I recently caught up with the captains of the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish gundog teams to find out more about their roles and how they deal with the pressures and challenges of managing a team. With a mixture of national pride, experience and drive to succeed each captain prepares their team members for the big gundog events. There's no doubt these guys have a passion for the sport but my feature highlights - having a passion and turning it into a winning team are two wholly separate things. With the prestigious Home International event fast approaching I have a feeling it's going to be an interesting Game Fair!
A huge thank you to Roddy Forbes, David Latham, John Williamson, Willie Edgar and Mark Bettinson for your time and support.
I loved my day spent with a fantastic group of Countryside Management and Gamekeeping students at Wiltshire College. They gave me a real insight into the 'working dogs' unit which is embedded into the course curriculum and were keen to share their passion for gundogs. It's fair to say the unit is a firm favourite among the students and has a vital role to play within the education domain.
A big thank you goes out to the course leader, Neil Bianchi and the students involved - you are all truly inspirational!
Howard Kirby of Mullenscote Gundogs could be seen delivering the ever popular gundog demonstration at this year’s West of England Game Fair. Howard has been training gundogs for over twenty years and he splits his time between Mullenscote Dog Training Centre and Lains Shooting School. Based in Hampshire, the gundog trainer has an experienced team who specialise in training and assisting handlers to get the very best from their dogs. Howard has won field trials with English springer spaniels, cockers, German long-haired pointers, German short haired-pointers and English setters. His career highlight to date being a win at the 2014 and second place in the 2017 Kennel Club Hunt Point Retrieve Championships with his FTCH Wamilanghaar Tash of Mullenscote.
So what makes a successful gundog demo?
It may sound obvious but the key to getting noticed is to make sure you have something fresh to share. Howard has that certain something. He embraces his passion for gundogs and country life and captivates the audience with his sharp wit and his natural relaxed showman style. There’s no question he has a unique talent in providing family entertainment and educating people on training and getting the very best from their gundogs.
As the event got under way I watched the team demonstrate how they use reward-based training methods to teach young HPR’s, spaniels, retrievers and setters to become exemplary gundogs. Within minutes it was easy to see why this event was so popular. With their knowledge, experience and friendly approach the dedicated Mullenscote team delivered a demonstration which was second to none.
During the day I managed to grab Howard for a few quick fire round of questions…
I’ve got two - I haven’t been to the cinema for 25 years and have recently starting going again. I’ve just seen A Star is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody which are both just brilliant!
Favourite music artist/group?
If you could duet with an artist who would it be?
Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy. Who wouldn’t want to be a rock star!
Best gift you’ve ever received?
My current partner, Lynsey Whitley, all of my friends and family love her but tell me I’m ‘punching above my weight!’
Something you’ve always wanted to try but are afraid to do?
I’ve done fix line parachuting and free fall parachuting is something I’m afraid of but would really like to try.
Who do you admire?
Ian Openshaw. I think he's a fantastic dog trainer!
One accomplishment you’re most proud of?
I’m very proud of our latest venture, Mullenscote TV. It’s a ‘gundog training channel’ and a project that’s been in my mind for a long time. It’s taken a huge team effort to launch it. I’ve grown to learn how much a passionate team of people can achieve.
Most memorable career moment so far?
Winning the HPR Championship 2014. It was something I had been working towards all of my life.
Early bird or night owl?
I’m a very early bird.
Tango - makes me lively and excitable!
Chinese or Indian takeaway?
One thing you still have from your teenage years?
My sense of humour.
Person who gets you to laugh the most?
My partner, Lynsey and comedian Mickey Flanagan.
What’s the one question no one has ever asked you?
What I really want out of life…
Kindle or paperback?
Spaniel or Labrador or HPR?
Mmm…if I was pushed it would have to be a HPR - German wired haired pointer.
