Colac's Bree Cudmore has burst through the yard dog trialling scene, making a name as a Kelpie stud, helping build equal opportunities for women, and is reaching the season's tail-end with her eyes set on a top title.
Vera Kelpies stud principal Bree Cudmore, based in Colac but hailing from Traralgon, hit the ground running five years ago when she dipped her boots in yard dog trialling.
Ms Cudmore is the first and only woman to have won the National Kelpie Field Trial championship in its 54-year history.
She said she always loved animals, growing up in the bush and around her dad's dogs, who also fostered a passion for animals.
Her first exposure to the agricultural industry started in 2012, working with horses before becoming a rousabout in 2014, before she eventually reached head rousabout, presser and penner.
"It helped me a lot, to understand how hard the job is without a good dog, I started off in the sheds penning up sheep without a dog or with an average dog," she said.
By 2016, Ms Cudmore was working with her mentor Travis Scott in Gippsland and learnt about working dogs to develop her understanding of low-stress stock handling, stock flow and animal behaviour.
She said Mr Scott allowed her to work his dogs, and she bought her first dog Zoe by February 2017, entering their first trial and winning an encourage class in the same year.
"If anyone knows Trav, he doesn't give one-word answers, he gives really good in-depth answers and you get all the information you need," she said.
"[I've] competed passionately ever since with highs and lows along the way."
Ms Cudmore and two of her dogs, Marista Zoe and Larnach Moana, have built an extensive list of accolades over the past five years.
Marista Zoe won Victorian Dog of the Year, holds two third places in the Victorian State Yard Championship, made the top ten in the Australian Yard Dog championships, third place in the Victorian State Utility championships and won the National Kelpie Field Trial championship in 2021.
"I learn a lot from them, Zoe was so forgiving in the early days because I made so many mistakes, and in my eyes that's what made her such a good dog," she said.
Marista Zoe's pup, Vera Blue placed in the top ten for the 2022 and 2023 Victorian State Championships, and won this year's New South Wales' State Yard Dog championship.
Larnach Moana has cracked the top ten in the Australian Yard Dog Championships twice, won the open class at the Australian Yard Dog Championships, and was Sheepvention's Farm Dog Champion for two years' running in a history first.
"She's a really, really talented dog, and she's currently in battle for Dog of the Year in points for the dog trials but I'll have to work really hard to keep that," she said.
"She's a very different type to Zoe in her work style but they're both very skilled in lots of different ways."
She said it was a steep learning curve from her inception as a dog trialler.
"I was nervous as hell, I could hardly open the gate chains because my hands were shaking, Zoe was such a good dog so I didn't need to worry," she said.
"It used to scare the absolute pants off me, going on the trial course, but I learnt how to live with it.
"Once the bell rings and you send off your dog, it all shuts out, I can't hear the crowd or notice the judge."
Ms Cudmore said her work and fellow triallers' advice helped her develop her skillset to move stock with ease and efficiency.
"We're all very good handlers, we can't get lazy, we have to keep pushing or we'll overtake each other, and I think that maintains the quality in Victoria," she said.
"We have this tight-knit group who are very competitive and push each other harder, and it's a really good environment."
She said she found inspiration and comfort in one of her many mentors, Kate Jubb, when she started trialling and gaining her confidence in the yard.
"You watch the way people interacted with Kate and everyone respects her," she said.
"I saw her and thought I wanted to be like that, in the way of her mannerisms, she was a strong competitor and you could see she wanted to win too but was always gracious and supportive."
Ms Cudmore's friendship with Ms Jubb fostered opportunities to make moves to change trial titles and encourage an even playing field.
The two women moved to remove a former category, Woman Handler of the Year, because they believed it failed to support women competing at a lower level, who would have been unable to gain the points needed to win.
"There was probably a time when it was good to have because there weren't many women in the competition or the standard wasn't very high," Ms Cudmore said.
"The competitiveness of the women has gone up a lot [in five years], we're working on-farm more and mindsets are changing."
She said they campaigned for a new category, Bitch of the Year, to help identify the best-performing and most-consistent female dog.
"It is very hard for a bitch to compete for Dog of the Year because they come on heat twice a year at least, and that puts them out of competition," she said.
"People are looking at the Dog of the Year, but who should you take that dog to [for breeding]?"
Ms Cudmore decided to develop her stud after having two high-performing dogs and started receiving interest in their genetics.
"I've only bred one litter from Moana and there was plenty of interest in her, and Zoe as well, and now lots of people are asking about the boys too," she said.
She's bred four litters so far and hoped to focus on joining goals to ensure she continues a high-quality breeding line.
"I have access to some really good dogs that my mates own, I'm going to try and breed them into the lines," she said.
"I was very lucky that in my first litter I bred two very cool, very good dogs.
"I just want that all-round dog."
Ms Cudmore said she'll be competing regularly until December, and hoped to take Larnach Moana through to Dog of the Year.
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