…. if you don’t have a dream.
How you gonna have a dream come true?”
…..So the song goes. And I sit here, just a tiny bit overwhelmed thinking about this last two and a bit months. Is it REALLY only two (and a bit!) months? Since the start of the Trialing season it all feels like a bit of a blur. I think I could ACTUALLY have started this blog by simply putting on a serious face, nodding to the room, sitting down in a circle and saying ‘My name is Diana, and I am addicted to Trialing, however I have been ‘clean’ for two whole days now but only because I won out of Novice on saturday!!!’ WoooooooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!
Trialing. Never, EVER was there such a aptly named sport. Field trialing. ‘Trials’ in a ‘Field’. A crazy game that starts as ‘something you might like to do just to see’… and snowballs into an obbsessive compulsion which you think about all year, talk about for weeks coming UP to the season, then for weeks AFTER the season, feel terror about DURING the season, and pine for and miss terribly OUT of the season!! Mental. I have to say I went into this season dying to win a Novice trial. I’ll not lie. Really I did. But funny enough as it went along, Bondy threw me a couple of quirks that I hadn’t really stumbled over before with him, namely, repeatedly ‘asking’ whilst he was hunting in the open (not in a wood or ditch or hedge though interestingly…), and spinning as he went out within paces of leaving me, and the extra push ‘back!’ with a far less specific arm than the one which he lined out to, would usually throw him off the good line he was taking. MIND YOU, maybe I had better go back a bit…. Back to September. To rolled up shirt sleeves, and debating if we were taking enough water with us when leaving the cars for both dog and handler. To ask around if anyone had any Ambre Solaire factor 30! To days of partridge, and ground you couldn’t shove a stick into without a neumatic drill. To weekends of a strange mix of a working test on the Sunday, a field trial training day in sugar beet on dummies on the monday, and a All Aged field trial on the Tuesday!!
When I sat Bondy up on 6th September with ‘number 2′ on my armband at the UGS Herts Beds and Bucks All Aged trial there were three slightly unusual things about us. Firstly he hadn’t yet had a bird in his mouth since last January. Secondly, we hadn’t ‘eased’ our way into the season with a few Novices before an All Aged we had just banged straight into it…his first…. MY first….. OUR first! Then of course there was the small matter of it being the first DRIVE he had sat in since the previous January, and then as a leggy, gangly, immature, wide eyed baby of 18 months old. So, to be fair, there was no pressure on us at all…. but by god, he went GREAT! Steady, confident, taking working test style lines on one back… and you could of picked me up off the floor when we made it to the end of the trial in GREAT company, and the judges gave us second!! SECOND!! REALLY!!?? Jesus, can life get any better!!! (Well, as Bondys breeder thoughtfully pointed out, yes it COULD, why wasn’t it a bloody FIRST!! Not that shes competitive!!). So we move on, still no training days, still no picking up, still no more birds for Bondy, to Saturday 10th Sept and, again, rather crazily, ANOTHER All Aged trial this time at Orsett and for UGS kent & East Sussex. The mad story continued…. we made it to the end of the trial. he went like an angel, if a tiny bit green in places, but solidly nevertheless…. and we were THIRD!! COULD that be the best week EVER in my dog life….?? Well it certainly was THEN!!
So then the training days start, and before my next trial, I was lucky enough to be asked on three training days on birds up at Steve Kings Knowle Game Farm. Happy days. the boy went well… started a slightly odd quirk of spinning a little and asking not far from me, but by the third I thought that was ironed… he hunted well, handled well, got some (infamous) eye wipes (You mean you aren’t meant to punch the air and yell ‘YES!!! Get in!!!’ when you eyewipe someone? OHHHH you are meant to keep a politely smug face and shake their hand!!! Ohhhh I seeee!! Must try and remember that…. big grin!). Fish was going well with Al, and had some wonderful opportunities to take himself and the Fishmeister up to Ampton, the famous Great Livermere and training, which gave him no end of confidence. I went there twice. The first time Jade coursed a hare in the first twenty paces of setting off and I cried. The second time I was running in a trial and she picked the wrong bird in the first three minutes…. and I cried…. GOD I was a wimp back then Note to self, MUST go back to Ampton someday and actually show I have a backbone!!