This summer Howard Kirby and his Mullenscote team can be seen at various game fairs across the country delivering gundog demonstrations, running clinics and Q & A seminars. For further info visit: http://www.mullenscote.co.uk
Gundog handler Ash Green is a Spanish Water Dog enthusiast. His dog, Chica is a wonderful working example of the breed - versatile, intelligent and brave she stands out in the field and creates some interest among the shooting community who are not familiar with the breed. I'm thrilled to see The Countryman's Weekly have published my interview this week which offers an interesting account of the Spanish Water Dog in the shooting field.
Hope you enjoy!
Many thanks to Ash for his time and support.
My article in the Shooting Gazette, April 2019 was a privilege to write as it gives the real unsung heroes a chance to shine. There's no doubt these four success stories highlight the rewards and challenges of a rescue gundog and shows how adaptable they can be in a new environment. Time, patience and understanding the dog's needs are key requirements in developing a solid working relationship and ultimately a contented gundog. Hope you enjoy reading this feature as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Many thanks to Nicola Kebbell from Spaniel Aid UK, Clare Skelton, Nick Browne, Chris Hinch and Nicola Rushmore - You are all shining stars!
The Bath & West Showgrounds are set to come alive for this year’s West of England Game Fair with a host of gundog events, competitions and demonstrations. Now in its 22nd year, the countryside show on the 16th and 17th March will offer something for everyone and the gundog events will aim to inspire, educate and entertain all the family. Exhibitors and visitors alike always say there’s no event like a game fair and this year the action packed programme will not only give you the chance to watch the top dogs and handlers in their field but also to enjoy the exciting range of have-a-go events. Here’s a taster of what you can expect…
Don’t miss out!
The gundog demonstrations are set to offer something for everyone. Professional gundog trainer Howard Kirby from Mullenscote Gundogs will be offering engaging demonstrations in the indoor and outdoor arenas. His team will provide top tips and training techniques to produce spaniels and retrievers from puppy hood to the shooting and competition field. Howard will also showcase his fantastic team of HPRs and English Setters and reveal unique techniques on how to train these highly specialised breeds.
Do you have an issue with your gundog in the field and want to resolve it? Howard is offering an exclusive ‘Q & A’ session in the indoor arena. The team will attempt to answer your questions and display how they problem solve when working a dog. There’s no doubt the popular demo will attract huge crowds over the two days so make sure you find a suitable viewing spot at the arena and enjoy the talented and captivating Mullenscote Gundogs.
Fun for all the family!
There are an exciting range of have-a-go events that provide enjoyment for all the family. Whether you are taking part or watching there is plenty of banter between all involved. The scurry events can be highly competitive and may not suit everyone in the gundog domain but it’s a joy to watch the experienced dogs and handlers give a stylish performance.
The main aim for the serious scurry competitor is to make the top fastest 20 dogs in the BASC Scurry League and receive an invite to compete in the grand final which will determine the overall winner. Throughout the spring and summer competitors can attend 9 game fairs across the country and have the opportunity to gain prizes and points for the league in each scurry they compete in.
Junior Handler Challenge...
Many youngsters take part in the have-a-go events, some simply want to have a fun challenge with their family pet, whilst others wish to experience the test environment and put their training into practice. These young handlers are dynamic and full of enthusiasm and the West of England Game Fair offers an exciting and unique challenge for the next generation of our gundog handlers.
Make sure the have-a-go events are one of the many highlights of your day. Grab some lunch and find a suitable viewing spot to watch a plethora of dogs in action. You’ll be suitably impressed by the experts and their biddable dogs and you’ll have a giggle at the unexpected antics of those dogs that happily ignore the whistle, jump the straw bales and aim for the nearest game-burger stand. It’s a delight to watch and fabulous entertainment for all the family.
Put your training to the test…
BASC have a variety of gundog activities for this year and BASC Gundog Officer Kate Dymock is delighted to confirm the return of the Training Clinic with experienced trainer Jim Penaliggon. Alongside the clinic is the ever popular BASC Gundog Test run by M & M Gundogs. This is an ideal way to see if your basics are solidly ingrained and to evaluate your training progress in a test environment.
