This week sees my 200th Bench and Field article being published since I first became involved with Dog World in 1999. This was following the untimely death of the previous writer Susan Scales. She was very well known in the Labrador world and had followed in the footsteps of Bernard Hall as the Bench and Field columnist – it was through his recommendation that I eventually took on the column.
Regular readers will appreciate that the majority of my reports are from the field side of gundogs, as that is my particular area of expertise. I wish that the two sides of gundogs were closer together but as most will know the working and show examples of many of the gundog breeds are now miles apart. In fact most of the working examples bear no resemblance to their show cousins although it is gratifying to see examples of both types taking part in the Kennel Club Working Gundog Certificate.
We see very few workers exhibiting in the breed show ring in the field trials and special working classes and of course a few of the show champions and CC winners attempt the show gundog working certificate to convert their title to a full champion status. I have seen and judged some really good performances by show dogs in the shooting field and many do still retain those natural working instincts.
The divergence of breeds is wide and the Springer and Cockers are prime examples. All cockers, including the American, are purported to have come originally from the same common ancestry! However, since the breed began in the 19th century the workers have been solely developed for the rigours of work in the shooting field and as such their conformation, movement and in particular coat are far different from those developed for exhibition in the show ring. Both types are used as pets and companions as well and with the right care and training both are excellent in the right family homes. Perhaps they really are now two separate breeds, but that is a debate for the future.
At the end of last year I was asked if I would consider judging some classes of Labradors and English Springer Spaniels for the East Midlands Canine Society at their open show which was to be held on August 16. My answer took due time to consider and after checking that I was able to do the number of classes offered and that with many months to brush up on the rules, procedures, etiquette and most importantly learn the relevant breeds Standards off by heart I, with some trepidation, accepted.
I have judged in the show ring before, although that was the BASC (British Association for Shooting and Conservation) gamekeepers classes at Crufts in 2007, when there had been a huge entry of a very wide variety of gundog breeds. The criteria for those classes are different to the breed ring, breed Standards are used but not in the same critical way and the judges, all chosen for their knowledge of working gundogs, will instead be looking for good examples of the breed, show or working strain, which obviously can do a useful job of work in the field. All the entries were from bona fide working owners, and that was obvious when I went over the dogs from the muscle tone and the many battle scars of working in the shooting field. I am also delighted that I have been asked again to judge the BASC gamekeepers classes at Crufts in 2013.
It is amazing how time quickly passes by, but my first priority before judging the open show for the East Midlands Canine Society was to attend and pass the ‘Requirements of a dog show judge’ seminar and once that was done I then had every intention of attending the ‘Hands on’ and the ‘Conformation and movement’ seminars as well but that unfortunately did not happen. When my diary was clear there were no seminars being run within 200 miles and so personal research from some very good books on the subject, consulting my peers and studying the DVD guide to Understanding Canine Conformation and Movement on my laptop completed my preparation.
As the day of the open show drew closer I could feel the butterflies begin, just the same as all those years ago when I first ran a spaniel in a field trial and then again when judging trials for the first time. There were still decisions to make: what time should I arrive, and most importantly what should I wear? I would be under the scrutiny of show officials as well as several experienced exhibitors and certainly did not want to look out of place.
The venue was the Horse Creek Farm arena at Stags Holt in Cambridgeshire. You will perhaps recollect a previous article when I had judged the Ely and District Wildfowlers Association charity gundog working test at the same venue at the end of May 2012. Appropriate clothing for judging a working test is weather-dependant but usually smart clothes for the country. But what is appropriate for an evening open show? I have of course seen many smartly dressed judges at Crufts and in all the photographs with the reports in Dog World and decided that being smart was essential. You can form your own opinion as to whether I got the balance right in the images attached.
My classes were scheduled to start at 5pm so I arrived in good time to be greeted by the East Midland Gundog Society chairman Brian House and secretary Marion Radford-House and was welcomed into the hospitality area where I had a clear view of the arena where all the rings were below. I was then introduced to my steward, Edwina Kennedy, whom I must thank very much for doing such a great job; she certainly made my task much easier so that I could concentrate fully on giving the exhibits in each class my complete and undivided attention. The ring was a good length, albeit a little narrow, but was an adequate size to get the dogs moving freely and see them from all angles when required.
The first class, Labrador puppies, soon settled my butterflies and the procedures previously researched and learned now suddenly all fell comfortably into place. There were three exhibits in the class and therefore it was not an onerous task to remember each one’s good points as I went over them. I was very happy with my final placings.
I do wonder how judges manage to remember everything about each exhibit when the class is huge. I remember when I was judging the gamekeepers classes in 2007 having some difficulty as many of those classes were very large. One particular Labrador I really liked when I went over it in the picking-up class had a handler that was dressed in a very distinctive purple jacket and that stuck in my mind as a possible aide memoire when sorting out the final placings. However, imagine my dismay when after examining another dozen or so black Labradors and then taking my final walk along the line to discover the purple jacket was nowhere in sight! I had not realised that it was allowable to change handlers during judging and can only assume that is what had happened on that occasion. A valuable lesson learned – remember the points of the dog and not the points of the handler in future.
I took the precaution of taking a notebook with me to Stags Holt just in case, but its use eventually was confined to jotting notes about each class winner in readiness for the critique writing later on, which incidentally has been completed and sent to both dog papers.
On completion of judging all my classes I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening, especially watching Jenny Miller (Feorlig) judging the gundog group and was really pleased that she pulled out my best of breed English Springer Spaniel, Miss D De Carteret’s four-year-old liver and white dog Lyntonwood Loyalty Card at Derrindee for the group reserve place. I was even more pleased when she also pulled out my BOB Labrador Mr and Mrs McClellan’s four-year-old yellow dog Saranden Comanche in fourth place. This was like having the expert’s seal of approval for my judging and I went home rather mentally weary but very satisfied and with a big smile on my face. I would like to thank the EMCS for the invitation and their kind hospitality and all the exhibitors for such an excellent entry.
Your news or views please to Paul Rawlings KCAI (WGA) by email firstname.lastname@example.org.