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chiendog

I watched field trials in England. Ask me anything!

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chiendog

I was going to make this post in the field trial subsection, but figured I would eventually end up not just writing about field trials, but more about what I learned from the the wider community of Pointer/Setter folks and their dogs over there. But first, a bit of background, then a request. 

Background: I'm writing a book about the British and Irish pointing breeds and, as was the case for my book on the Continental breeds, I vowed to see the breeds I describe in their native lands. And although it took me longer than I thought it would (years!) to get my a** over to England to see Pointers and Setters in field trials, I finally did it last month. Me and Mrs. Chiendog flew over in mid July and spent a couple of weeks driving on the "wrong" side of the road from one field trial to the next in Northern England. Since we got back last Saturday, I've been editing a sh*t ton of photos (8K!) and jotting down some of my thoughts about the things we saw, things we learned and the great people and dogs we met.

 

Request: I will soon share photos and stories from our trip right here in this thread as well as on my blog and various photo-sharing/social media accounts. But I think I would do a much better job of it if I had a bit of input from the fine folks in this group. Specifically, I would appreciate your asking me about things you'd like to know about field trials in the UK. I have a list of the things I want to discuss, things that I think will interest a lot of people here, but I know I will miss a bunch of stuff. So if you are curious about how things are done over there, what the dogs/game/terrains are like etc. please ask. I claim no great expertise, but I did spend a good deal of time on the moors hanging out with actual experts from England, Scotland and Ireland. I did my best to pick their brains about their dogs and I got to see quite a few Pointers and Setters in action on red grouse. I hope I will be able to answer most of your questions, and I am sure they will help me flesh out the 'field trials in the UK' chapter of my book. 

Thanks in advance!

Here's a photo my wife took of me at the trials last week. I may look calm, cool and collected, but on the inside I am freaking out and doing a happy dance. The entire experience was incredible, like a dream come true.  

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chiendog

Here is a photo that more or less sums up how the combination of dogs, handlers, judges, gunners and birds works during the first phase of a typical point. The dog, just in front of the handler in the middle, has 'dropped' to the flush of the birds. The gunner, on the right, then fires a shot in the air while the judge, on the left, watches to see if the dog is steady.

The next phase is quite interesting, and something I had never seen before in North America or Europe. You see, with Red Grouse on the moors, you very often get more than just one flush. Sometimes only a single bird takes of, or a pair, or half the covey, or the whole covey. You never know. And that means once the dog has pointed, the bird(s) flushed and the gun fired, the dog and handler still have work to do in that same area.

 

They must 'work out' or 'clear or clean out' the ground in front of it. That is to say, it needs to carefully move about the area where the bird(s) just flushed to find and point any others that may still be there. The handler moves beside or behind the dog as it does this 'working out', but never in front. The handler is also not allowed to touch the dog during this phase, which can last for a few minutes as bird after bird is pointed and flushes. 

I'll try to describe the why's and wherefore's of this unique aspect of British field trials with a few more photos in a subsequent post. 


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Larry Brown

I had a chance to walk Scottish moors behind British field trial champions on my first trip over there (2001).  Grouse numbers were really down, so we weren't shooting.  Interesting comparison to our pointers and setters.  Theirs seemed much more "controlled".  And they're definitely not breeding for 12 o'clock tails.  I liked their dogs a lot.

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chiendog
55 minutes ago, Larry Brown said:

I had a chance to walk Scottish moors behind British field trial champions on my first trip over there (2001).  Grouse numbers were really down, so we weren't shooting.  Interesting comparison to our pointers and setters.  Theirs seemed much more "controlled".  And they're definitely not breeding for 12 o'clock tails.  I liked their dogs a lot.


I agree completely, the only difference on my trip was that bird numbers were off the charts! On one moor in particular it was tricky finding ground that had low enough bird numbers to actually let the dogs range out. We did find such ground though, and the dogs did range out a good distance, at speed. But you are right, the entire thing is much more controlled in many ways compared to trials here. Both require extremely high levels of training, experience and practice, and I admire the folks and dogs that compete in them. By way of analogy, watching field trials in North America and on the Continent is like watching amazing electric guitar players shredding incredible solos. They blow you away by the sheer audacity of the performances, and you aren't surprised at all when the volume gets kicked up to 11or you hear a bit of feedback. UK trials on the other hand are like watching two virtuoso violin players playing some amazingly complex piece of chamber music. You are blown away by the precision of their performance...and any missed notes stick out like sore thumbs :)

 

 

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RookieEP

How much handling is going on during trials?  

