I had not judged at Laukaa in Finland before, but as the invitation came from Jarmo Hilpinen, who is such an accomplished show organiser, I presumed it would be well worth accepting, and I am so glad I did. Some judges can be a little snobbish about judging ‘just’ national shows, often held in outlying areas, but experience has taught me that at some of the smaller shows you can often stumble across the most exciting dogs.
Laukaa is less than half-an-hour’s drive from Jyväskylä Airport so the journey would be quite straightforward, though I had to fly from Heathrow as my departure airport of choice – Birmingham – was far too problematic. Furthermore I had judged at Jyväskylä at the end of last year so it was easy to duplicate the travel schedule, however having a very early flight meant staying at an airport hotel at Heathrow the previous night. My first shock came when I pulled up the air fare – last year it was £375 but seven months later – for an identical trip right down to flight times and numbers – it had doubled to £750. Such a rise seemed inexplicable so before booking it I queried the fare with Finnair who informed me that it was down to the Olympics! I warned the show organisers in advance who were remarkably philosophical about it and told me that several of the other judges also had to pay unusually expensive fares. I do get embarrassed when the Scandinavian treasurers hand over large amounts of money with a smile, always insisting that they pay €35 a day for judging and travelling days on top, when I think how miserly some of our clubs can be with overseas visitors.
At Helsinki Airport I met up with Dimitris Antonopoulos who judges on his Greek licence but is now resident in Sweden. Over the weekend we were to have many animated conversations about Dachshunds and his obsession with upper arms! On the same flight was another Swedish judge, Svante Frisk, and waiting for us at Jyväskylä was Marjo-Kerttu Herkman, the show secretary. She drove us to our billet for the next few days, the Peurunka Spa Hotel, a sprawling establishment which incorporates a spa, health club, gym and the longest water slide in Scandinavia – all 130 metres of it – which some of the more athletic judges were keen to sample as soon as possible.
On Friday evening the officials entertained judges to an excellent dinner in the Peurunka’s lakeside restaurant where the views were truly breathtaking. I had a chat with Maija Mäkinen who was to be my student judge for the Shelties the next day, discussing what she prioritised in the breed and generally exchanging our thoughts – I find this always helps when you have a student, knowing how you both see the breed before you start. Actually it was the Shetland Sheepdogs that drew the largest entry by a considerable margin, 72 of them present and the next highest breed entry was 49.
The weather was a little damp on Saturday morning but nothing like the conditions we Brits have had to cope with this summer. There were a few useful puppies in my Sheltie entry, the best of which I see goes back to Finnish Ch Lythwood State Secret who the Rigbys presumably exported some years ago.
I found the breed to have a few problems with general balance (so many short on leg) and tail carriage, and ended up with a tricolour winning best male, Shadeland He’s A Wizard, who goes back to Shelridge Socrates on the tail male line – what a wonderful tool the Finnish Kennel Club’s online breeding database is. Although not a particularly glamorous or flashy dog, he was lacking in what Annie Clark would have referred to as ‘the drags of the breed’ and was a sound and honest sort who moved well, holding an excellent outline.
When it came to the bitches my heart skipped a beat when the first class came in, as a blue merle caught my eye and held it. She had what Bill Siggers would have called a ‘thoroughbred look’ and although clearly inexperienced (she was nine months old and at her second ever show evidently), and a little wary at times, she simply radiated quality, class and balance. She obviously prompted a lengthy conversation with Maija as I was keen to discover how far she would be prepared to take her through the grading system, seeing that she was a little overawed. It was obvious that she shared my enthusiasm for this exciting youngster and it won’t surprise you that I ended up awarding Silimen Salamvalo BOB. Her handler seemed a little disappointed but it turned out that she was the bitch’s breeder, had sold her, and had also won the open class with the puppy’s dam with whom she would have preferred the certificate.
There was just one Bouvier des Flandres present, as large as I’ve seen and of indeterminate colour, so this junior male was graded just very good.
Schipperkes followed, a few absent, but I liked what I had very much. The BOB winner was a world-class dog and I am sure Ch Fandal’s Paddington could win anywhere. A real stallion dog with a cape and excellent body shape, he was a superb mover and I was interested to read under the photo of him that I later put up on Facebook that Jean and Paul Lawless of Revloch had taken semen from him for one of their bitches. BOS was a daughter of Aradet Remember My Name.
My day finished with best veteran and this award went to the Tibetan Spaniel bitch, Ch Bio-Bios Highlight for Tashi-Gong, who had also won BOB earlier under Svante Frisk despite being eight years old.
It was interesting to watch Dimitris judge the Dachshund group, having heard his thoughts on the breed around the world, and to see him give the top spot to the Smooth, the much titled Hampdach Black Is Back, bred here in the UK by the Bethels.
The Laukaa show is run just once every three years and obviously they put a huge amount into the planning of their event which takes place on the grass in the centre of the running track of a huge athletics stadium. I have never seen so many high-visibility jackets in one place and Marjo informed me that they actually have 150 volunteers working at the show, some of whom actually perform valet parking duties for the exhibitors. This was a show with class!
Furthermore, keen to impress their judges, they had laid on whitewater rafting on Saturday evening! Now as both my close friends and my waistline will confirm, I have never been what you’d call a sporting type, so I declined the offer of this particular treat. Dimitris the Greek had made the same decision but when he was telephoned in his room and informed that the transport had arrived to take him shooting the rapids, he misunderstood and – as a Dachshund breeder and keen hunter – he sped off to what he thought was ‘shooting the rabbits’! In due course all the judges who braved the waters returned unharmed and had plenty of tales to tell over dinner.
The forecast promised a very warm day on Sunday and we were not to be disappointed.