is now in place.  The Association boasts a comprehensive website – see below - and is also on Face Book. The current President of SASDA is Elsie Jammy from Witwatersrand with Pippa Philip as Vice President.  Faansie Basson and Andrew Philip are also members of the committee. With Andrew and Pippa as serving members, the name Philip continues to work with the improvement of sheepdogs in South Africa.

With a small membership – about 400 plus – in a large country, communication is of the highest priority. Great distances are covered by competitors in order to attend the trials – for example from Johannesburg to Graaf Reinet in the south it is 825 km (over 500 miles) and the terrain over which the dogs’ trial is diverse – from lush grassland to high country and bushy veldt. There are now ten venues where trials are being held throughout the country stretching from Natal; Northern Cape; Witwatersrand; Midlands; Western Province; Free State and Northwest. The National’s are held at a different venue each year.

Andrew Philip mentions on the website that, “With fewer labourers willing to work on remote stock farms around the country, stock farmers are turning to the faithful working sheep dog to help them and their shepherds.  SASDA and its members are there for those looking for top quality working dogs”.  The thread joining SASDA together is a great spirit of competition but not at the expense of camaraderie and commitment.  It is a Team South Africa thing. 


Some of the reflections of a 50 year history given by Chipper Kingwell and Frikke van Zyl both Founder Members of SASDA have been included in the narrative of this piece. Most of Frikke’s speech was in Afrikaans but he ended in English, agreeing with Chipper and adding how much the dogs have improved over the years and he paid tribute to the efforts and dedication of all the handlers and others involved

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