This was the Muncaster Gundog Club Novice AV Stake and I was one of two cockers on the card. There were some familiar names on the card, including my two mates Ian Clarke and Paul Matthews (Yasker and Fusey) who’ve been brilliant with me as a new starter in terms of tips, advice and inviting me to training days.
The conditions were pretty good; it was a lot cooler than I was expecting, but still relatively humid and overcast, with only a slight breeze. Remembering what I went out for on the same ground just a few weeks ago, I knew Fern’s ground treatment would have to be thorough and that proved to be the case, with a couple of the early dogs going out for missing game.
Once we’d got the formalities out of the way, we were into the trial, Mick Huitson, with his dog which eventually got 2nd place started on the left at number 2, and was really nice to watch from the gallery. He had a few finds and a couple of retrieves, however Number 1, who’s name escapes me had a really long run. Mick’s run soon finished and the only other cocker in the stake was up next, so naturally I took an interest. It was going nicely, however it moved on the flush and he was out.
As the dogs went in, many were being eliminated for pegging, the rabbits were sat incredibly tight. This did nothing to ease my nerves. As a newcomer to the sport, I’m learning all the time and I found it unsettling that these dogs, being run by some top spaniel men were finding it difficult, and up next was little old me with a cocker who had finished a trial.
I was in at number 15 so I had quite a while before I was to run. I watched my two mates Yasker and Fusey go out and it was then that I was thinking that I’d do well to finish this trial. I watched on as number 11 went out for failure to find a rabbit that had found its way to the opening of a hole, and number 6 went out on the same retrieve. I was then backing up number 13 who went out for pegging and I thought to myself “This is going to be short and sweet”.
I was in under Martin Smee first who put me at ease and explained where my beat was and told me to take my lead off. Fern sat waiting the click of my fingers whilst the lead went into my pocket, “Click” and she was off. She was going really well, I was holding her tight to make sure she never missed anything and taking my time to make sure she covered the whole beat.
We were in thick sieves and she was flying about, suddenly she sat up. I looked, but nothing came out. I clicked her in again and she pushed a rabbit up and it was shot 20 yards or so in front by Ian Openshaw. I knew she wouldn’t have a perfect mark on it as the sieves were tall and thick. I sent her for it and she veered slightly to the left. Stopped her on the whistle and cast her right and she found it and the rabbit was soon back to hand. Relief!
I cast her off again and she hunted for a little while before sitting up again, I saw a rabbit running forward through the sieves but nothing came out. I hunted her towards where I’d last seen it but there was a hole, so I assumed it had made ground. A few more yards of hunting and that was my first run done. I was chuffed at how she’d gone, and was relieved to get through the first run!
I came back out and headed towards the gallery. Sarah my partner had come to watch, and it’s a bit of a joke between us now that I’ll never finish a trial. So I jokingly started to take my number off my arm, I saw her look up to the sky as if to say “Not again”. She was stood with Yasker and Fusey. Yasker was also stewarding, and so he had crossed me out in his book and gave me some stick when I told him I was just winding Sarah up. He was going to put me out anyway he said because he’d already scribbled over my number!
I gave Fern a drink of water and a bit of mars bar cake in preparation for her next run, which I’d overestimated in terms of how quickly I’d be back in on the other side. There were only 3 odd numbered dogs left in, and 1 of them had finished their second run. I’d barely finished my Cornish pasty before I was back in.
This time I was in under Bob Crowther who explained what he wanted to see. I cast Fern off and she was going even better than the first run. A loose rabbit was shot and she went out and picked it and brought it straight back. We carried on and she indicated again but nothing came out, there must have been something their just before. Anyway, we carried on and got to a sieve bed around an old broken building. A flush but it didn’t produce a shot, so we carried on.
At this point I could see she was starting to slow down a bit and wasn’t keeping her nose down as much, and checking back on me, but suddenly she sat up and out came a rabbit. Simon Dixon shot it 20 yards front. I thought to myself, great, all she has to do is go out and pick this and that’ll probably be me done and I’ll have finished my first trial. “Send your dog” said Bob. Cast her out, a quickly redirect and she had it, “Get in there I thought”. She didn’t run back with her normal enthusiasm and I was stood in the middle of a patch of high thick sieves. She got to within two yards of me, put the rabbit down and stood over it panting. “Pip pip pip” She didn’t move. Gutted, that was me out.
Thanked Bob who apologised, but I said there’s nothing to apologise for mate. Trudged back to the gallery and couldn’t believe it, within 2 seconds of probably finishing and she did that! Cockers!!!!
The trial finished soon after that and Jim O’Connor had won with his springer, Mick Huitson 2nd and Nick Powell and Mick Walsh both got COMs. I chatted with Martin to get some feedback on my run after he asked “What the bloody hell happened to you?” He was really helpful and complementary, and said the only thing I got knocked on was keeping her too tight, he’d have liked to see her go a bit more. That’s my fault for being worried about missing game so I can work on that, I need to be more confident in her. He’d given me an A with a slight knock for ground treatment. I spoke with Bob and he’d said much the same and an A- was probably on the cards, thoughts echoed by Simon Dixon who was one of the guns on my second run.
Simon has given me some stuff to work on, which is great. I really value his opinion; he’s a top bloke and trainer. I also need to work on the dogs’ fitness; it was evident that with a short turn around between runs she suffered a bit in a second run.
So, despite going out again, on reflection there were a lot of positives, with good comments from both judges. My next trial is on the 3rd October so I’ve a couple of weeks to iron out a few little things and get her fitness up. Hopefully I’ll manage to finish on soon!!!!