Sunday, November 8, 2009

400yds on the left...

I got back last night from the VCA National Field Trial at Cloverdale Farm in Danville, VA. The farm was also the site for this year's AKC Gun Dog Championship -- and a number of dogs that had competed there were back to try for the National Field and/or National Amateur Field Championship titles. The first picture shows the breakaway from up at the clubhouse at Cloverdale -- and for five of the six days we were there, this was a typical morning. Light early morning frost would give way to sunshine and afternoon temperatures in the low 60s with winds ranging from light to strong; the first day of the NFC, though, started late in the hope that the steady rain would diminish. It didn't until lunchtime. Thank heavens I had decided to pack my riding coat.

From what I gather, though, a number of handlers were surprised at the difference in conditions from spring to late fall. There seemed to be a lot of high cover that made keeping track of hard-running dogs difficult and an energetic scout a requirement. Interestingly, even when conditions seemed ideal, no dogs seemed to be racking up high numbers of finds -- which made several of us wonder if all the broken cornstalks, dust, or pollen were really masking the bird-scent. The exception, I gather, was Ruger's seven finds during the second series of the NAFC, a run which earned him the title. This awesome picture is courtesy of Kim at Forestking who actually got to see his second run in the NAFC; she has just added a post of her own, too.

Being at a National event, especially without having to worry about my two crazy red-boys, was a great opportunity to put names to faces -- both human and canine -- and to see what national level competition looks like both in terms of the quality of performance and the techniques and tactics of professional and amateurs alike. But all of this took place against the backdrop of Cloverdale Farm and the generosity of the Leggett Family. They have dedicated the farm to hosting national level competition and were able to provide corrals, electrical hook-ups, and a beautiful clubhouse to support the competitors. I had heard this story (in the first paragraph) from the 2006 AKC Gun Dog Championships, but was amazed to see Mr. Leggett on the grounds every day checking in with folks, riding braces, and taking photographs. He lived up to his reputation of generosity and kindness by loaning Mike + Kim his truck while they took theirs to a garage in Danville to have some work done. A classy gentleman and host, indeed.

There was a social hour on Saturday night hosted by Lisa's best friend, Joyce, in Lisa's memory and I had taken a couple of pictures of Jozsi with me to show her the dog Lisa and I had enjoyed several happy conversations about. The bonus was being able to show them to Jozsi's father's owner, Betty Rozanek. She was so pleased to hear that one of Smokey's sons was bringing us so much pleasure.

If there can be any doubt as to where the fun of field trialing comes from, I hope this video conveys it. The clip is from the second series of the NFC -- the first qualifying series of both the NFC and NAFC was 30mins, the second series for those dogs called back after laying down a championship caliber performance was 45 mins with the first bird shot on course for a retrieve -- and featured Wayne & Trish James's Tzeitel and Jim Gingrich's Jack. I forget exactly why, but the gallery had gone on with Jim and was crossing the back loop of the course. It was still relatively early in the morning and the frost was melting and steaming off the grass -- and all of a sudden Jim gets a glimpse of his dog. And so the normal flat walk pace of the trial picked up as we all tried to get in on the action.

If riding a smooth-gaited horse in the crisp early morning to watch a bionic dog or two doesn't sound like fun, then trialing is not for you.

It was interesting to see how some dogs did or didn't make the transition to actual cover, meaning that it seemed like some of the hardest running dogs were so committed to running edges that they ran themselves out of contention; others got so caught up in hunting every edge that they either appeared to potter or were lost in one of the many cover-strips. Howard Shultz's Stormy was one example of a dog right on the edge of too-much speed -- it paid off for Howard in the NFC, earning him a 3rd place, but Stormy was out of touch for too long in the NAFC and was picked up for time. If I remember correctly, the same might have happened for Lotto, last year's and this year's repeat NFC.

Besides getting lots of horse time (and yes, that's me in my all-blaze all-the-time jacket -- the picture is courtesy of Grace Ann), the first real highlight of the week was watching Rogue run in the Derby. She ran like a dog possessed, covering ground like she knew exactly what she was supposed to. Carrie and Mike Syczylo have done a great job with her in the last six weeks -- and loved her enough to arrange with Mike & Kim to repeat the breeding that produced her. Uncharacteristically, during her run, she had two unproductive points to go with her two productive points that effectively put her out of the ribbons -- but as we discovered the next day, this might have been because she was about to go into season!

I did also get pressed into service to serve as a scout for Marcia and her nice dog, Topper, in the NAFC -- although sadly his run ended prematurely after bumping a bird. However, the real highlight was serving as my friend, Joan's 'horse tender.' Joan has been blessed with several good dogs, and one arguably great dog, Octane; between skiing and horse-riding, Joan has also survived a number of good accidents. She has a medical exemption from the AKC that allows her to have a 'horse tender' in addition to her scout -- and clearly the gallery for Ocky's run had never seen a tender in action before. And so, while she was working a pointed bird, her scout would gather up the horses, then grab the dog, and the tender would whip out a mounting stool and give Joan a boost to get back in the saddle. I earned the nickname 'Chair-man' for that.

But being out with Joan, all so very pleased that Octane had made it round the course clean and with birdwork, really reminded me that no matter how big the ribbon, all of this silliness has to be about having fun with your dog. Thank you, Joan!


Steph said...

Andrew - I always love to read your blogs. It feels like I'm right there with you. The video was very cool too! Next year lets see your dogs out there! ;)

Rod Michaelson said...

This field life is sure enjoyable. Liked your take on what Nationals are about. Next year I may need to make the trip to see the best of the best. The west has a nice collection of performance Vizslas and the competition is tough.

Jane said...

I loved it. (I'm really saying ME TOO to Steph's comment) The feeling of being out there with the dogs, the horses, and a specific objective that requires multi-species teamwork is exhilarating.

I just watched a great video on fox hunting at Equine Ink, you might enjoy it, come to think of it! Hunting dogs, horses, and people!

Dale Hernden said...

Sounds like a great time!