It was a relative lie in for me this morning, only 2 hours to drive to a trial this time!! I arrived in good time and had a chat with a few familiar faces before we were called in by secretary Lee Marson for the briefing. Judges today were Adrian Slater, Nick Powell, Steve Forster and Tom Starkey. The trial was to be run in woodland and sieves and was a short drive from where we were, so it was back in the car and away to the trial ground.
I was in at number 16 with Ellie, and it was an 18 dog stake, so I knew I'd be waiting a while. As it transpired, each dog was to run in woodland for their first runs and out in a huge field of sieves for their second.
It wasn't long before the early dogs were into game and I was called over to back up, catching the last bit of Steph Worthington's run with his springer before number 14 was in. Number 14 completed his run soon after and I was called into line, this time under Nick Powell and Tom Starkey,
The cover was thick. Brambles, rhododendrons, holly, you name it, it was in the bottom of the wood. I cast Ellie off and she started to hunt, picking her way through the various patches of cover, getting a nice pattern in this stuff was impossible. The run was quite stop-start, waiting for dogs to retrieve and change on the other side, and a couple of sections of heel work where we were negotiating buildings and patches of impenetrable cover.
Shortly after Ellie produced a hen bird from a thick bramble patch which was shot maybe 25 yards out in front. I knew she couldn't have marked it from inside the bramble patch so just cast her back in the hope she'd go the right way. She did, but she immediately flushed 4 or 5 more pheasants after a couple of yards, stopping on the whistle. The gun on our left fired two shots and missed, not what I wanted in a novice trial. She ignored that and I casted her back and she drifted to the right to a big holly bush. I lost her in the cover and she appeared by my side. I cast her back again and she went almost to the fall before winding the bird and returning it to hand.
"That'll do you" I heard from Tom. I put my lead on, thanked the judges and was making my way back to the gallery when I heard "Wait, there's a bird the dog can't pick on the other side". Great I thought, there was me thinking I'd survived my first run. So it was lead off and walked Ellie to heel to the other side through the wood. We were given a mark of the bird in a grass field, around 15 yards over a fence. I lifted Ellie over the fence, cast her out and she went straight to the bird and picked it. Another eye wipe! She starting to make them a bit of a habit! I was again told that was me done. If i'd have known then what I was told back in the gallery i could have refused to go back in, with my run being complete when my lead was put on, being relatively new to the sport I didn't realise this.
Anyway. The final dogs finished their runs in the wood before we all moved out to a field of sieves. At this point only 3 dogs had gone out, leaving 15 to run, so I knew I'd have quite a long wait. The first 13 dogs in this field had completely blank runs, not a flush or shot was fired. Dog 14 was called in and I was backing him up. He got a flush relatively quickly, the first dog on their second run to do so. The bird was shot 20 yards or so away and the dog was quickly back to hand with the bird and that was his run complete. At this point 4 or 5 birds got up but none were shot. I thought that was my chance of a quick flush gone!
I was up. This time I was in under Adrian Slater and Steve Forster. I cast Ellie off into the sieves, and then into some dead reed like plants. Then back out into the sieves. At this point she pulled on a bit of foot scent and needed the whistle to bring her back, which she did and started to hunt again. A shot rang out from the right hand side, the gun had shot a loose cock bird which had landed about 30 yards away. Steve took me forward 10 yards or so and I cast her off. She went to the fall and started to hunt.
At this point the gun shouted that it had ran straight away. I stopped her and cast her back. She hit the line of birds and took off, going 35-40 yards before disappearing into thick sieves. I left her for what felt like an eternity and breathed a huge sigh of relief when she appeared with a very lively cock bird and was soon back to hand with it.That was my run complete and I went back to the gallery over the moon with the job she'd made on the runner, gaining compliments from other competitors and spectators.
The judges had a quick discussion and decided that there was to be a run off between Nathan Cross and Steph Worthington. I'd caught a little of Stephs first run and the dog looked to be going well. They completed the run off and the trial was declared over. It was back to the cars and then to the keepers house for the presentations.
A few people came up to me and thought I was in with a chance of the win, saying the run off may have been for 2nd and 3rd. I wasn't optimistic, Steph's big springer dog looked tidy in the thick cover. I was happy to have finished and hoped for a place or a Certificate of Merit.
The awards were read out in reverse order until the two dogs in the run off were left and I hadn't been called out. I hadn't received anything. I couldn't believe it. I spoke with a couple of the judges and they said she lacked a gear. That's trialling I suppose, its not a first past the post competition and relies on judges preference and interpretation. I don't think she hunted any differently to any of her previous trials where she had earned awards, and in this trial she'd been given two opportunities to fail, the eye wipe and the 60 yard runner, both of which she passed with flying colours. It was a very miserable drive home, but never mind. Onto the next one.