Popinjay in the Books

20140428-195841.jpgI haven’t Facebook’d or really tweeted about the preparations spent this past week getting Pop ready for this past weekends field trial. It was an “open” (as in to both Pro’s and Amateurs) stakes trial but there were no purses and that really tends to thin out any pro’s that may’ve gone. No draw results were posted anywhere leaving me to call for our brace number and additionally ask who we were braced since that info was offered up either. I had no idea how big a puppy field there was going to be so forgive me on remaining quiet as if it ended up being a six-pup field and Pop didn’t place, well that’d be pretty humbling pending the circumstances that put you there, however there was a good turnout for the puppy and other stakes as well.

Popinjay’s breeding is Impact Player X Elektra.

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Pop just left of center, earlier in the week.

On trial weeks I try to run dogs 3 times a week, at least twice- those two-day weeks preferably Tuesday and Thursday, never Friday (usually the day before the trial) as I want them rested and recharged. This past week however Pop got out Tuesday, that was it. I did run Blaze with him though for the added value of getting Blaze in on some work too, reminding Pop not every command is directed at him, and another dog isn’t as interesting as what he might find while otherwise ignoring it. Both ran well. I’d given some of the free time at home to Pop out in the yard getting in 10 minutes or so in tearing around the yard full speed Wednesday and Thursday trying to compensate for the time we’d miss in the woods. He ended up getting pretty dirty Thursday evening and got a bath Friday night as he looked like what Sherwin-Williams might call a swatch Gravel Dust Grey.

freeland-signWe loaded up and were on the road by 5:30am, we were in the fourth brace but I wanted to walk as many as I could beginning with the first. We made good time, the interstate isn’t yet plagued by all over summer’s road construction work. The only hiccup was putting the road into the iPhone map routing as “North” instead of “South”, we still got there in plenty of time for the first brace. I knew these trial grounds were better suited for running horseback dogs, a lot of “open” ground (in comparison to cover trials)  for dogs to range out in pursuit of quail. We showed up, as I was told woodcock and an occasional grouse could be found there- perhaps that’s so but none of the courses seemed to cater to hitting that sort of cover. Pop, extensively ran in thick grouse and woodcock cover – not this type of open ground – along with his square, short coupled build didn’t seem to fit the mold here. And then once the pointers and long-legged setters started getting staked out, I thought we were going to get smoked as we were way out of our element.

At first that feeling seemed to be confirmed walking the first brace. Both dogs’ long legs seemed to just eat ground up without much effort needed. They seemed to be younger dogs however and (friendly) regarded each other a little more than I would want to see. Yet still both were usable. Out of all the pups there, only one was a dog we’d competed with (but never braced with) or I’d judged in the last year. That pup’s owner/handler being just one of the two familiar faces there I knew, and to my knowledge me being the only acquaintance of his there, had us talking a lot of dogs and leaving on a first name basis. (His pup also usable.) But as the braces continued on, largely pending Pop’s reaction and adjustments to this open ground, my confidence was slowly building. Up until Pop’s brace there was only really one dog I knew for certain would probably be in ribbons that couldn’t be denied, and up to that point in blue pending the remaining pups’ efforts. It being a “little” (compared to a field of bigger-than-average pups, used loosely- as it was a  nice sized, well put together pup) liver and white pointer female. She was ever-forward, fast working and could turn on a dime; too busy hunting to be aware she had a handful of admires. Being the brace before Pop’s I wasn’t able to tell her handler/owner she was a nice dog until after ours.

Pop was on-deck. I broke off the tail end of that brace to hightail it to the truck to get him ready. I’d all ready had a collar through a bell laying ready by his box and my lead over my shoulder. I don’t know why but I took off his usual collar (red) and put on the bell collar (yellow), I usually leave both on. I snapped my lead and set him on the ground to get over to the line. Pop was particularly fired up, perhaps it was hearing and seeing everything he usually misses at these things when the wind panels are in place on the door blocking all that stimuli out. He “roaded” himself the entire way over to the start of the course, putting me on my heels at times to apply the brakes. He was ready to go, awry as can be nor did he care. In fact I loosened grip (rigid to that point) at one moment only to have him torque my wrist. It was about that time I realized my whistle still sat in the truck. Someone offered to keep Pop while I ran back and got it but knowing it was more restraining than “keeping” I declined.

Now cue the hunting dog critics’ opinions of field trial dogs being wild, unruly or even possessed, etc- so let me clear the air. Utter hogwash. Now I won’t lie, normally if I was hunting or training (bird work related) Pop in that instant, his exuberance would greatly annoy me AND if he wasn’t a puppy I’d quickly have his undivided attention and let him know what was up. Now granted I could do that at this stage but why? Look at the big picture- he’s a year old puppy and year old puppies have adult sized bodies that carry out puppy antics- their minds will catch up. He’s a statue on the table or in a tub when it’s time to get trimmed or bathed. He’ll sleep on your lap but when he’s not home, wearing a bell, in the field and being restrained, he wants to GO now!- that’s the kind of dog I want. With age, and going through the routine, the dog has never been disciplined for its enthusiasm or had its spirit or boldness squashed or hindered in growth. Heavy hands and over management will take something out you can’t put back in. A good visual of the nearly-finished product can be seen here – you’ll see a young Long Gone Zeena (Annie’s mom), as eager as can be. She knows why she’s there but is completely under control. I actually gave her a ride from CT to PA about 6 months after this was shot, she slept on the front passenger seat the entire time and was settled in before we were even out of the driveway. This is just one of endless examples of a “Wild, unruly, or possessed” field trial dog.

