Just got back from a weekend down in northern Virginia at the Old Dominion Vizsla Club trial on the grounds of the very beautiful Blandfield Plantation. I was asked by my wife to be out the house one weekend in March so she could do our taxes -- and then my field-trial-fairy-godmother, Joan, asked if I'd care to run her nice little (Field Champion) dog, Geena, in a couple of amateur stakes to see if a) I could earn a placement or two towards my judging qualifications, and b) we might get a few more points towards finishing Geena's AFC. That was all the excuse I needed.
Jozsi isn't ready to run yet, so I elected to enter Momo in Amateur Gun Dog as well to merit the six-hour drive. We met up with Jamie Fountain, the professional trainer who is getting Geena and Joan's great dog, Octane, ready for the VCA National Gun Dog Championships at the end of the month. I had first met Jamie at the VCA Nationals in Danville back in 2009 and was really pleased to spend a bunch of time with him. In addition to scouting for Jamie in the Open Gun Dog stake, I also ran his Brittany pup, Chip, in Amateur Walking Puppy, and was then able to scout for my southern friends, Michelle and Stephanie, with their Derby dogs, Luna, Frida, and Reece. All three of them ended up with a ribbon, but amidst three solid performances, the highlight came while scouting Reece.
His third find (of six) was that thing of complete magic that we all want to see a pointing dog do, a full 180 skid stop, high and tight front and back, and a bird too uncertain to move because of his precision and certainty of motion. It was a truly lovely moment in a very competent run. And while at least one other dog ran bigger and required some actual scouting, Reece looked so much like an aspiring, and potentially great, broke dog that he came away with the blue ribbon. I have been to a number of trials recently where it seemed that 'run' was being prized more than anything -- even if the dog was gone for minutes, never found on a bird, and brought forward by a scout -- and this was reassuring to me that even for a Derby stake, bird finding and style were being placed on a premium.
Shortly thereafter it started to rain. The birds started to get wet and the wind even less predictable. Joan's Geena has a heck of a nose and, like Momo, is a bird-finding machine. After breaking away like a bat out of hell and a solid first find, sadly our AGD run together was cut short as Geena then found herself on an exposed slope and stuck a point. I was already working the bird in front of her when the wind puffed from a slightly different direction and indicated that the bird was in fact running behind her, and she did a full 180 to indicate her mistake. I was allowed to relocate her, worked the bird successfully, and sent her on. However with the other dog committing a felony on a random resident pheasant ahead of us, and the rain coming down, Geena's previous footwork was sufficient to now get her picked up and end the brace. In the meanwhile, Momo had gotten bumped to the final brace and hit his first bird within 3-4mins. Three more finds, a perfect stop-to-flush, and a really nice run in the back course, and he and I were having a great time!!! My hunting buddy (who's only been trialed from a horse once before) came through like a champ. He placed FOURTH!!! I was told by one judge that if he hadn't taken a couple of small steps before I got in front of him to work the bird on a couple of his points, he would have placed higher. I knew he'd probably creep some after he saw his first bird, the steps an attempt to stay in contact with a wet, running bird -- and I couldn't really fault him for it. But his style was good and his footwork after the flush great, so I was still really satisfied.
I am also very excited to serve as the official reporter for the 2011 running of the Armstrong-Umbel Endurance Classic, a two-hour wild bird stake under the auspices of the American Field. For those of you who don't subscribe to the Field -- and especially those of us that live in the snowy northeast and would rather be working dogs than digging -- it's almost like a time-travel trip getting that white-covered magazine every week. It's like being a kid again, literally waiting beside the letter box every Wednesday morning for my comics to drop through -- Warlord and then 2000AD -- so's I'd have them to read on the way to school. In this age of Tweeting and Facebooking, actually reading paragraphs devoted to trials big and small all across the country, sometimes months after they'd happened, feels delightfully idiosyncratic.
But then again, I like shooting a hammer gun.
In any case, I was flattered to be asked -- and I hope that I can not merely accurately capture the details of what happens but also the dogs' enthusiasm and application. If I can come remotely close to the skill of the great reporters -- Bill Allen, William Brown, William Bruette, amongst others -- I will be pleased with myself.
Next weekend is back to Virginia to meet up with Jamie again, this time for the Conestoga Vizsla Club trial -- and hopefully Geena and I can figure each other out a little better and maybe Momo can squeak out another meritorious performance. Wish us luck.