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Jazz4Brazo

How elitist are these events i.e. out of reach of the common middle class man or woman?

 

Pierre 

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chiendog
1 hour ago, RookieEP said:

How much handling is going on during trials?  

Great question, and not easy to answer in just a few words. On the one hand, you could say that there is a lot of handling. But you could argue for the opposite..that there really isn't much handling at all. It really depends on the definition of handling and on what phase of the dog's run you look at.

 

For example, when a dog goes on point, the handler is expected to move up to the dog and then (and only then) the dog should move forward towards the bird(s) until the flush. On the Continent,  handlers can actually touch their dogs (lightly) and urge them forward verbally. In English trials, the handler is not allowed to touch the dog and the only sounds they make are a few clicks of their fingers. So I would say that in that regard there is less handling than on the Continent, but it would be impossible to compare to North American trials since that is not what happens after a point.

 

Conversely, when another dog is on point and your dog must back, you can (and handlers often do) use a whistle to stop your dog. You can also use a whistle or verbal command to remind it to stay steady. Obviously the less whistle/words the better, and it is always best to see a dog back or remain steady without any command. So that would be an example of more handling than in the US/Canada. But in England, the handlers are almost completely silent while their dogs run. There is no 'signing' to the dogs, no commands beyond the occasional whistle to turn them and only a few gestures with the arms to cast a dog to the left or right or to indicate a point to the judge. 

Bottom line: at first, my answer would have been 'quite a lot'. But after watching a bunch more trials and really paying attention and thinking about the rules and traditions of the sport, my answer would now be that there is less handling going on that one would think. And the handling that does go on is an integral part of the performance and not really that noticeable. 

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chiendog
2 hours ago, Jazz4Brazo said:

How elitist are these events i.e. out of reach of the common middle class man or woman?

 

Pierre 


Historically the entire Pointer and Setter scene was absolutely dominated by the rich and powerful. Keeping, training and transporting Pointers and Setters was incredibly expensive back in the day and in order to run them on game you either had to own a lot of land (i.e.: be rich) or have have solid connections to folks who did (i.e. have rich friends). In addition, class divisions were much sharper back then, so not only did you have to have money to get involved, you more or less had to be from the 'right' parts of society. Just read the names of the most prominent breeders from back in the day. They were all lord something or other or duke such and such. So yes, field trials were completely out of reach of the common middle class man or woman. 

 

Today however, that is no longer the case. The vast majority of folks that breed, train and trial Pointers and Setters in the UK are middle or upper middle class folks with a bit of disposable income. Yes, there are still some very wealthy people involved and the notion that field trialing is a sport for the 1% still lingers.  But what prevents most folks from getting into those breeds and field trials is not a lack of money. It is the fact that Pointers and Setters are considered specialist breeds. They are bred, trained and used to hunt specific kinds of birds on specific kinds of land such as Red Grouse on the moors, grey partridge in stubble fields, snipe in bogs etc. And that kind of land and game not easy to find or access. So that is why those breeds are now relatively rare there and HPRs (versatiles) are far more popular with hunters who want a pointing dog. Yes, money helps, and as mentioned, a few wealthy people are still involved. But Pointer and Setter field trials are not expensive to enter (the prize money is peanuts as well), and most of the people we met at the trials were like me and my wife, regular folks with regular jobs and lives.  


 

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Kansas Big Dog

So, just to clarify, the trial pointers and setters in the UK are not broke to wing, shot and fall? They actually flush the bird after a staunch point?

 

And by the way, thanks for sharing this, very interesting.

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Urban_Redneck
1 hour ago, Kansas Big Dog said:

So, just to clarify, the trial pointers and setters in the UK are not broke to wing, shot and fall? They actually flush the bird after a staunch point?

 

And by the way, thanks for sharing this, very interesting.

 

Dogs are "broke" but, "broke" differently. From what I have seen in France, when the hunter reaches the pointing dog, on signal, they approach the bird(s) together,  dogs typically at a low creep, dog holds on flush and shot. It's beautiful when done well.