If you’re looking to talk through any training issues or find out about gundog classes the Duchy and North Devon Gundog Club will be situated on the BASC balcony and available to discuss any training queries you may have. It’s the perfect opportunity to have a chat with like minded people and obtain some re-assurance with your training techniques.
There’s never been a better time to buy!
There are a vast amount of trade stands at the show with lots on offer so make sure you grab yourself a show guide so you can easily find your main interest. Most of us make our purchases on-line nowadays so use the show to take a step away from online shopping and treat yourself to buying items in person. Talk to likeminded people and share knowledge, tips and recommendations about products. This will give you an opportunity to see what’s on the market and enable you to make an informed decision. Give yourself a chance to identify what products appeal to you. But be warned - you’ll be spoilt for choice!
There’s no question this event will celebrate those who are passionate about their working dogs. The West of England Game Fair is the perfect opportunity to relax with family and friends and absorb the sights and sounds of a countryside extravaganza. With my writer’s tool kit in hand I will be there to capture a variety of gundog activities in action and yes, I will be stopping at the Foxdenton stand to test the variety of tipples that are a must-have for any countryside writer - Look forward to seeing you there!
Based in rural Dorset, my life is firmly in the countryside and that's one of the reasons I'm able to write about gundogs and all that rural Britain has to offer. Whether you have a picking-up, beating or peg dog it's a good time to start reflecting on your experience in the field and start thinking about your plans for the year ahead. I hope you enjoy my latest article in the Countryman's Weekly and wishing you many happy days with your gundog in 2019.
There’s still no better feeling than seeing your name in a printed publication you are proud and lucky enough to write for. I’m so thrilled with my IGL Retriever Championship report (8 pages!) in the February issue of the Shooting Gazette. A big thank you to Karen Handley for being a super snapper and laughing our way through the calamitous stay in Fawlty Towers! Many thanks to the IGL committee and Headkeeper Matt Nesbitt who made every effort to look after the press team throughout the three days. It was a truly fantastic experience!
Congratulations to all award winners on your well-deserved success!
Thrilled to see my gundog article in this week’s (16th Jan 2019) The Countrymans Weekly - the UK’s biggest selling country sports newspaper!
Delighted to see my gundog features in this week’s The Countrymans Weekly and January 2019 issue of the Shooting Gazette. Big thanks to Julia Smith and Mike Thomas for their help and support.
Wishing you all many happy days in the field with your gundog during the festive season and best wishes for 2019!
It's New Year's Eve and what a year it has been! This year I have followed so many of you via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and loved seeing your gundog pictures and hearing about your achievements and challenges with your working tests and trials. My journalistic journey has taken me to many wonderful gundog events this year and I want to say a huge thank you to my readers, friends and family for your encouragement and support - And so I would like to share one of my treasured moments which took place at a fantastic David Latham training day in Dorset at the end of this summer. Thanks again for being awesome supporters of my blog and articles and wishing you all a healthy and happy New Year…
Gundog Trainer David Latham talks about his dogs and his role as England’s Team Captain, conveying attributes about his competing and character which reflects his passion for the sport...
The summer of 2018 has brought success for England in the working test arena taking the winning trophies for the Four Nations Challenge held at Scone Palace, and the prestigious Home International at the Game Fair. The team were also awarded a credible third place in the Skinners World Cup held at Hampstead Park. England have had an exciting and triumphant 2018 and there’s no doubt David’s encouragement continues to draw admiration from his team and the gundog community.
You’ve had a successful 2018 as England’s Team Captain…what’s different?
We worked hard this year and we’ve spent a lot of time together training twice a week since February. There’s no doubt we had a strong retriever team with some good quality dogs and it’s all come together. I knew we’ve had a strong team for the last 3 years but we’ve given our success away. This year we didn’t make any mistakes, the team have been consistent and we won the Home International by 55 points which was massive at this level of competing. Three years ago we came third and got beaten by two points so our win this year was fantastic.
What makes a winning team?
