Zara and I had our first experience at a field trial on Sunday. We entered the Hunter’s Stake of the Southern Maryland English Setter Club’s fall field trial. Typically, dogs compete against each other to see who is the best in field trials, whereas they compete against themselves and a set of established criteria in hunt tests. I am more interested in the hunt test route because it seems more doable for someone who doesn’t have a lot of time/access to facilities to train their dog. However, this Hunter’s Stake was being judged based on Junior Hunter criteria and seemed like a good practice for the Conestoga Vizsla Club’s hunt test I’d signed up for in December.
We got to the grounds early on Sunday morning because I anticipated the start to be around 7:45 or 8am. It was fairly chilly but I was wearing lots of layers. I walked Zara around for a while and I could tell she wanted to run. The field trial was held at a private property in Maryland but it was set up for that sort of thing. I think someone said it was about 90 acres. There was a huge field with a pond that was bordered by trees.
Our breeder, Jane, was also there with Zara’s mother, Caiya. She had entered Caiya into the Amateur Gun Dog competition and was helping us out as well.
Zara didn’t end up running her stake until the afternoon. I wish I had known that beforehand so I wouldn’t have gotten there so early but the waiting wasn’t too bad. I did feel bad for Zara, though, because she had to spend most of the time in the car in her crate. I did have her out a couple of times, but she won’t just stand around without yelping to do something so into the crate she went.
When it was finally Zara’s time to run, she was super excited. She was paired with another dog, a Brittany. The other handler and I walked into the field with the judges behind us in a golf cart. When we let the dogs go, Zara took off. It had been a long time since we had done any bird training and I wasn’t sure if she’d remember what to do. As I walked the first half of the course, she was just running around like she normally does when we’re hiking. Then she found a bird!
She pointed at the bird and I called out to the judge to let him know. Then I was supposed to flush the bird to get it to fly and shoot the blank pistol. I tried kicking around the bird but it wouldn’t fly! It looked kind of sad and was rolling around in the grass. At this point, Zara broke her point and was trying to play with it. The judge told me to just kick it and shoot the gun. I tried to get the gun to fire but I wasn’t able to pull the trigger hard enough. The judge was looking at me like I was an idiot. He took it from me and fired it. I think a different quail flew in the air then. It must have been near the one that Zara was pointing. As soon as Zara saw the bird fly, it was like a light bulb went off in her head. She was like, that is what I am supposed to be looking for! She ran after it as it headed into a tree. Then she took off in the field, sniffing away. She was flying along. She didn’t find any more birds in the last part of the course but I think most of the birds had been planted in the first part of the field we walked through.
When the judges indicated our time was over, I blew my whistle to get Zara to come and she came right to me. She was listening to me really well that day, which made me happy. I could tell she didn’t want to stop hunting. In fact, after she was finished, Jane and I were standing off the course for a while with Zara on the leash and she was crying to go out to the field again.
After all the dogs were finished, one of the club members announced the rankings. Zara got fourth place and a ribbon! In a hunt test, the dogs wouldn’t be ranked against each other but since this was a special Hunter’s Stake I suppose it was different. Caiya also did well – she earned a 4th place ribbon in the Amateur Gun Dog stake. It was a good day for both of them. I can’t wait to see how Zara does in the Conestoga Vizsla Club’s hunt test in two weeks. Hopefully I’ll be able to fire the pistol this time and not look as incompetent. :)