So onwards To Thursday 6th October. A walked up trial, to ease Allan and Fish into THEIR season, with many more nominations in to come to start to get it together. Its stuff of legend now…. but they only bloody stormed it!! WHAT????? Yesss but nooooo but yessss but wooo hooooo but OH MY GOD NOOOOO!!!! Absolutely fantastic! Totally gobsmacked at the thought that we had BRED a field trial winner (did I mention he is half show….?? OK, best not….). I think its well documented how much stick I got for that from every single angle. Even my own MOTHER started on me one evening, gently chuckling to herself!! The texts! The jokes! The walking into the pub having had a CRAPPY day at a trial on the first day of our shoots season to be greeted with shouts of ‘best AL runs the picking up team in future as he is the better handler!!’ …. etc etc…. BUT…. You people know THIS! I will REMEMBER your jibes, and I plan to heartbreakingly eyewipe every SINGLE one of you at some sweet point in time just when you think you have a trial sewn up….. jabs her finger randomly at viewers…. I have a LONG memory (as long as I haven’t had more than three wines….)
It was fantastic, but the pressure loaded on my poor weak, blonde shoulders the very next day to go out and win at the UGS West Sussex and Surrey trial at Firle was almost unbearable… I was tense, nervous, all confidence gone, I overhandled, the dog got me out of a few fixes and was confused by my sudden change in handling back to the flappy numpty I once was, and whilst we were so pleased to get a COM and make the last round of the trial, I look back now and think WHY did you do that, WHY did you do THAT? Thinking of nearly every retrieve! But anyway…. hey, two cards in a week for us, and one a WIN, we were surely easing into my dream of a win somewhere…. and now I’d had my ‘lucky escape’ trial where it FELT awful but didn’t look quite as bad as it felt… we must be onwards and upwards – well, me and the Meercat anyway. Al now could put his feet up and rest on his laurels and drink whiskey from his enormous cup that glinted at me every morning!!! i refused to dust it. I refuse to dust at the best of times, but there was no way I was touching it…. (wink!)
So on we plod, opening envelopes with draws in them and not really being anywhere on the orders. Then, a call from Liz Barnes, we have a run with the Guildford on the 17th October! Swiftly followed by another call to say we had a run the next day with Arun and Downland!! HOW lucky could one girl be! Now just not to be at home to Mr Fuckup!!
There is no way I would make excuses, because the problems that struck us at these trials were lurking before this, but we had some really bad family news a couple of days before, and I was a mess. Jittery, neurotic and not nice company, to be honest…. ao therefore it was only good and right that my fellow TRIAL competitors thought so too and I was eye wiped in the first and second round on BOTH occasions! Both occasions saw Bondy hunting in a lack lustre, paint dryingly boring way, checking in with me every few strides, and it was almost a relief to be asked by a gently dozing judge, to call him up before we all laid down in the cabbages and fell asleep!! It happens. We all clap eavch other on the shoulder and say ‘bad luck…. it happens… dogs are not machines… you can only do your best….’ etc…. but when your best is NOT what was produced at the time when it really mattered…. twice! I wanted to go home, sell up shop and move to somewhere where field sports are banned….!!! Well i did for about the drive home… and upon arriving home, there was a call saying I had a run on SATURDAY with Hampshire Gundog!! Woo hoo! Another chance at the death of my self confidence! it had to be a sign! there would be no endless fields of cabbages to relive the non hunting Meercat, everyone running was friends, the judges were all people I really liked…. and well, maybe, just maybe!!