Consistency is the key. 20/20/20/0 isn’t what you want in a competition. I want 18/19/17 and maybe a 16. All dogs need to be picking and the handlers must have the mentality to compete within the big occasion and deal with the pressure such as the Home International at the Game Fair. The level of pressure can be intense, more so than the IGL because you’re competing as a team and you don’t want to let anyone down and be the person who gets a zero, I’ve been there and it’s not a nice feeling. Not all handlers and dogs can compete with this pressure. This year our retriever and spaniel team were consistent throughout and able to step up in a pressurised environment. They all picked the dummies and for us the spaniel team were the icing on the cake. I’m really proud of them - a winning combination.
Do you enjoy the challenges of being England’s Team Captain?
To be honest it wasn’t one of my goals to be the England Team Captain. When John Halstead (senior) retired after the 2014 CLA Game Fair I was asked to represent England and it was a new challenge and I felt proud to follow in his footsteps. I’ve known John for many years and with his blessing I took the role on in 2015. John and Sandra still play an active part and offer a tremendous amount of support as it can be a testing role which has its pressures. I want to be able to prove to them I can manage the role as much as proving it to myself.
What attributes do you have which makes a good captain?
My enthusiasm and dedication for the game. I just love it. It’s my life and comes first before anything else. I think people can pick up on this and I try to give everything a fair crack. Nowadays the selection is wide open and there’s more handlers coming into the sport - Steve Richardson is new and very good as is Phil Goulden. Last year we had Nicola Reynolds who was great - They’ve all had an opportunity and stepped up and performed well.
What’s special about the dog you worked in the Home International Challenge?
F.T. Winner Fendawood Harold is a nice whistle dog. Ricky is very with me. He wants to be with me and has no hang ups and has a lovely pace and style. He’s committed and wants to work every day. Ricky is a good marking dog as you saw at the Game Fair where he nailed those last two retrieves and won the Millennium Challenge Trophy for Best Marking Retriever. He’s a very young dog so for his limited experience he’s come on well and matured nicely. Hopefully he’s got a promising career ahead of him.
Who’s currently training in your kennel?
I’m currently running three dogs. F.T. Winner Fendawood Harold (Ricky) who is about to have his first Open season. FTW Nettle Brae Andy of Fendawood had his first Open season last year and got two 2nds, a 3rd, 4th and a COM in a two day Open so he’s knocking on the door. I’ve learnt by my mistakes and I think I can read him a little better this year and make him stronger. I’ve also got a young dog, Meadowlark Big Rock. He’s my novice and a very nice game dog. He might not be a dummy dog but certainly very natural.
How often do you train them?
A lot depends on the dog. With these three I can give them as much as I want which I like and I’m usually out 6 days a week. FTch Drakeshead Deana who I won the IGL with in 2003 would ask too many questions and become sticky if i took her out more than 3 times a week, so it really depends on the dog. You just have to be careful not to over do it and take care with their legs, especially with the hard ground in the summer.
Following the interview four times winner of the IGL David Latham qualified both Fendawood Harold and Nettlebrae Andy of Fendawood for the IGL Championship in December 2018. This was David's 20th time running in the prestigious event and received a well deserved Diploma of Merit with Nettlebrae Andy of Fendawood.
When was the last time you read a good book? I'm sure you'll agree a good read can take you anywhere. When you're simply falling between the pages, it doesn't matter whether you're grabbing some reading time in your lunch hour or snuggled up on the sofa at home - all that matters is turning the page and losing yourself in a story. But recently I seem to have lost my enthusiasm for reading. I’ve fallen into a rut of replacing reading with social media. Admittedly I enjoy creating Biddablebardsley Instagram stories and they are useful for brand development but an hour of scrolling through social media seems easier than picking up a book. Crazy eh? So I’m determined to snap out of my routine and bring reading back into my life. As my gundog journalist journey continues my next reporting mission is the IGL Retriever Championship in December 2018. I am super excited and feel privileged to be part of this prestigious event. With this in mind I have dived into ‘The Best of the Best - A History of the IGL Retriever Championship.’ It feels good to relax and disappear into a world of gundog history, facts and fascinating stories about field trial hosts such as Captain Glen Kinston and the first lady owner to trial, The Duchess of Hamilton. And with our long winter nights drawing in it's the perfect excuse to relax and chill with a good book and a glass of wine. Happy reading!
