FG 180: Renowned sheepdog trialler's career spans 40 years in the industry

Described as one of the most talented dog handlers of his generation, Kevin Evans started working with dogs at just four years old. Ellie Layton finds out more

clock • 7 min read
FG 180: Renowned sheepdog trialler's career spans 40 years in the industry

Dedication and patience are two qualities that Kevin Evans believes are pivotal to becoming a successful dog handler.   

Taking up dog handling as a hobby with his first dog at the age of four, he followed in his father's footsteps, who has been part of the Welsh Nation team four times.  

Born and bred at the foot of the Brecon Beacons, Kevin, 43, lives with his two boys, Ellis and Osian, and partner Clair near to his parents David and Marian. His parents have been instrumental in helping him become one of the greats in modern-day dog handling.    

Penclyn Farm is in Libanus, on the outskirts of Brecon, and the family run a flock of Welsh ewes after the decision to remove cattle from the system 20 years ago. This family farm setting provided a playground for Kevin as a child, where he was surrounded by working sheepdogs.   

After being given a pup from his grandfather at the age of four, all he thought about was training his dog. Although his father was not actively trialling at the time, his father did not want to dim Kevin's spark with dogs so he helped Kevin train the pup which he competed at his first trial at the age of seven. 

Left to right - Marion, David and Kevin Evans, Clair Slater with Kevin's children, Osian and Ellis Evans

He says: "I spent hours watching other handlers at trials as a boy, and along with my father, this is where I learnt the most. In Wales, we are fortunate to have some of the strongest handlers in the world, but learning from the best meant I was competing against them too."  

These hours in the field allowed him to emulate other handlers and discover his own style of trialling.  

Throughout his career, he has been extremely fortunate, he says, to have been supported by fellow dog handlers. 

READ NOW: Young farmer who won One Man and His Dog showcases passion for sheepdogs and Welsh farm life

"Over my early trials, I was approached by trainer Mostyn Issac, who had a bitch, Maid, that he was struggling to find the right handler for. We just clicked, and he encouraged me to take part in local trials, ferrying me around Wales with fellow handlers and their dogs," he adds.  

Mostyn played such an influential role in Kevin's early trialling days that he is part of Kevin's prefix, Kemi, which is a blend of their initials.   

Mostyn gifted Maid and her papers to Kevin for his 10th birthday. They competed together for three years around trials before he was selected for the One Man and His Dog ‘Young Handler' competition at only 13 years old.  

His first Welsh National trial followed the year after in 1994, and with litters from Maid he continued his success in the coming years, winning multiple titles. In 1998, at the age of 17, he won Welsh Brace champion, where dogs are run together.

Kevin says he is lucky to have a supportive team at base

Following his triumphant win with his dog Mirk at the International Sheepdog Trials in 2008, Kevin started to build up his career. Around 10 years ago after training as a bricklayer and running a successful business, he made the decision to hang up his tools and concentrate solely on sheepdogs.

From there, he has built up his career and role in breeding dogs, now having a major influence in modern-day working and trialling sheepdogs – he has become one of the most common names in the farming press.  

In 2019, he picked up his fourth international title when he won the individual and brace championship – something which had not been achieved since John Templeton in 1972. Over Covid-19, most trials had to be postponed, which steadied his calendar. But with events back up and running, he competes in about 50 trials a year. It is a big commitment, with Kevin having a constant turnover of dogs on-farm, which means he relies on his family team and full-time employee Misena, who has relocated from Slovakia, to keep things running.   

READ NOW: Young farmer determined to keep hill traditions alive

"Dogs need persistent work, so I am lucky [to have] our team and a good group of friends that help give the dogs experience. This enables me to travel – my sheepdogs taking me across the globe for trials and training," says Kevin.   

His sleek operation at home sees mainly private sales of dogs, but he also uses online sales, which he says have boomed in popularity since the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Kevin says: "Online sales have exposed sheepdogs to the public eye and highlighted high prices, but the turnover and trade have not really changed. Using online sales, it is easy for people to advertise dogs and videos of them working – it can eliminate travel for buyers."

Among many high prices – including a world-record price of £20,000 in 2020 for the highest price ever paid for a dog at an official sale, with a tri-coloured bitch, Henna – Kevin says the excitement in breeding never dulls.   

Kevin aims to always have something for sale at every stage of a dog's life, from a pup to a working/trial dog. He admits all his best dogs have been for sale at some point, but some make his team as they develop.   

"The breeding is a huge part of what keeps me in the game; every litter of pups is different, with every dog having a different personality and skillset.   

"I do not have one style of dog; they are all different, and I like to see different things in dogs I can work with. They require a natural focus and drive to be trained, as they do not see a lot of general work.   

"I can work with all different faults – like the handler, no dog is perfect, but I seek a dog with a natural ability, which is keen to work with energy along with speed and a good outrun," he says.  

But not all dogs are trial dogs, and Kevin wants to breed something that will deliver on the stake but also with the ability to find sheep in an open field or hill and not run blind.  

Training in the paddock

With a big team of dogs, Kevin rotates them around the trials with many variable favours including the sheep, judges, course and upcoming trials. Dogs will typically run from four to eight years old. However, one that has exceeded this is 10-year-old queen of the kennel Preseli Ci – one of the most influential dogs in Kevin's career. Preseli Ci is a two-time international winner in 2016 and 2018, champion of every major UK trial, and the only dog allowed in the house.  

But he believes Tanhill Glen, which he calls the ‘backbone of the kennel', influenced his breeding.  

Breeders with contact you if they think they have your style of dog and 10 years ago I purchased 15 month old Glen. He is the type of dog that will leave his stamp on a litter, providing consistency in ability," he says. 

Glen went on to win the European nursery champion in 2015 and was reserve Welsh Nursery champion before being sold to Texas as a three year old. 

After four years in the USA, he returned to Wales for a summer with his owner, Steve Drake. After seeing Glen's bond with Kevin and the quality of his offspring, Steve generously left Glen in Brecon to finish his career.

Handling multiple dogs at once

The understanding is something Kevin says is a different relationship between every handler and their dog.  

He says: "It is hard to describe my style, and to the unknown eye you cannot tell the difference. It is an art in the way you handle the dog, and the dog handles the sheep. As a team, we want to control all sheep in the same cool, calm manner that makes sheep comfortable and look easy." 

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