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chiendog
2 hours ago, Kansas Big Dog said:

So, just to clarify, the trial pointers and setters in the UK are not broke to wing, shot and fall? They actually flush the bird after a staunch point?

 

And by the way, thanks for sharing this, very interesting.

No, they are all very steady, very broke..but as Urban_Redneck explained, after the dog has established a point, it is then expected to move towards the bird along with the handler, on command to 'put the bird(s) up'. It really is something else to see, and it can be very effective in hunting situations (I've been doing it with my dogs for the last few years, works well with sharptails, pheasants and snipe). 

With red grouse on the moors, it is actually super important that the dog not only do that sort of thing once, after the initial point, but also after the first bird(s) have flushed. The judge wants to see the dog "clear the ground' or 'work out its birds' to ensure that all the birds that were there when the dog initially pointed have flushed. And it makes sense when you realize that the entire trial is based on an "ordinary day's shooting" (which for most of us is anything but ordinary). 

Here's what an ordinary day's shooting entails in that context:

A handler with a Pointer or Setter sets off into the wind across a moor with two 'guns' (shooters), one on each side of him/her. The dog quarters the ground in front of the handler who is doing his/her best to find birds for the 'guns'. Once the dog points, the handler and guns move into position (handler next to the dog, guns on either side). Ideally, the dog and handler would put up a couple of birds and the guns would bag them. The dog would remain steady to wing, shot and fall, and give the guns time to reload (this practice goes back to black powder days, so imagine how long that took!) Once the guns are ready, the handler and dog would move forward again (some dogs creep slowly ahead, others move with a more dramatic thrusting motion, but always in control). They would then put up a few more birds...and remain steady to wing shot and fall. Rince and repeat until all the birds in the covey have flushed. Then return to quartering the ground looking for another point. 

So that is basically what the judge is imagining as the dog works. He's looking to see that if the dog and handler had guns on either side, they would provide the best opportunities for them to bag as many birds as they can. And, if birds are scarce, they are also looking to see if the dog is at least putting on a stylish enough and pretty enough performance to make a walk on the moors worthwhile. 

Here is a video of Pointers (and I think a GSP or two) working red grouse with a handler and guns on the moors. The handler explains what he wants/needs the guns to do at the beginning of the video and there are some OK shots of how the action unfolds. Compared to what a judge wants in a field trial, it is not quite perfect work, but you should get the general idea of what the trial rules are based on. 
 

 

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Ridge Runner

So, are the results on any particular day based on judging against a standard where all who meet those goals receive an "award", such as NAVHDA competitions or are they head to head competitions where there is only one winner in a class on any given day, such as FDSB/American Field field trials or some other system?

 

 

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chiendog
20 minutes ago, Ridge Runner said:

So, are the results on any particular day based on judging against a standard where all who meet those goals receive an "award", such as NAVHDA competitions or are they head to head competitions where there is only one winner in a class on any given day, such as FDSB/American Field field trials or some other system?

 

 

It is head to head competition. At the end of the trial, a winner is declared. Also second and third place awards are given and often a 'gun's' or 'keeper's' choice (the dog that the guns and/or keeper thought was best). At one trial, I was given the honour of actually giving out the award/trophy to the winners!

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Larry Brown
19 hours ago, chiendog said:

 

. By way of analogy, watching field trials in North America and on the Continent is like watching amazing electric guitar players shredding incredible solos. They blow you away by the sheer audacity of the performances, and you aren't surprised at all when the volume gets kicked up to 11or you hear a bit of feedback. UK trials on the other hand are like watching two virtuoso violin players playing some amazingly complex piece of chamber music. You are blown away by the precision of their performance...and any missed notes stick out like sore thumbs :)

 

 

I'd say that's a very apt analogy.

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Dave Quindt
23 minutes ago, chiendog said:

It is head to head competition. At the end of the trial, a winner is declared. 

You sure about that?  My understanding was that there is a standard that all placing dogs must meet, and just like in traditional American field trials, placements go to the dogs who best reflect the standard and/or meet its minimum requirements. I know that’s the way British retriever trials are run.  

 

True head to head trials are pretty rare; formats like NSTRA and the various find/flush/shoot formats are the obvious examples. 

 

 

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