Then and Now

 Tom Word

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.  In the old days, there were always a few who shunned the rules, would do anything to win.  These days, it’s the same.  With the changing times have come changed tactics, but the goal, a win at any cost, is still the goal for a few.

    I was riding as marshal for the old Hackberry Club’s weekend trial, substituting for a friend who was a club member (I wasn’t).  The Hackberry existed to get its members’ dogs qualified for other events, amateur and open.  Its drawings were always conducted in its president’s kitchen.  If a nonmember submitted an entry, it got drawn in the midday heat on a course without birds. 

    Why did I agree to marshal?  Just for the fun of seeing what the Hackberry rascals were up to in this modern age.  In my youth, I’d seen (and been stung by) their shenanigans.  That plus I owed my friend, the member, a favor—he’d run a derby of mine here last year and got it qualified for our Region’s amateur shooting dog championship, thus, using up a chit he held as a club member.  I could hardly refuse him. 

    In the old days, the Hackberry Club had a convention.  If only members’ dogs were entered, the trial was run the night of the drawing in the president’s kitchen.  That’s right, after the draw for running order the slips went back in the hat—that is, the slips with the names of the dogs that needed qualifying placements, and were drawn for first, second, and third in the stake.  The members then evaporated for the weekend to do whatever besides field trial each member had in mind that required cover.  The president’s farm held a large barn, several paddocks, and ample kennels.  The members just left their dogs and stock there, parked their horse trailers, and rode off to wherever—the president took the entry fees as board.  The judges were always from the membership.

    My friend the member assured me the Hackberry Club was no longer in the phantom trial business.  A trial would be run, he promised.  But somehow I knew things might not be all on the up and up.    The members were all sons and grandsons of the members I’d known in the old days—and a few daughters and granddaughters too.  They seemed a happy lot as we drank morning coffee and waited for the 7:30 breakaway.

    In the first brace in the amateur all-age, we had Big Rowdy, owned and handled by a member, and a setter named Gremlin, owned and handled by a stranger, the shag an also unknown in these parts.  Rowdy was a notorious outlaw, a run-off dog stopped only by birds.  I wondered what tactics, surely illegal, Rowdy’s team would use to keep up with him.

    Riding as marshal, I could ride pretty much where I pleased, so I did.  I soon discovered the Rowdy team’s plan.  Riding a bit behind the gallery was a fellow who stopped frequently.  My binoculars revealed this rider carried a tracker receiver—he was keeping up with Rowdy via his tracking collar.  He was using his cell phone to inform Rowdy’s scout of the runoff’s whereabouts.  Three times the scout led us to Rowdy on point.  But on each occasion, Rowdy was backing the setter!  And each time, the setter had his bird pinpointed with excellent style and manners at shot.  It seemed Rowdy was a trailer, as well as a run off.

    The rest of the stake was uneventful, with members cheating in conventional ways—dropping birds from their saddlebags, having non-members’ dogs ridden off—even kidnapped temporarily.  When the stake was over late in the afternoon, the first brace setter was the clear winner—but he didn’t place.  His owner was livid and accosted the judges.  They said his setter had flagged.  I’d seen all three finds, and the setter was rigid as rebar, didn’t even wag his tail after flush.  The setter man scratched his shooting dog and derby entries and rode off in a huff—I didn’t blame him.
    Yes, the more times change, the more they stay the same with a certain sort of field trialer, always with us, always will be, the kind that specialize in home cooking.  Fortunately, they are a small minority, then as now.