Yesterday I took part in the Yorkshire Sporting Spaniel Novice Cocker Stake on the Westerdale and Rosedale Estate in North Yorkshire. I’d travelled over the night before to do a bit of training and was booked into a B&B a few miles from the trial ground which meant I’d be getting a lie in for once!
How wrong was I? I was awake at work time just after 5am and struggled to get back to sleep, knowing I couldn’t have my fried breakfast until 8am. I got up and exercised all the dogs before munching my way through my brekkie before heading to the meeting point at a pub right on top of the North York Moors.
After collecting armbands and getting the briefing off the club and the keepers etc, it was a short drive onto the moor to where the trial would begin. I was drawn number 13, unlucky for some, however Fern had been going really well in training and the night before I was probably the most happy I’ve ever been with how she went.
The trial began in sieves, white grass, bracken and a few small patches of heather giving the dogs a chance to show themselves. There were a few long runs for the early dogs and it was getting progressively warmer as the sun got higher in the sky. There were some top names in the gallery and it was good to have a bit of craic and banter whilst waiting for our runs.
Around 11am I was called in to back up behind Peter Avery at number 11 and it wasn’t long before judge Steve Russell shouted that we were changing dogs and I was in next. Derek Lee was stewarding on my side and he said the rabbits had been sitting quite tight so make sure I didn’t miss any as I walked over to Steve. I’ve met Steve a couple of times in the last year or so and he explained where my beat was etc before asking me to cast Fern off. Over the next few minutes of my run he was calling me Stewart. I didn’t correct him because I was so focused on the dog until he said “Your name is Stewart isn’t it?” I said “No Steve, it’s Scott but I didn’t want to correct you incase you marked me down” We both had a chuckle and a bit of banter throughout my run about it.
Fern was going nicely, taking in ground on a backwind beat and working in towards me. We’d started in some sieves and bracken before it opened out a little into more white grass. We hunted for a while without a find when a rabbit was flushed and shot on the other side of the line. Steve was asked whether we wanted the retrieve and he did so I called Fern up and walked twenty yards or so over to try her on the rabbit.
The rabbit was maybe 50-60 yards away on a sloping bank across a small gutter and a broken wall in front of me. I cast Fern out over the wall and gutter and she started to pull right slightly. I stopped her and cast her back towards the rabbit, and then she needed one more to get onto the line before picking the rabbit up and was on her way back. She put the rabbit down a couple of times on her way back to readjust it in her mouth but delivered to hand.
They were changing dogs on the left so I had the opportunity to give Fern a quick drink as it was getting warmer still. We started again, this time in a thicker section of sieves and she soon flushed a rabbit which was shot out in the open around 20 yards. Steve told me to send her and she was straight out and back with it. That was my run done.
I came out of the line and Derek and my mate Andy who was carrying the game bag said it’d be a nice tidy run. I quickly got some water and leftover breakfast sausages into Fern ahead of her second run as she blowing a bit with the heat and it’d been quite a long, stop-start run.
The trial move ground a couple of times to different allotments of sieves and bracken etc with a few dogs going out for missing game or moving etc. The last allotment we were working through was on a gentle uphill slope with what looked like a biggish warren at the top. I was soon backing up Peter again and the nerves were starting to kick in.
Peter got his flush and retrieve after a long run and I was in under David Sowerby who explained where we were heading. I cast Fern off and she was flying through the sieves and bracken needing very little whistle. It wasn’t long before she put a rabbit up which was shot maybe 25 yards up the slope near a wall. “Send your dog” and off Fern went, straight out and back with no handling. I cast her off again and she flushed another rabbit which was shot in roughly the same place. David asked Steve if he wanted the retrieve and Graeme West was brought over and picked it with little handling.
We carried on and Fern went into a patch of high bracken and went up a gear. Out popped a rabbit and I instinctively blew the stop whistle as it ran forward. A split second later Ferns head popped out. I thought she was moving so I blew the whistle a second time, however by the time I’d blown it she was already sitting watching the rabbit away, she’d merely moved out of the bracken to see where it was going. After that David said that’ll do me and my run was over.
I walked out and Derek and Andy Kirk said she’d gone really well and Derek asked me why the bloody hell I’d blown my whistle twice. I should have trusted the dog, but in that split second between seeing the rabbit and her head coming out of the bracken I made the decision to put a whistle in to make sure she didn’t move.
There were only a couple of dogs left to run and it wasn’t long before the judges had declared the trial over after totting up their marks. I’d finished, I was over the moon. We got back to the cars and I gave Fern a drink and quickly exercised the other dogs before we were called over by the judges for the awards.
They announced the COMs first and my name wasn’t called out, 4th is an improvement for me I thought. Then 4th was called and it wasn’t me either. Then 3rd and to my surprise that wasn’t me. At this point I was wondering whether I was not getting anything at all as I hadn’t expecting to be up there, and then my name was read out as being 2nd. I was chuffed to bits. The work and effort had finally paid off.
I spoke with both Steve and David after the trial and they said the difference was readjusting on the retrieve and me putting the stop whistle in twice on the flush of the rabbit. It’s amazing how these little things can cost you in the long run. The trial was won by Will Clulee so I can’t complain really, a top handler with a good dog will always be hard to beat.
The 3 and a quarter hour drive home seem to go much quicker than normal with lots of congratulatory calls and texts coming through.
1st – Trochry Tinker of Poolgreen – Will Clulee
2nd – Creechdale Phoebe of Amberquest – Scott Mossop
3rd - Dakotagun Bilboben of Pixiefen – Paul Seaman
4th – Poolgreen Bolton At Meldarly – Derek Lee (Handler Will Clulee)
Gunstone Clover – Tom Skelly
Ribbleshead Vixen – Dereck Nichols
Deepfleet Decus – Peter Avery