This past weekend was the CVVC's December walking trial. We had so (too) many dogs last year that we petitioned to expand it to a two-day trial -- and managed to enroll 103 starters for 8 stakes. Zoiks! I know we turned away some folks and wonder if the level of interest was because we are both the last trial of the northeast season and because it was a walking trial only. In any case, it was great as a member of the trial committee to see both familiar faces and a fair number of new ones, too. It was also great to work with a committed team of fellow volunteers to make everything go smoothly and with as much fun as possible!
With training still in full session for both my boys and Meg able to keep them at home, I was able to give a full two-day commitment to helping keep the trial moving along. It would have been lovely to have them there for them to meet friends, but I couldn't have relaxed quite as much or focussed on the tasks at hand... namely organizing the raffle and bird-planting.
And bird-plant I did, all from horseback and, with just a couple of braces' exception, all off a wrangler's horse named Travis. I've ridden some scary-ass wranglers' horses in the past -- but Travis was great. 'Great' is a relative term... he isn't Cypress, Larry, or PC... but for a wrangler's horse forced to put up with a multitude of mixed-ability riders for long hours and low pay, he did great as a bird-planter's horse. For the less-familiar, horses have to fulfill a variety of functions at field-trials: gallery horses, judges' horses, scouting horses, bird-planting horses, and handler's horses. Arguably, a gallery horse just needs to be able to stop, start, and follow the rest of its pack (although one should never entirely presume that a gallery horse has been desensitized to gunfire); in most cases, a judge's horse needs to be comfortable at the front and willing to go off on its own with its rider (ie. not be 'herd-bound'); the same is true for a bird-planter's horse, although the horse also needs to be desensitized to the flapping, cheeping quail in the birdbag on its back; scouting and handling horses cannot be herd-bound and must also park out, ie. when the rider has dismounted and dropped reins, the horse needs to stand still and not wander off. In short, a field trial horse needs to be pretty skilled, if not merely familiar with the game itself.
I did encourage at least one newcomer to come check out the whole field-trial game... and why not with a Puppy? After coming to the VCCNE's Versatility Day back in August, John came down from Portland with his Luna for the Open Puppy stake on Sunday. Luna is a recent pup from an Octane and Seeker pairing and I can see both dogs in her. While she was heavily outnumbered by older, bigger, GSPs, she did well for her first outing -- and I hope John will stick with it at least till our Spring trial!
And if I am not going to be running dogs at a trial, I am pretty content to ride a horse instead. And so I spent 12hrs over the next two days atop Travis (mostly), trotting along with the judges in each stake, and fast-balling quail into the cover. One of the highpoints was a compliment on my horsemanship from someone who has since become a friend. In any case, Tom was one of the first folk to encourage me to handle Mr. Enthusiasm from a horse but for whatever reason, hasn't really seen me ride in 5-6mos. It was a nice bonus on a cold, blustery morning.
I did have my first unscheduled equine dismount, however. Travis and I had taken a cast off to a likely spot to drop a bird (after some 5hrs in the saddle, I might add) and, once done, he decided he wanted to canter back to the rest of the group. No problem. However, he caught a front hoof, dropped a shoulder, and in that moment of clarity I realized I was going to forward roll off to the side into the marshy turf. Which I did, back to my feet. I would have done a full gymnastic arm-raise, but the horse was now loose and didn't need to be spooked further by the Russian judge raising the '10' scorecard. Someone in the group gathered Travis up; he and I reassured each other we were both fine and still loved each other; and off we went again for another hour or so.
Gin at High Mountain Horse encouraged me to share the following: at Nationals I was riding horses I knew and who knew me and got in the (bad) habit of riding in a ballcap. I realized my horsemanship had significantly improved during Nationals as I survived my horse being spooked by another that had broken free and was running wild -- but spooked so hard it broke its curb chain (and thereby rendered the 'brakes' largely inoperable); a horse that slipped in the mud and went to both front knees before getting up; and another that reared as I was trying to mount. After that week of incidents but no mishaps, Audra and I vowed to start wearing our helmets again. As Gin said in e-mail to me:
"I don't ride in a helmet, but rarely run around like you do. Head injuries are all too real with horses... Horses do trip! And when we fall, our head does tend to be the first to touch down. I really, really want to keep my brain. If I start endurance running, I'm investing in a helmet. My brain is worth it."
And that's all I have to say about that.
Mercifully before the truly crapulent weather beset us today, I did manage to get a nice training day in with the boys at our friend Andrew's property upstate to keep them honest. And both boys did well. I am grateful to have found a quail breeder who, however he does it, raises spooky, well-flying quail. And I am pretty much planting the birds with little or no dizzying. I know my boys can find birds, but the fine-tuning I'm looking for is how they deal with running birds, wild flushes, and bumps.
Andrew was able to come out for most of it and serve as a gunner for The Mominator during his two big runs. It's nice to have a second set of hands, especially when they're deft with a shotgun. Here's Momo with Andrew in the background ready to drop the quail. What's interesting about the two boys' personalities is that Momo might get too close to a bird and pop it unexpectedly, but will immediately re-calibrate and rarely pop another. Jozsi seems to stand off his birds pretty well for the first round, then gets a little cocky, and then always manages to bring it back around.
This picture is from Mr. 200mph's first run of the day, and as much as I love The Mominator, watching The Beast eat up ground and then stick a point at a skid is just a thrill-ride. On his first run of close to 45mins, he found and handled a half-dozen birds including this lovely high pose roughly 10yds from the birds. He is now getting to a point where, if I lose sight and then sound of him, I know to sing his praises and just start looking for him standing someplace.
His tail hasn't quite settled yet, but we've begun to hit a nice groove where he knows what will make me happy. While this is arguably a mixed blessing, but his stop-to-flush is much more reliable than not -- and in the two instances where he thought he would take a step to be absolutely sure, my spooky quail got up, flushed and ruined his party without me having to do anything. On a couple of instances, he did establish a point in dense hedgerow cover and I couldn't produce a bird for him - presumably because the bird had run on hearing me approach -- and I was able to send him on to relocate. And while he didn't subsequently find one of those two birds, as importantly he didn't let his fiery personality get the better of him and try to tackle a bird on the ground. This is also progress and a sign that his young brain is beginning to mature and settle.
Hopefully the weather won't close out our training season too soon. Things seem to be coming together for both of them!