"I was bred to be a stockman," says Bill Reader, talking to the Stratford Press before the Mangaehu Stratford Dog Trials last weekend. He started out at the dog trials when he was 13. "I am 87 this November, so you do the math," he laughs.
The trials at Mangaehu Stratford hold a special place in Bill's memories. He ran his first dog there. "Called Tip that dog, he was a good one. He and I, we did pretty good at the trials."
Since then, Bill has attended dog trials all around the country and is a familiar face at Taranaki events.
Bill was still at school when he first competed. In fact, he used one dog to help him earn some pocket money on his way to school.
"I had one dog and a push bike, and I used to deliver the lambs to the farmers when they had bought them. I was always late for school, my mother would write me a note excusing my lateness. I don't know how many she must had had to write."
Bill started work at Glen Nui station when he was 17. He remembers a swing bridge on the station that only people and sheep could safely cross, it wasn't sturdy enough for horses. "Now, there is a concrete bridge instead, you can drive a lorry across," he laughs, shaking his head at the changes he has seen in his time.
Bill and his wife Joy live in Stratford, surrounded by photographs, certificates and trophies that give a glimpse into some of the successes Bill has had at the trials through the years. Some of Bill's proudest memories include winning the Tongahoe cup. "You had to win with five different times for that." He won with his dog Boss in 1976. The cup jostles for place on the mantel alongside plenty of other pieces of silverware.
"I think it's a great achievement," says Bill of the trophies and awards he has won. "But there are plenty of competitors who have done better than I have. There have been some very good men and their dogs I have been up against through the years."
He says there are a lot of people to watch now. "Especially some of the ladies, they are pretty well up at the top now, some of those ladies."
Asked what makes a good dog for the trials, Bill says it is mainly down to nature. "You want a natural dog, good natured, intelligence, one that will learn quick."
Now he has retired, he says it can be hard to find work for his dogs to keep them on their game, but they are still good dogs and work well at the trials.
"A good dog is worth a lot now," he says. Last year one dog sold for more than $4000. Bill was offered "£50 for my dog" after one competition "but my good friend, he patted me on the shoulder, and told me not to sell, that I would get a lot of pleasure out of it, and I did too".
Bill and Joy enjoy the dog trial season and can't imagine not going to them. "You meet some lovely people through it," says Joy.