Getting off the gunbus at the Hampshire trial to see the biggest fields of bastard leafy cabbages you could ever imagine about as far as the eye could see, made me nearly climb back in again. I should have. Rome doesn’t pick itself up and replace itself somewhere near Barcelona overnight, and nor does a Meercat learn the joys of open field hunting. I’ve never liked cabbage. its green, its pointless and it makes you fart. Its also EXCELLENT for, yet again, managing to be eyewiped in the first round by a ‘not very hunting Bondy’. To be fair, the phrase ‘OK Number 5, if you could go fishing please’ was NOT what i needed to hear in anyway. that basically means ‘let you dog have its head and hunt a large area because we don’t really know where the bird is….’ the chances of the ‘checking in queen’ doing that was akin to flying to the moon…. to be fair, he did pull me about a little bit, for him, and I was pleased about that…. but we covered about one third of the ground the next guy to go did, and he did so effortlessly! He also went on to win the trial, but that doesn’t make the drive home any less tourturous!! So at this point, I hadn’t just MOVED to a non field sports country, I had stayed in this, joined the league against cruel sports, and was actively campaigning to have field trials banned in the UK!!! Often whilst waiting to be called into line, in trials, competitors look at each other, catch a certain look in one anothers eyes…. uncork a hip flask, offer it to them, and say ‘WHY do we do this? WHY do we put ourselves THROUGH this!!?? Why??’ Its a mystery to most of us… its a drug akin to Crack Cocaine I think!!! you know its a mental thing to do, and can only damage yourself in numerous ways longterm, but you HAVE to have some!!
November arrives. And the big coats come out. I have a couple of weeks to get myself back into the land of the living, and I do NOT train Bondy at ALL! Keep him mean and keen said everyone who has ever known him! Days roll by and I shove in lots of nominations. I admit defeat on the idea of a win by Christmas and I put in for everything in January! I help at a couple of trials that I’d taken days off for. Some worthy winners and some great work. I was obsessed by how dogs hunted in the open. I was driving myself loopy about it. The turning point came when I took Bondy out picking up at newhouse. Within minutes he was shaking and dancing and I gave him a standing ovation when he shot off into a wood and hunted it like mad completely out of control, and totally unasked for! FANTASTIC!! He went to run in at one point! I praised him like a Grand National winner!! The soft brown eyes turned steely grey and he forgot all his heelwork to music moves! It was magnificent! it was only one day but hey, could it be enough??
So Saturday 12th November dawns. We had been out the night before at a posh dinner thingy after the first day of the SEGS two day open which Allan had run in (without huge success but knocked him off the mark with Open runs and experience anyway!) and I had helped at. I had driven (gasp!) so was sober. I was knackered tho. However the Meercat looked thrilled as I filled my flask (which always means something gundog!!) He bounced into the car… and when we got to the UGS kent & east Sussex ground in Essex at blackmore he lept out the car and we headed to the exercise area. Then I stopped in my tracks. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! Its not POSSIBLE!!! The bastard stuff has FOLLOWED US!!! Leafy green rotten, stinking, wretched kale/lindseed/cabbage stuff!!! Hunty stuff!!! I was devestated!! I couldn’t stop mentioning it to people till they gently moved away from me… ‘I can’t BELIEVE it, cabbages!!! Nooo! I thought we left those in Sussex and Hampshire and every bloody OTHER where… now they are HERE!! I could of sobbed.
However…. whilst the dog didn’t, I will admit, have any long long hunts in them during the trial, he picked 4 of his 6 retrieves out of them and one memorable, runner duck he worked BEAUTIFULLY. When he picked it I knew if it wasn’t our day that day it NEVER would be. And it was. It was that dream come true day. We won. I could breathe (it felt like I hadn’t for about 10 weeks!) I could ring Allan and Graham, and Gilly and Mum and give them well deserved GOOD news for once for putting up with me!! I will never feel like I felt when Jane Tydeman said we were first. I wanted to run and hug her and hold on and cry my eyes out!! Everyone was so cheery and clappy and it was so flattering (I bet they were all just bloody glad to see the back of me and my neurotic emotional moments quite frankly!!) and Bondy…. we had WON!
I will never ‘get’ like this again. I sit here praying that Otter comes behind Bondy as my next trial dog. She may. She may not. I may never be that lucky again. I will never want it quite so frantically I don’t think, and part of it is how much i adore, really love this little dog, Bondy Meercat. A soppy name for a clever, smart, dignified, steady, self controlled, generous, sensitive, fast, powerful, needy, adoring, fantastic little dog. I will be nothing but calm, dignified and experienced in how laid back I am about training and trialing subsequent dogs in the future. Of course. I could NEVER live another 10 weeks like these last ones…. that would just be CRAZY, after all!
Now i’m just off to start worrying about something that happened whilst training Otter today………