I called my shoot captain up to let him know that I wouldn’t be there on Saturday and he wished me good luck. The way I looked at it was that the trial was on a Saturday, so I didn’t have to take time off work, it was only 2 hours away so relatively close and that there was no pressure on me at all as a novice dog.
Saturday came and I had a bit of a lie in, a 6:15am alarm, that’s unknown on a trial day!! I got the other dogs walked and fed, loaded up the car and made my way to the M6, up two junctions to Junction 38 and across to the Raby Estate. As I got closer and started to ascend, the clear sky quickly turned to a thick mist which made driving a bit perilous but I made it to the meeting point in good time.
Some of the top guys were there Clulee, Openshaw, English, Scott, Skidmore etc and the nerves started to kick in. I gave Fern a bit of a blast on the grass to clean herself and stretch her legs before picking up my armband and waiting for the brief. Once the brief was over we were back in the cars and away to the ground where the trial was to be held.
I was in at number 1, what a baptism of fire. An unqualified novice dog, who has only finished one trial opening up an open trial on an open bit of ground with the whole gallery able to see my run. Nervous? You betcha!!!
I was in under Martin Smee and was starting on an uphill slope with bracken and sieves, ideal rabbit ground. I cast Fern off and away she went, taking in her ground with speed and investigating the cover. I had a stone wall on my right and quite a big gap before the gun on my left so was trying to keep her pattern wide whilst keeping control of her.
In the end I took the decision to guide her around a little, going to where I thought game would be and this soon paid off. She indicated and two rabbits bolted from the sieves, the one that ran forward being shot by the gun on my right, I lost sight of the one on the left, but soon found out it’d been missed. “Send your dog” said Martin. Gave Fern a “Back” and away she went, straight on the line of the rabbit, winded it on the brow of a little hump and brought it straight back to hand. Relief.
We carried on and a rabbit was shot on the left hand side. The dog was tried and failed so I was called over. I’d seen where it had bowled over and cast Fern out, maybe 35 yards out. She took a little bit of handling to get her to the patch of sieves where the rabbit had gone into and she made a thorough attempt of hunting it through but came back with nothing. Both judges went out and there was a hole on the edge of the sieves which the rabbit must have made it to.
A short hunt followed before Martin said he’d seen enough and to call her up. I’d completed a run in an Open trial. I was chuffed. On my way out of the line Derek Lee commented on how well she’d gone, I thought she’d pulled me a little, but I’m still learning what the judges are looking for so I took his comment as a positive.
I made it back to the gallery and breathed. Fern was sneezing constantly and I had to get Vicky Williams to help me pull a rush from up her nostril. I got a few comments off people in the gallery that she’d had a good run etc and I was on cloud nine.
I knew it’d be a while before I was back in so got Fern’s coat on her and gave her some tit bits before her next run. The trial continued with some very good dog work. A few dogs went out for missing rabbits but overall the dog work was impressive to watch, Ian Openshaw and Eddie Scott pulling off excellent retrieves over a gulley within quick succession of eachother.
Carl Colclough was in line at number 14, with Will Clulee backing up at 16 with FTCH Poolgreen Farlow Ben. I was bound to be in soon. Out came Carl and in went will and I was called over by the steward. We were now in heather on top of a hill and as Fern doesn’t work in heather too often I was a little apprehensive about how she’d go. Will pulled Ben up and I was in under Paul Matthews.
I cast her off and she looked really nice, head down in the heather and moving with pace. I was happy with this as previously she had a tendency to bounce over the heather a little. It was a backwind beat so I was letting her go a little. In hindsight and speaking with Paul after the trial, I should have worked her on my right hand side a little more.
I’d maybe hunted 30 yards when a loose covey of grouse got up between the two dogs. Fern bounced a couple of strides and sat. If I had the chance again I’d have blown my stop whistle as soon as they flushed, but with it being an open stake I think in my head I had it that I had to keep off the whistle as much as I could. She sat there watching the grouse away, I knew I was going out, but remained calm in the hope the judge had somehow missed it. I know Paul quite well and knew he’d be fair with me, and he came over and said call her up.
I thanked him and went back to the gallery. Speaking to him after the trial he said she’d moved just a little too far which I can’t argue with in anyway. I’d have been more surprised if I’d have stayed in.
On the whole I was happy with how she’d gone and she didn’t completely disgrace me in some top quality company. She hunted well, handled well and maybe with a bit more help from me we could have finished the 2nd run but these things happen. I got some good feedback from the judges, an A with a slight knock under Martin for how she handled when trying to find the rabbit that went to ground. Not a million miles away but the quality of the top dogs was evident and I don’t think many would argue with the dogs that finished in the awards.
1st – Ian Openshaw – FTCH Mallowdale Midge
2nd – Eddie Scott – Chyknell Golden Eagle
3rd – Ian English – FTCH Broadmeafarm Beau
4th and guns choice – Jason Croft – Wrenmarsh Sweet Lady