Calgary – In 2012, Hilary Gietzen of Minot, ND was the runnerup in the North American Sheep Shearing Challenge. Some people might think that was a pretty good result. Gietzen isn’t one of them. “I wasn’t second. I was first loser,” says Gietzen. The sting of his 2012 loss was considerably less after Saturday’s NASSC final, when Gietzen outpointed Australian Steve Mudford.
“I’ve been shearing for 36 years and competing for 34 and this was the toughest competition I’ve ever been in,” Gietzen told the crowd. “It wasn’t like one or two guys were pushing me. All of them were.”
The final was an interesting contrast in styles. Mudford finished shearing his eighth and final sheep before Gietzen started on his seventh. “I hardly noticed,” Gietzen insists. “I did know he was ahead of me, but it didn’t bother me one bit. I could have gone faster, and kept up with him and done a less desirable job. I like to think of myself as a strategist. My strategy was to keep workmanship and speed in balance.”
Shearing events are both timed and judged. One judge watches for competitors who have to go over an area on the sheep a second time, while another judge examines the sheep after it is released to see if any wool has been missed and if there are any nicks or cuts. Fast and rough is a losing strategy just as surely as is precise and too slow.
The eight final competitors in the Open class, as usual, were a fairly international crew with one Canadian, three Americans, one New Zealander and a trio of Australians. The competition was composed of four go-rounds with accumulated points that eliminated four shearers. Pieter Demooy of Saanichton, BC won three of the four go-rounds with Gietzen taking the other. The two were first and second after the qualifying go-rounds with Australians Jackson Hira and Steve Mudford filling out the field.
In the semi-final, Demooy and Hira were eliminated. Team Australia earned the silver buckles in the International Team Challenge. Craig O’Leary of New South Wales, Australia was declared champion of the Intermediate class.
“I shear nearly full-time for a living,” Gietzen says. “I’ve probably done more sheep than any other American.” Although he shears thousands of sheep every year, to prepare for competition, Gietzen actually has a coach. Gary Reinhart of Fargo, ND was the man who taught Gietzen the shearing trade 36 years ago. Although he doesn’t shear anymore, Gietzen says the two regularly review videos of shearing competitions and assess what the winners did right – and what the losers did wrong.
While he was sharing the credit for his victory, Gietzen mentioned another influence – Canadian shearing legend and former Stampede champion Clifford Metheral of Saskatchewan. “He showed me some strategies. He helped me win in 2010. We worked together in May,” Gietzen says. “He told me something interesting. He said that he felt his best shearing years were in his 50s. I’m 51. I’m looking at it like I’ve got my best years in front of me.”
When Gietzen won in 2010, he contributed the money to making improvements on a school in Peru. This year, he already knows where his $2,000 cheque is going. After supporting a student in Peru for many years, Gietzen and his wife will be flying down to see the young woman receive her law degree.
Gietzen points out that his trip to Stampede this year was a solo effort, as neither his wife nor his daughter could come. “I came up here alone because I knew I stood a very good chance to win,” he says. “I’ve been a Stampede regular for quite a few years. I would never consider not coming.”