There comes a point when you realise that with a little more effort on your part, your dog really could be good enough to enter a trial. If the thought of taking part worries you, why not spectate for a while? An article by Jonathon Preston of Hawshill Kennels
Field Trials and Tribulations.
Field trials have been held in the UK since 1875 and gained in popularity in the early 20th Century. Their purpose is to assess the working ability of gundogs in a game shooting scenario. In the UK trials are regulated by the Kennel Club and are held for all sub-groups of gundog (Retrievers, Spaniels, Pointers and Setters and breeds the hunt, point and retrieve). Not only are trials a fun and somewhat addictive pastime, they also contribute to the development of the breed. Eliminating faults include hard mouth (i.e damaging game during a retrieve), whining and unsteadiness. By selectively breeding from dogs that have achieved success in trials then genetic traits can be reduced, and that can only be good news for the dog owner, whether they are an aspiring trialler, wish to work their dogs or simply have a biddable and level headed pet.
Trials are held on a shoot day, either walked up or driven. Dogs are ‘run’ under independent judges and, depending on the breed of dog, will be expected to hunt, flush and retrieve game including rabbits, duck and pheasant. There is a story of a handler in East Anglia who was surprised when, after sending his Golden Retriever for a bird saw it returning with a very much alive piglet!
Trials are held by various gundog clubs around the country. Many of these clubs also run training days and social events and membership of your local clubs is highly recommended. Trials are often over-subscribed and so if you wish to take trialling seriously then membership of numerous clubs, as well as the ability to travel far and wide, is essential.
There are four types of trial, novice, all-aged, open and championship. Novice trials are a ‘stepping-stone’ to opens with all-aged stakes sitting quite uncomfortably between the two. Preference in the open draw is given to dogs that have won a novice. The championship is the blue ribbon event of the year, held between all open stake winners for that season.
People are often nervous of entering a trial for the first time, seeing the sport as a ‘closed shop’. It is a good idea to attend a few trials as a spectator (although this must be arranged with the club secretary beforehand) and attend trial training days. At Hawshill we offer such days, parties of handlers can come along to train their dogs under controlled conditions. This year we are also organising training seminars with top trial handlers, see www.hawshill.co.uk for further details.