What do I expect from a field trial club when I pay an entry fee for a one course trial? There are many facets of running a field trial that should be included in a comprehensive answer to that question. Time and space permit me to address only two aspects of the question - perhaps in a later article I will address some of the others.
What has recently disturbed me has been judicial behavior and grounds. Coloring my comments are traces of the all-age - shooting dog debate that has been addressed on these pages many times in the past. I shall not elaborate on the differences between the two; there are differing opinions on the differences. At the risk of over- generalizing I suggest that there is a general consensus that a distinguishing difference is range or boldness and speed. Accepting this position poses problems for the one course trial. Given a 30 minute course, the all-age will cover more ground (perhaps less thoroughly) than the shooting dog, or looking at it from the opposite direction, on a given piece of ground the all-age will cover it faster. It follows logically that the same course should not be used for shooting dogs and all-age dogs if the heats are stakes are of the same length of time. A true all-age dog will use up a 30 minute shooting dog course in about fifteen or twenty minutes (probably finding a bird or two while the shooting dog may have a half a dozen finds on the same course). The solution to this is to have a course that requires a good shooting dog at least 45 minutes to complete. This would permit the all-age stakes to have heats lasting 30 minutes on the same course. I am tired of being ordered up at 15 or 20 minutes, in a so called all-age stake, because my all-age dog has run out of course while his bracemate , running at shooting dog range and pace, is allowed 30 minutes. The alternative of hacking him or slowing him down is unacceptable; speed is part of what it is all about. A 30 minute heat poses the additional problem in all-age competition because many all-age casts will require the dog being out of sight more than the allocated 10 minutes. If a club chooses to have a 30 minute course it should require an all-age dog 30 minutes to complete. This is what I expect for my entry fee.
I cannot improve on the late Leon Covington's comments to the Oklahoma Seminar on the qualifications for a judge. I must, however, complement his ideas with what does not qualify one to judge. This happens over and over on both the one course circuits and the major circuit. Someone decides that bird dogs might be fun. He is loaded with money, so he buys dogs and puts them with a professional trainer. In a year or two he is judging field trials. All he knows is what his trainer has told him. One cannot be told the competencies needed to judge a field trial any more than you can teach a dog to hunt. They can be developed only through experience (i.e. training developing, and handling dogs from puppyhood through shooting-dog or all-age levels.). The unqualified ones are easy to recognize. In addition to the frequent incorrect decisions that they make they:
It is generally considered appropriate for judges to give some guidance to newcomers. My first field trial was in the early fifties, so I consider myself a newcomer and need to learn a great deal more about the sport. For my entry fee I don't expect my dogs to be judged by someone with less than a decade of experience and who knows even less than I. At least I'm aware of some of the previously stated ideas. I should be helping them rather than them trying to help me by passing misinformation or lack of understanding to me. The first item on the above list leads to a major irritant - judges riding in an all-age as if they were judging a shooting dog stake. Assuming that more speed and more of a straight out and ahead pattern separates an all-age dog from a shooting dog, how can a judge expect to see what is going on if he paces himself as if he were judging a shooting dog stake? A shooting dog handler should be expected to show his dog at regular intervals and at appropriate without fast riding on either his or the judges part. The judge should set a slow pace, a flat-foot walk - not a running walk, and he should not be expected to ride fast to see the dog. It should be the appropriate pace for bird hunting in that part of the country. "The Field Trial Shooting Dog" in Field Trials by William Brown should be read for more detail on this matter. The all-age stake is a completely different ball game. The term "race" is more appropriate here. This is an animal that is away with a full head of steam, fired up, looking for a distant objective with game, bound and determined that he will get there first, before any other dog or person. He has the "bit in the mouth" and is very close, right on the edge of being over the hill, a run-off almost. The pace is torrid. He will cover the course in much less time than will the shooting dog. There is no way that such a dog can be fairly judged if the judge rides at a shooting dog pace. I feel that I have really been "ripped" when I turn to point out my dog on the horizon, and the judge is a quarter of a mile behind, perhaps even gossiping with the gallery. For my entry fee I expect a judge who will ride hard enough to see my dog. If one is not willing to do this, then he should not be judging an all-age stake. A club is doing a disservice by having judges that will not ride differently in a shooting dog and a all-age stake. There are many that will disagree with my positions in this article, but there are also many who will agree with me. There are enough different kinds of stakes today for everyone to find his own thing. Those of us who believe in what I've said about a judges behavior in all-age stakes find this our "cup of tea" - this thing we call all-age. If this is not your "cup of tea", fine, then stay away, don't participate and for goodness sake don't take on a judicial assignment in this kind of stake. We don't want our standards polluted by what you are looking for any more than shooting dog stakes should be polluted by all-age ideas - something that does occur to often. There is, in this sport, something for all tastes.
In conclusion, for my entry fee I expect appropriate grounds and a judge that will ride at an all-age clip, otherwise,the club should NOT offer all-age stakes.