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Weather that could be described as nothing but only glorious greeted competitors and their spaniels at the running of the North West Ulster Spaniel Club's Open and Novice Working Tests, at the delightful Moira Demesne, Co.Down. Well respected judges for the day were: Mr. Ivan Wilson and Mr. Matt Morgan. Giving the dogs every opportunity to shine and produce creditable performances, both men judged positively and fairly at all times.
Open Test winner, Jimmy Crookshanks,
with his spaniel, Evansaura
Squire of Brackentwist.

Whilst not exactly perfect spaniel weather, with temperatures rising fairly high by the afternoon, most spaniels stuck to the task at hand, and although scenting conditions could have been better, both Tests provided the occasion with two worthy winners. Retrieving in both events was well up to par with the mimimum of handling seen in both events. Travis Crothers and his smallish spaniel, Silent Action ran out a clear winner of the Novice Test earlier in the day. Well schooled and prepared, this smallish spaniel proved a cut above the rest.

The Open Test got under way after lunch. Some dogs put up very creditable performances, taking conditions into consideration.

A well known and respected spaniel man, Jimmy Crookshanks, pulled out all the stops, running out an obvious winner of the Open Test with his spaniel, Evansaura Squire of Brackentwist. Again, well schooled and prepared, this was a spaniel that needed theminimum of handling and did it’s jobs with the maximum of ease!
Judges Ivan Morgan and Matt Wilson.


Principally within the U.K. and Ireland, working tests are conducted using canvas dummies/bumpers, occasionally cold game, but mostly with conventional canvas dummies.

Puppy, Novice and Open Tests are the normal standards, where the varying attributes and skills of the dogs: hunting ability, quartering , pace, style, steadiness, retrieving and handling ability are scrupulously judged and marked. Run under the respective Kennel Club governing body rules, there are criteria that have to be strictly met and adhered to. Any dog “not being registered” with the Kennel Club - having no Kennel Club Registration Number - is unable to participate in any Working Test. Whilst nowhere near the prestige of Field Trials, they can be fun - and while some take them seriously, others don’t go over board! Clubs and societies see them as a handy way to raise some much needed revenue with entries etc..., and many enjoy them as it allows opportunity for get togethers out of season. It is a chance to meet old friends, renew acquaintances, and to have a look at one another’s dogs!

It really takes a certain type of dog to be able to run Working Tests. Basically, the type that will hunt bare ground and need little scent to energise and activate them. An animal that is a “gamey” type; that need scent and game to motivate them will, and can, look pretty below par at such events! A dog that will hunt for the sheer hell of it, with pace and style, is always going to attract the Judge’s attention at such events as these. Some dogs, particularly those that have had a lot of game shot for them throughout the shooting season and are accustomed to being on hot ground, can oftimes deliver a below par performance at Working Tests. Tests are “just not their game!” and they have little interest in chasing around bare, uninteresting ground which holds relatively little scent and no game.
Willie Edgar in a pensive mood as he awaits
his turn with his dog, Iced Prince.

Puppy tests are fairly laid back affairs, with little asked of the pup in question. Under the watchful eye of the judges, the pup will be asked to hunt a pattern, quartering it’s beat under control, show some flair, style and application. It will be given every chance to show off it’s ability. It entails a short hunt, followed by a starting pistol fired and a dummy thrown a short distance. The puppy will be expected to drop to the shot, remain steady to both shot and bumper thrown, and on command of the judge, retrieve readily to the handler with a tidy delivery. Another short hunt on, another shot fired, and remaining steady to both, the puppy will be turned around, and given a mark by the judge. The handler will be expected to be able to send the pup from his feet back a short distance, perhaps 20-25 yards for a simple hidden or planted blind retrieve, which the pup will retrieve again readily to it’s handler. Another short hunt, and that about wraps up all that will be asked of a puppy in a Puppy Test. It gives the handler an opportunity to gauge their pup’s temperament, how they handle things under stress and pressure and how well they adjust to the strangeness of the occasion. Not taken so very seriously, nevertheless great fun for both puppy and handler alike!

"And at the end of the day - whether win, lose or draw - they have come together with kindred spirits and enjoyed watching others spaniels show their worth."

Novice dogs will, of course, be expected to produce a much higher performance all round. About 99% of the dogs taking part will have already been introduced to the Trialling field and will have had varying forms of experience on the “real thing”. Usually it is run in braces under two judges. At the mid-run the judges switch dogs. Novice dogs will be expected to demonstrate a high degree of steadiness, hunting ability, and handling ability. They are expected to honour one another’s retrieves, remain steady at all times to shot and thrown bumper, and will be given “crossed retrieves” and diversionary retrieves. Their blind retrieves will be more difficult too, with diversionary retrieves thrown which the dog must disregard. Sent from the handler's feet, they run out perhaps 30-40 yards and readily find their blind or planted retrieve with the very mimimum of fuss and handling. Over-handling will be judged accordingly, and both handler and dog will be marked down for it; losing valuable points. Every dog competing must acquire at least a single point in every aspect of it’s run under Kennel Club rules. A zero mark in any department - even should the dog have full marks in every other - will disqualify it from any award. It’s score being scrapped! Pace, style, quartering, hunting ability, drive, application, steadiness and retrieving ability will be judged within a Novice Test. A jump where a retrieve must be had, may also be thrown in depending on the location, and a water retrieve may also be the order of the day.
Popular handler, Ken Lindsay, enjoys a fill
while awaiting his turn in the Open Test.

Some dogs put in some very creditable performances. An animal that will handle on good straight lines, have a degree of pace and style, paired with steadiness is the type of animal necessary for to compete in any way successfully in a Novice Working Test. Some dogs can be terrific hunters, yet poor handlers; others may be middle of the road regarding hunting abiliity, yet superb handlers. Working tests throw up all sorts.

One thing that any Working Test cannot determine is the soundness of any individual animal's mouth. Pace, style, etc... can be seen clearly, but there is no way of judging the degree of softness or otherwise of any dog's mouth. Field Trials, however, will determine this - one way or another!

Open Working Tests are competed with dogs of fairly high ability. Ages ranging from 15 months and upward run in these events. Again, all the usual requirements have to be met and are expected to be evident by the judges. Many of the animals taking part in this type of event will have been trialled for a few seasons. They will be highly experienced and capable of a high degree of handling and hunting prowess. Blind retrieves, diversionary retrieves, jumps, water retrieves, quartering ability, steadiness, etc... again, all come under the close scrutiny of the judges. Longer hunt ups, much more tempting diversionary bumpers, longer blind and seen retrieves, and much more difficulty all round will be met with within an Open Working Test. Dogs must be seen to have a high degree of ability, handling and steadiness. It is expected of them! Many of the dogs will have been readied, polished in early Spring, and will have had their fitness levels raised to take part in these Tests. Again, whilst holding nowhere near the prestige of any Field Trial, many take them seriously, and they are hotly contested. No one wants to lose!

It must be said in closing that there are some who have no interest at all in running Working Tests. They see no value in them and don't see them fulfilling any purpose. There are others who love to partake in them. They enjoy the fun and cammeraderie of the day, enjoy the banter, and so forth. And at the end of the day - whether win, lose or draw - they have come together with kindred spirits and enjoyed watching others spaniels show their worth. In the grand scheme of things, they may well not fufill much of a purpose, but getting together with others of like mind, promoting spaniels as a breed and at the same time gathering some funds for the various clubs, seems more than enough purpose for me.

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