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I grew up in Minnesota, but the country just a few hours away has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. The maple leaf flag and the singing of "Oh, Canada" signaled the start of every hockey game - a sport that all good Minnesotans and all good Canadians are brought up with and expected to love. Border states like Minnesota and North Dakota share a kinship with their Canadian neighbors, and think nothing of hopping over the border for a weekend.

That said, it was not a stretch to pop up to Montreal in June of 1997 to run my cocker in a field trial. Back in those days, the Canadian spring trials offered a separate cocker and springer stake, with the breeds running first one, then the other under the same judges - all on pigeons. (Or "pee-jones" as they would say in Montreal!) There were four trials in a weekend; one cocker and one spaniel (springer), each day. Cockers were allowed to compete in the spaniel trial, but I was advised, "You can enter the spaniel trial, but you will never get a placement." Many Americans attended and we were welcomed with open arms. (In case you donít know, Canadians are marvelous hosts.) The field was a little lopsided - 13 cockers and about 45 springers, but Cricket and I were absolutely thrilled with our 3rd place ribbon and the guns award - our first placement!

Fast forward to 2001. Paul McGagh, from North Dakota, was running a hard charging cocker named Rocky. Canadians were now allowed to run on game birds in the Spring, and if you wanted to enter a trial north of the border there was only one - the spaniel trial. They took the plunge... and were rewarded by winning 3rd place! The "ice" was broken and a ripple of excitement coursed through the cocker community. We could compete for placements in Canada!

"At barely two years old, Max broke the ice and became the first cocker to win a Canadian spaniel trial."

For those of you not familiar with the early cocker circuit, get out your vacation schedule, gas up your car and get ready to hit the road. All trials were - and still are - "Open" with a separate stake run each day. There were two 2-day trials in Minnesota, one in the spring and one in the fall, two spring trials in Ohio, and two fall trials each in Maine, Michigan, New York and North Dakota. A new venue so close to home was music to our cocker loving ears!

And so it began. Paul competed in the Canadian National with Rocky that year, and the following season Tom Ness won placements with cockers Hoover and Freckles. Then Tom wrapped up his year winning the guns award with Hoover in the Canadian National. In all these "firsts", there was still one thing lacking - a cocker first place. Enter Mad Max and Marty Knibbs.

We sent Max, our wild child, up to Marty to be trained, steadied and prepared for trialing when he was nine months old. Once "ready and steady" he competed in spaniel puppy stakes in Canada and came home with several red ribbons ready to compete in the US puppy circuit. I handled him to four puppy blues, and got him to the 3rd series in his first cocker open - on his second birthday!

Then came the good news. Marty was going to run the 2003 Spring Canadian circuit from coast to coast, and he wanted to run Max.

Those of us with dogs being handled by pros understand the significance of "the phone call". It is when your dog is entered in a trial and you hang around the phone willing it to ring. If it rings... success! A silent phone means no placement.

On the evening of the first trial, "the phone call" came. With unbelievable news - Max had won! At first, I didnít believe him - how could it be true? It was confirmed the next day at the Minnesota Spring cocker trial where we arrived to a round of hearty congratulations - the news was out and it was true. At barely two years old, Max broke the ice and became the first cocker to win a Canadian spaniel trial.

Marty and "Shorty from section 40", as Max was nicknamed by the Canadians, went on to claim four more 2nd place ribbons and attained the privilege of becoming the first cocker to achieve Ftch (CFC) Spaniel Field Trial Championship status in Canada. He dotted the "I" and crossed the "T" at the Canadian National Championship where he completed his water test. Congratulations were offered by all - even the judges stopped by to relay a Max story to his proud parents!

Back to the present. Max is at home now where he and I compete in US cocker trials. He has 3rd, 4th, and guns award accomplishments with myself at the helm. (I am not quite the handler that Marty is - not nearly as "scary".)

A year and a half has passed since we first got the news of Maxís win. It didnít take long for other cocker owners to quickly follow suit. Paul McGaghís Sydney won her Ftch (CFC) this year with two wins and his Storm took a couple of Canadian trial placements then capped her year with a 4th place at the Canadian National Championship - another cocker first!

So, thanks to Marty Knibbs - and, of course, that includes his wife, Shelley - for the awesome job you did training and handling Max. You gave us the thrill of a lifetime and a place in history.

Thanks to all of you warm and wonderful trialers in Canada for extending your hand across the border!

For those of you considering a run in Canada (, it's a no-brainer:

  • a trial each day for 2 or 3 days
  • a schedule that doesnít conflict with US trials
  • Cockers and Springerís compete in the same trial - you can run both!
  • awesome food and drink
  • the friendliest people that you will ever meet

What have you got to lose, eh?

Chris Dartt

Chris Dartt and her husband, John, live 40 miles north of Minneapolis in Cambridge, Minnesota, on 20 wonderful "training" acres with their five field bred English cockers:

  • Cricket, a 10-year old retired FC
  • Pepper, a 4-year old active trialer, high point puppy of 2001 with three Open placements
  • Max, a 3-year old Canadian Spaniel Champion (the first cocker to acheive the title!), with two Open placements
  • Dobie, a 2-year old with two Open Placements
  • Blaze, 15 months - a field trail prospect in training
Chris and John share the handling credit with Chris stepping in to handle all the dogs when John is asked to gun - his favorite part of field trials! Chris has been an active handler in field trails since they began trialing in 1995, is a member of the Fox Valley English Cocker Spaniel Club, the Minnesota Hunting Spaniel Club and the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America. She co-chaired the 2003 Cocker National in Nebraska and has been a member of the Field Events Committee (Cocker) for four years.

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