Now, with our (good-sized, handsome pointer male) brace mate ready along with the  judges, Pop finally settled in for a moment while I was leaning over him waiting for the word. He seemed to know he was about to be let loose. I deferred our exact start to other handler, I just watch their hand on the dogs collar. Both dogs tore straight off and it quickly turned into a drag race. Yes, they blew past a 100 yards of (subpar, snow-matted no-birds-land grass) cover to get to the legitimate-looking bird cover beyond. It was there the two parted ways splitting up on either side of the trail. After Pop got through his pocket of cover he went down into more (a wood line) on our left, he was to the side but equally as forward. We were starting a gradual turn up a hill to the right so I got on him some so he’d pop out and see where we were headed. He looped out in front and powered through a fencerow (as opposed to going through the gap the course trail went through) and dove into the brushy cover on the other (uphill) side of the field we were in. He turned right on a hard turn at the top in the direction the course went but didn’t come out in time to see us make another harder right to go back down the hill, almost doing a 180. I had to really get on him at this point not to lose him behind.

After walking 70 yards or so down the hill still hearing his bell in the cover above, he came out into view right after we took a left turn at the bottom. He came charging down but took an angle that put him well in front instead of coming in from the side or behind. He and his brace mate who was out in front about 70 yards saw each other and tore off again on another short foot race before breaking apart. Pop broke and looped left and made a wide cast working back towards us while his brace mate broke right, hit edge and took it straight away. Pop now back in at about 70 yards and coming towards me, and the course now really running through (until finish) an open field, I angled right towards the wooded cover on the edge of the field and waved my hat. He went that direction and disappeared.

His bell faded quickly in the gusting wind and I thought he ended up off to the side. I got on him, calling, but he wasn’t showing. He was gone long enough for me to start worrying that waiving him into that cover was going to end up being a bad move, but before I could get too far into that question he squirted out into the field way out in front.  Whew. Both dogs were working out in front shortly after Pop’s reappearance and both were ordered up now at the end of the course. Both dogs were so big they took longer to round up than the other braces. Pop ran up, actually sniffed a few people watching from the clubhouse up on the hill before keying in on my waiving hat and charging down for me. As he closed in I knelt down to bring him to foot and snag his collar. I thanked the judges quick before wheeling around to put him back in the truck and get to the line to watch the next brace. Shortly after we’d began double-timing it up the hill toward the clubhouse I stopped quick to let Pop know I appreciated the effort (I felt like a kid needing to be reminded to say thank-you) before once again scrambling up the hill. I took his collar off, put him in his box with a full water bowl and went back to the starting line.

I walked the next brace satisfied overall with Pop’s run. If I remember correctly after getting a complement on it from the owner of the “little” liver and white pointer female before I turned the subject on her and that I thought she’d ribbon. When the braces wrapped up, there was a brief break before the shooting dog stake began. Looked like we’d have to wait a while before puppy was announced. I actually think I was one of the few that only had a pup entered and no other dogs along to run. I sat out of the wind in the sun on a picnic table against the clubhouse and watched the final few minutes of each shooting dog stake thinking about everything I’d seen in puppy.

I never place my own dog in my head, and it’s honestly fairly easy not to being a pessimist by nature: I nitpick the run and explain to myself why my dog won’t ribbon… our own worst critic. Today he didn’t handle that first turn as well as he could of..etc. It just makes the winner announcements a lot less nerve-wracking. I had Pop’s brace mate at 1st and the liver and white female at 2nd. Third was not as definitive, perhaps one of the three or four dogs in the first two braces? And I’m serious about never placing my dogs… okay, well I’ll think a 3rd place may be plausible occasionally. When the liver and white pointer was named 3rd I thought Pop was 100% out of it for sure, that’s was possibly his placement. I grew uneasy when Pop’s brace mate was announced as 2nd. Who on earth can they possibly have at 1st?

“And at First Place we have “Tops”, owned by…”

Yeah, they had my name down wrong too, evidently I ran him under the pseudo “Jeff”. (I did make sure I wrote down and left all the correct info for us.) Being an unknown with an unknown pup (no one else ever saw him run or his litter mates) I didn’t anticipate that at all. I knew Pop ran hard and hit cover more than every other pup except for maybe his brace mate, but I was too busy hawk-eyeing Pop in their brace to really keep tabs on the pointer pup. I have that owner to thank for the photo below, taken with his phone… I forgot to hand mine over. Pop’s litter of 5 males, now have three winning dogs with a total of at least seven placements, and all are still considered puppies until June 30th. At any rate, I think I’ll keep running that bright yellow collar on him.

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