It was undoubtedly one of the warmest summers we can all remember and before it slips completely away, it’s good to reflect on our favourite summer moments and memories. My feature and report in this month's Shooting Gazette reflects on this year's Game Fair and the gundog activities which were the highlight of our sizzling summer of 2018.
The dappled shade of Ashmore woodland was ideal for avoiding the scorching summer heat and the dogs showed spectacular energy throughout the day - URC Hants & South West Intermediate and Veteran Working Test 2018.
A huge thank you to my friends and colleagues for your time and support with my blogging and article writing. I'm always thrilled to see my writing in print. I hope my passion contributes towards keeping gun dogs as a breed strong and supports the sport - Thanks for being awesome followers and wishing you all a fantastic season!
As summer moves into early autumn the field trialling season is fast approaching. The sport demands an all-round performance of the dog and handler which means team work, enthusiasm and consistency are some of the key elements for success. There’s no doubt those involved in trialling have a passion for the sport but having a passion and turning it into winning points are two wholly separate things. I was able to catch up with BASC at the Game Fair 2018 and meet some of the Tower Bird Trophy award winners who have gained the highest amount of points in the field trialing season for 2017-18.
Winner of the Labrador Retriever Section...
BASC Chief Executor Ian Bell was delighted to present the Tower Bird Trophies at the Game Fair. “It’s a great honour to meet and present these awards to handlers who are at the top of their game and the very best in the country.”
Sarah Miles was thrilled to win with her Labrador Retriever Hawksrigg Balgaire of Meonvalley, field name Finlay. “Finlay’s enthusiasm is phenomenal. He’s very honest and has a natural ability. He steps up every time he’s in a trial and he won his first novice at 11months. Finlay has been placed at every field trial he’s been in and I’m really looking forward to the season ahead.” The winners also received an engraved cut glass tumbler which had a picture of the winning dog etched onto it. “I wasn’t expecting to see Finlay’s face on the glass - An extra special touch which means a lot.”
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation offers four national trophies for Gundog Field Trials, named in the memory of the late Noel M (Tim) Sedgwick, the former Editor in Chief of The Shooting Times and Country Magazine who wrote under the pseudonym “Tower Bird”.
There were 3 joint winners (all equal on points) for the HPR section.
Geoff Saint was delighted to accept the award with his German Wired Haired Pointer, Merle Haggard, field name Harry. “We call him happy Harry as he always has a smile on his face and wants to be everyone’s friend. He’s a nice all round dog that wants to work with me and be with me.” Geoff aims to continue trialling with Harry. “I would like to win a Novice and get him into the Open Stakes and ideally get him into the HPR Championships. I won the 2017 Championships with my Hungarian Wirehaired Viszla, Hourra Du Domain St Hubert and I think Harry is every bit as good as my Viszla.”
Peter Howard was thrilled to win with his German Wired Haired Pointer Tickencote a Night Like This, field name Tikka. “I’m looking forward to entering some Open Stakes this year. Tikka has a lovely temperament, she's fast, very biddable and she has a soft mouth which is rare to have all three elements.” Peter also had another reason for visiting the Game Fair. “I’ve just bought a farm and I’m going to become a keeper for the first time ever at the age of 70! The Game Fair is a wealth of information so I’m here to collate as much as I can from the specialists. I realize there’s a lot of hard work involved but it’s exciting times ahead!”
The following winners were unable to make the presentation and will be receiving their prizes at a later date.
Gill Pillinger with her German Short Haired Pointer - Witham Friary Tallahassee.
Mike Forbes with his Cocker Spaniel - Poolgreen Crafty of Omachie.
