Keeping the Fun in Field Trials by Ray Cooper
I grew up with bird dogs. An English Setter named Gene Dog saved my life when I was just shy of four years old by fighting off a herd of wild Bahaman Cattle when I wandered off from home. From the time I was old enough to walk along behind my Dad on a brief hunting trip Iíve loved the work of a good bird dog. I attended my first field trial in 1976. Iíve run in field trials, judged field trials, marshaled field trials, scouted for friends, been trial chairman and done just about everything you can do at a field trial. The primary reason being that from day one field trails were fun for me. I love the competition of high class bird dogs doing what they do best. I enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded people gathering to share the experiences afforded at field trials. I would have to say some of the most enjoyable times Iíve had in my adult life have been at field trials with my family and good friends. That includes not just the running and competition of the dogs but all the social aspects that go along with a well-run trial. Whether itís the Derby Calcutta prior to the running, anticipating how my own dog might do or the cookouts on Saturday night, they all go together to create an atmosphere Iíve found no where else.
Unfortunately of late there seems to be a new element of bickering and discontent that permeates some field trials. Part of this apparently comes from a desire to win that overrides the original spirit of field trials themselves. Originally field trials were about finding the best dogs for future breeding purposes and the bragging rights that went along with winning. There was also the peace of mind that came from seeing your dog do his best on a given day. Today the attainment of a title often outweighs good sportsmanship and certainly the desire to have a good time. Iíve seen judges cursed, accused of playing favorites and treated worse than a one-eyed rented mule in the last few years. There was a time when the host club and the judges were treated with respect and appreciation for taking the time to provide a place for people to come and enjoy their dogs. The complaining and back biting that goes on at some trials today is jeopardizing the Fun Factor and causing many people to look for other activities to fill their leisure time. Fortunately however this is not the case in a majority of trials and many clubs still hold to the traditional values that attracted me in the first place.
Recently over a Thanksgiving weekend my son and I attended a two-club set of back-to-back one-day American Field trials. The trials were hosted by people who are involved in both AKC trails and American Field. The Texas Red Setter Club and the Gulf Coast Pointer Club teamed up to host what turned out to be a weekend reminding me of the old days. On Saturday the Texas Red Setter Club ran an Open Shooting Dog Stake and an Open Derby Stake. There were several pros in attendance as well as amateurs. Then Sunday the Gulf Coast Pointer Club ran an Amateur Shooting Dog Stake along with a second Open Derby. The trial was judged by knowledgeable people with many years of bird dog experience and both clubs made sure everyone was well informed of everything going on. On Saturday evening there was a bring your own stake cook out with all the trimmings and plenty of cold beverages. Those in attendance enjoyed the fellowship and had time to reminisce about their prize dogs from the past and the hopes they shared for young dogs coming up. During the running of the events there were plenty of people pitching in to help plant birds, run the dog wagon and tend to any minor details necessary to insure a successful event.
By Sunday afternoon all the dogs had run and the judges decisions were well received. During the entire weekend I only heard one person complain about anything. Even then it went pretty much unnoticed by all in attendance. The thing I was most impressed with was the fact that everyone was relaxed and intent on having fun. Sometimes enjoying a field trial starts with the attitude conducive to a good time. That coupled with running things according to proper etiquette and respecting each otherís dogs and the sport itself makes for a good field trail.
So I guess if one were to make a check list to insure their next trial was not just a financial success but also an event people wanted to come to again it would contain the following:
1. Use grounds suitable to the type of stakes youíre going to run.
2. Invite good judges to evaluate the dogs and judge with a positive approach to the sport.
3. Be sure you have plenty of good flying birds properly planted on course.
4. Have enough volunteers to take care of all the major and minor details up to and including taking care of the judges and having some kind of social event included in the schedule.
5. Donít allow a lot of bickering and especially verbal abuse of the judges.
6. Have everyone on the field trial committee arrive with a positive ďletís have a good time attitudeĒ and pass it along to everyone who shows up.
7. Be sure everyone cleans up their own area so youíll be welcome back the next time.
8. Promote the idea that this is a sport and not a war.
9. Offer as much in the way of congratulations as you do in ribbons and prizes.
10. Never forget that people come to field trials as part of their leisure time activities and there are plenty of things to choose from. They come back because they enjoy it. They donít come back if they donít.
As my son and I drove home on Sunday evening after the trial that Thanksgiving weekend I couldnít help but thinking how well it was attended for a holiday weekend and why that was the case. Every element in the list above was met and maybe even a little more. I also had to remember those days back in the 70ís when I had that same feeling of having spent a weekend doing something worth doing. Most of us have enough things happen during the week that are stressful or challenging and by the weekend weíre looking for a little relieve and relaxation. I find that at field trails. Thatís why I keep going back. As long as theyíre fun Iíll keep going as long as I can. Thereís a lot of thrill in raising my hat when my dogís on point but that only consumes a few minutes of any trial. The rest of the weekend better be filled with enough enjoyment to keep us all glad we came.