Yogi is currently off games with a sore paw, which means that so far this season, Islay has had all the action. Action is a bit of a misnomer, as most of the day is spent standing around, putting the field trial world to rights. Everybody thinks they’ve got a good dog – and a field trial is your opportunity to prove it. Normally the judges, conditions, and lady luck, conspire to prove you wrong. Occasionally it comes together, just often enough to keep you coming back for more…
On the plus side you’re forced to train to a higher standard than you might otherwise, this translates into a better performance in the field when shooting over your dog. You also get the pleasure of watching other dogs run and the opportunity to learn from them, their handlers, and the judges – so it’s not all bad.
So far this season we’ve run in eight trials.
The first was on grouse, in Scotland, my absolute favourite thing. I’d been shooting over Islay in the days leading up to the trial, so she had the advantage of already being ‘tuned in’ to grouse and expectations were high. She hunted well and soon came on point but unfortunately, on this occasion, the guns couldn’t connect with the birds. The second time she came on point the birds were skylined on the crest of a knoll. When I asked her to produce them, the judges deemed her to have taken a couple of extra steps before sitting to flush, so we were eliminated for unsteadiness. There are several eliminating faults including hard mouth, missing game, whining and being out of control, to name a few. Ultimately, all competitors were eliminated, meaning there were no awards.
The second trial was held on partridge in Lincolnshire sugar beet. The birds were running well ahead and the dogs were struggling to hold them. Only Islay and one other dog made it to the water. A requirement peculiar to HPR trials, is that a dog must complete a water test every time, before being eligible for an award. I was relaxed, way too relaxed, it turns out. She just wouldn’t do it – and we were out! Incredibly frustrating, we’d had the luck and done the hard bit, only to fall at the last hurdle. The only award, first place, went to a handsome German Shorthaired Pointer.
We were back on grouse for our third trial, this time in Yorkshire. It was a tricky day with a light variable wind that always seemed behind us. We made it through to the second round, but were eliminated when a bird, that the judges considered should have been pointed, lifted. These decisions are always the most contentious as they are the most nuanced and subjective. I believe my dogs, like all proficient pointing dogs, will acknowledge and point game they are familiar with, when given the opportunity. To do this, they simply have to be down wind and in range of the quarry. However, even on a piece of ground without topography, the wind is rarely consistent. Then there are the vagaries of scent, one of those things where the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. The handler will always be inclined to give their dog the benefit of the doubt, the judges unfortunately won’t. On that day no dogs made it to water.
Our fourth trial was also on Yorkshire grouse. This time conditions were much better. The birds were plentiful and the ground and guns were fantastic. For one reason or other Islay was the only dog taken to water. As this was a novice trial it was a simple seen water retrieve. I was a little nervous, because of the fiasco at the water last time, but she did the job. We were awarded third place with the judges withholding first and second. Judges withhold awards when they think the dog doesn’t deserve a higher award, despite no dog having beaten them on the day. I know standards need to be kept up but talk about damming with faint praise! It’s a negative practice that sucks the fun out of an already marginal activity.
We were back in Yorkshire for the fifth trial, this time after English partridge in sugar beet. It was a difficult day with a wind that kept changing its mind and no dogs made it to water. Islay was eliminated for failing to point a covey at the edge of her beat but did have a couple of nice HPRs and was rewarded with the Gun’s Award. This isn’t an official Kennel Club award, it usually consists of a brace of birds, given to the owner of the dog the guns enjoyed shooting over the most.
The sixth trial was in Suffolk on pheasant and partridge. Islay had a lovely point in a difficult backwind from which she went on to produce a single partridge, which she retrieved nicely. While this was going on, a pheasant lifted, I didn’t see where from as I was concentrating on Islay. The judges deemed it to be from ground that we had either covered, or should have covered, so we were out. Unfortunately, all dogs succumbed to one thing or another and none were taken to water.
Number seven was back on the same Lincolnshire ground we had previously failed the water test on. The host had organised the day thoughtfully, so we were always working into the wind. Conditions were fabulous and the great scenting conditions spurred the dogs on. Islay, like many of the dogs, hunted well. We filled our card, which means she had a successful hunt point and retrieve. She also had a slightly laboured blind retrieve, but the judges called us up for a third run as they wanted to see a bit more. She was now running much flatter, taking smaller bites of ground, indicating that the scent was deteriorating. I was relieved that the judges ended things quickly before we put ourselves out. However, I don’t think the last run did us any favours. At the end of the day three dogs were taken to water. Having witnessed a fabulous retrieve by a German Wirehaired Pointer, I didn’t think we were in contention for the top slot but was nonetheless on edge. I was standing in the same place, with one of the same judges, as when we had failed the water a month earlier. As this was all-aged trial, it was a blind retrieve across water, which she thankfully successfully completed this time. The clandestine practice we had put in at the local golf course pond obviously paid off. The German Wirehaired Pointer was awarded first place, a Vizsla that had beaten us last season was third and we were awarded fourth place.
We were lucky to be back in Yorkshire, on grouse again, for our eighth trial. We had a nice steady wind, but the grouse were spooky, moving off well ahead of the dogs. For some reason the dogs were also dwelling on residual scent. Islay had a couple of unproductive points which was disappointing but eventually managed to seal the deal with a complete HPR in addition to a blind retrieve. Three dogs went to water; a handsome German Wirehaired Pointer came first, a hard running German Shorthaired Pointer came second and Islay was awarded third place.
So, to date we’ve run in eight trials this season, in which Islay has earned two thirds and a fourth, to go with her second from last season. Close, but no cigar…. yet.
When Nick is not gallivanting around the country taking part in Field Trials, he is helping to design the very best dog beds and accessories for The Red Dog Company.