Gerald Devine with her English Setter - Ballyellen Tango.
Junior gundog handlers Tristan and Sophie Berry were one of 150 people in Dorset who took part in the Working Dog Fun Day at Hawkers Hill, Motcombe, by kind permission of Mr Phil Levers and Mr & Mrs Martin.
12 year old Tristan Berry who won the Junior Handler Award and his 14 year old sister Sophie had the unique opportunity to work their Clumber cross English Springer Spaniels in a variety of fun gundog tests. Both handlers pick up with their 2 year old Clumber crosses on their family shoot and they were delighted to work their dogs on new terrain. “The water test was my favourite" said Trisatn, "Digby loves the water as he can be adventurous.”
A team of dedicated volunteer gundog handlers spent the day offering the local community a chance to try out an array of tests, scurries and fly fishing, raising money for Dorset & Somerset Air Ambulance. Event Organisers Kevin and Nicky Philips said the team wanted to raise money as earlier in the year the Air Ambulance was called to Hawkers Hill when a machine operator had a heart attack and needed an urgent
stent insertion to save his life. “It’s an essential service for people who live and work in the rural community. Our event will hopefully raise awareness of this vital service which is completely self-funded and has no Government funding” said Nicky who is passionate about raising the awareness of the Air Ambulance service.
One member of the volunteer team, Ken Green had a personal reason to be part of the fundraising day. “I’ll never forget the day my wife called whilst I was at work to say a heath fire was close to our house and kennels.” Ken knew his family was in danger as he heard a huge explosion whilst talking to her. “The fire had spread to our neighbour’s car which had gone up in flames. I knew it was only a matter of time before it would reach our house.” By the time Ken had driven home he found the area swamped with fire engines and police cars. “The fire had been put out and the house was ok but there was no sign of my family or the dogs.” For a while Ken was frantic until he was told two Air Ambulances had rescued his wife, children and four gundogs. “My wife told them she didn’t want to leave the dogs behind. The Air Ambulance crew were reluctant to take them at first but once they knew they were highly trained they made make shift leads out of some rope and got them into the second helicopter.”
The fun day, which was sponsored by Snyeds Wonder Dog Food incorporated an auction which included a donation for a 80 bird shoot day for one, shooting lessons and lots of fabulous raffle prizes. Gundog Test Co-ordinator Roland Stacey was pleased to see so many visitors enjoying their dogs and was delighted to discover £3524.24 had been raised from the day.
Delighted to see my gundog report in this month's Shooting Gazette.
With the Game Fair fast approaching, now is the time to check I’ve done all I can to make sure I’m ready to enjoy the world’s largest countryside festival. This year I’m camping and for me the social aspect of the Game Fair is associated with the camping experience. It provides the perfect opportunity to sit back and relax with family and friends (including our four legged companions) and enjoy our glorious sizzling summer.
This year I’m mixing work with pleasure and within my Biddablebardsley role I’ve got some exciting interviews lined up with several top gundog trainers and competitors. It’s also a golden opportunity to meet up with my editor and discuss future gundog features with the Shooting Gazette. I can’t wait to meander around the show grounds and absorb the sights and sounds of this prestigious event. With my camera in one hand and my dictaphone in the other I hope to capture those who are passionate about their dogs and all that rural Britain has to offer. And yes, I will be stopping at the Gundog Gin stand to test the variety of tipples that are a must-have for any countryside blogger - Look forward to seeing you there!
If you love the countryside you’ll love the Game Fair! It’s the must attend event of the summer, offering an action packed gundog programme. You’ll have the chance not only to watch the best handlers and top dogs in their field but also to have a go at the scurries and indulge in some retail therapy. You can never have enough dummies! My latest feature offers an insight to this year's exciting gundog activities. Hope you enjoy and if you're going to the Game Fair - have a fantastic time!
Many thanks to Dave Latham, Neil Varney, Del Bower, Willie Edgar and Rob Bunning for your time and support. Can't wait to see you all at the Game Fair!