Besides a brief shower overnight on Saturday, we were blessed with warm, dry weather the entire weekend -- which was good because I had decided to camp out at the trial grounds to save some cash to pay for all the horse-riding lessons and rentals over the past month. The last twice we had used the tent down on Cape Cod at a couple of hunt tests, we ended up suffering through post-hurricane weather and rain (and fracturing two of the four poles). Kelty, incidentally, has awesome customer service.
I had made arrangements with a friend, Bill, Kudrun's father, to borrow a horse from him for the actual braces I was going to run dogs in, to spare myself the grief of trying to wrastle a wrangler's horse that might or might not feel like cooperating. I had also arranged to get myself an experienced scout to help me out with Jozsi's brace -- although it was beginning to feel like I was doomed after pick #1 broke her arm the week before, her replacement got called in to work on Saturday morning, and #3 had to go out early on another brace because both dogs on the previous brace were picked up in the first 10 minutes. But I ended up acquiring the services of Tracey Faber, from the Conestoga Vizsla Club, who is the owner of the fabulous Cannon and who has been scouting for Bob Seelye this fall and spring.
I can sum up Jozsi's first adult stake simply by saying that he got around clean... sadly so clean that neither he nor his much more experienced bracemate, Tony Smid's Jenny, found any birds. Both dogs ran well, hunted objectives, and looked purposeful out on the course -- but sadly, there was no opportunity for Jozsi to show his stuff. Or for Tracey to get off her horse. This is one of the downsides of drawing the first brace of the day, especially on a part of the grounds that haven't been used yet that weekend. The dogs were reliant on the handful of birds that had been freshly planted on a rapidly warming morning with little breeze. It was still a lovely ride as the moisture burned off and we watched two fiendish vizslak burn up ground. But sadly, no quail, no cigar, and no hope of a ribbon. But here's a picture of me roading Jozsi back to the clubhouse -- and yes, I know the checkcord is caught under the saddle trees and not completely around the lip on the cantle.
For her second time off a horse (and especially because she kept getting harassed by her bigger bracemate), Rogue ran great in Open Puppy. She definitely faded a little by the end, but was certainly finding her pattern. The unexpected bonus was getting to run her in Amateur Walking Puppy as well -- sadly, Kim contracted some nasty plague from her darling daughter and could hardly stand. So I had a great time. I was a little disappointed by the result -- she took a 4th -- but was so pleased with how she ran. After two minutes of puppies fooling around, she had several awesome casts... not just big, but to my mind smart casts, down along shady tree edges and down into damp parts of the course, exactly where birds that might have been down a while would go in the late afternoon. And she ran hard for the full 20mins - the final two of which she did with a semi-live chukar in her mouth that was left over from the Gun Dog Stake and had been flushed by her bracemate. While I was a little disappointed by the judges' choices, I was excited by how she ran... less like a puppy and a lot more like a little bird-dog.
I will go up to Flaherty again on Sunday, to ride some braces and apparently to scout for Dennis + Sally. I am glad he is as confident of my abilities as I am of his dog's. Speaking of which: one of the highlights of the trial was hearing the judges discuss their placements for the Open Gun Dog stake at the end of dinner on Saturday. I gather this is still a common feature in livestock shows, but it added a really nice dimension -- as much as anything because handlers and spectators alike come to appreciate the judges as people, and the dogs as the real geniuses of the whole charade.
It was also a great trial because while the odds are clearly stacked in favor of the professional handlers out there, Open Gun Dog was won by an amateur in his first horseback trial working a dog (Rebel Rouser Gingerbrandy, aka 'Rita') that had clearly learned its trade on wild birds. And Bill & Kim also took placements with all three of their home-trained dogs: Baldur, Gestalt, and the mind-boggling Kudrun.