The 2009 Canadian National Championship commenced on October 24, 2009 in the Annapolis Valley region of Nova Scotia. Assembled was a field of 104 eager spaniels (English springer and English cocker) and a few less anxious handlers and dreamy-eyed owners. It was the fifth occasion for the Championship hosted in Nova Scotia and the second largest entry ever for the event. Trial headquarters was the Old Orchard Inn near Wolfville, very nice accommodations, I am sure suitably named because we were surrounded by the birthplace of the MacIntosh apple!
There were very suitably appropriate memorials recognizing Jason Green and Dr. David McCurdy. Honorary event Chair was Margo McCurdy. Ernie and Chris Barriage along with Jack Williams were recognized as being synonymous with spaniels in Ontario. Jack seemed to be everywhere. If you didn't know better you'd think Jack was cloned! At the banquet, breakfast table, in the gallery, in the shelter tent... I swear I saw Jack perched on a tree stand while going off into the thicket on a runner!
If you've not been to a Nova Scotia or PEI event, I'd highly recommend it. The collective personalities of trailers from Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and PEI are some of the best and most committed anywhere. Co-chairs Bruce Outhouse and Greg Mitchell did an outstanding job answering every call towards putting on a stellar event. Of course the supporting cast was there from sunrise to sunset and at every turn doing the hard stuff!
The weather was calling for rain starting Saturday morning and continuing until only God knew when. The committee had everything running like a well oiled machine despite the weather. The rain was light to steady and then broke on Sunday afternoon, giving birth to some of the most scenic surroundings I have ever experienced at a field trial - including Ogden, UT. The large 1st and 2nd series field was a great mix of grasses ranging from not too light to not too heavy. The long course curved and headed back giving a beautiful view of the Bay of Fundy. The birds were a crazy-wild cross of blue backs and seshoins that called upon ever fiber a dog had to produce. Dickie Corkum's gun team settled in and performed admirably in even the worst of conditions. The dogs were well tested. Casey and I agreed that no one would be denied an opportunity to put up a cagey runner on making the big retrieve... and we sent on some BIG retrieves! Handling was common and clearly some handler/dog teams did it with panache while others struggled.
A word on handling because it seems to present controversy at times. From the stand point of hunting or trialing while a dog might not have a mark impaired or otherwise not have witnessed the flush, there can be many other obstructions to nailing a retrieve. For instance, a 50 yard retrieve through tall, swampy terrain, deep creek beds, rough terrain, woody cover, crossing paths and too many other things to mention here can put a dog off a mark. When a dog/handler team can hold together and handle kindly where others fall down, you have a discernable performance difference.
We used a number system of scoring because it allows for easy averaging in later series and gets callbacks done quicker with less need for discussion. There were parts of the course where letting the dog roll was the way to go and other parts where keeping him/her checking back was the safest bet. Regardless, we were on the same page in what we wanted to see and a number of dogs were turning in the equivalent of A+ work.
The 3rd and 4th series moved us to another field with more of a rolling terrain and slightly taller mixed grasses, but still ample opportunity to see good dog work. A tight turn with a sharp uphill change made for a challenging 10-15 minutes somewhere in the middle of the course. Most handler/dog teams improved or stayed strong; while others struggled. I often wonder how much the effect of the third... fourth... and fifth days of competition weighs on the bid ability of a dog. Coupled with a trial season that usually winds down with more chill in the air, more birds under a dog's nose and improved scenting, it must call for just the right dosage of desire and eagerness to please.
When we sat down to look over our water series and ultimately our fifth series contenders, it appeared that we had a number of dogs in one of three clusters: our top dogs, strong contenders and a solid group not far behind. Fifteen dogs were called to water, all in great shape. The water series was conducted on a small lake in a wooded area. A winger was used and all in all provided a good test. The set was such that a number of dogs looked at ways to shorten the swim while others just hit the water hard. Both were quite acceptable.
We lost one dog at the water. All fourteen remaining dogs were in contention for placements. I want to say we had three or four top contenders and several others not far behind. Two, in particular, were vying for the title. The field chosen had great cover for the fifth series. John and Greg Mitchell along with Bruce Outhouse were more than helpful in staking and re-staking to attempt as true a crosswind as we could get. We were off to a good start when one of our top dogs came out and had a clean, smooth strong run. Over the course of the fifth, a few dogs changed places, as is often the case.
A number of dogs ran so well they were worthy of special mention - not just in the fifth but throughout the trial. Handler Paul McGagh with little black cocker Spydie was just plain fun to watch. Just when you thought this little pocket-rocket might be in over her head, she'd pull a rabbit out of her hat and turn in a stellar performance. Another cocker Paul ran was Storm, I believe a recently crowned National Champ. Storm grew stronger with each series of the trial and finished very strong showing exceptional talent in the fifth. And then there was a nice little black and white bitch by the name of Slip. Slip overcame a fairly rough early series under me - the kind that most dogs could not possibly overcome. But she just got stronger and stronger and was a pleasure to watch. One more series and she just may have won the thing.
Our 4th place dog was #11. Chance was just smooth throughout the trial, running a beautiful pattern, finding birds and flushing them hard with minimal whistle. I thought it might be an early exit for Chance when a bird he was working on the slope of a deep swale got up blindly behind him and was dropped blindly deep in the valley perhaps 80-90 yds. I instructed the handler to take as much liberty as needed and as I about to explain how deep the fall was, Chance nailed it.
In third place, turning in one of the best fifth series, was dog #84 Kizzy. Kizzy ran hard and seemed to anticipate and turn without a whistle. The strongest evidence came on a tricky down wind runner that a relaxed handler seemed to have no worries over. Kizzy blew the bird out and made quick work of a tough retrieve... all the while a relaxed confident handler. You were just left with a wow feeling at the end of the series.
Our second place dog was #53 Shaaka who made a strong run at the championship from start to finish. Shaaka's early series had him as one of the top contenders throughout the trial. Strong finds, an outstanding nose, spot on retrieves and a vigorous pace was apparent from the get go as Shaaka made easy work of hard runners and challenging retrieves in all five series.
The 2009 championship was clearly #45 Rise. This strapping male ran incredibly hard yet always under control and in complete rapport with Marty. Definitely a brag dog this week, Rise ran the heaviest of cover with bone crushing authority. He had no holes and stood out in a very strong field. Quite deserving of the title Canadian National Champion.
On behalf of Casey and myself, I would truly say hats off to the Scotia and PEI clubs for truly a stellar event. It was extremely memorable. I could not think of anything I would rather do than stand in that beautiful place - in defiance of the wind and rain - witnessing these great dogs and wonderful people. A special thanks to David and Joey Dibblee for their wonderful hospitality and a pleasant time spent with their family and friends. As I have said before, I believe these dogs are a gift that allows us to spend time in such beautiful settings surrounded by such wonderful people and these fine little dogs.