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Mojave Desert - wearing a tracker.
As Field Trial and Hunt Test season is approaching, I am preparing our Calendar of events for the coming months. The American Field and AKC both have regulations allowing the use of tracking collars in their events. It is in place so that there is a recovery system available should the dog take a wrong turn, get lost on course and the like. It can happen anywhere, and it can happen quickly.
With recent events, Janet and I have decided that we will not enter a dog in any stakes that dis-allow trackers. We won't free run a dog without a tracker. If we turn a dog loose, it's going to have a tracker. In two upcoming trials (both walking and both primarily the same committee's) they have posted that there are no scouts allowed, and no tracking collars allowed. Why? The reasoning given by one of the chairs was "The committee feels that a walking trials should not have scouts or tracking collars and I am only the lowly chairman".
Still, why? Let's delve a little deeper in to the conversation.
Walking trials are great. I like them, they serve a great purpose in promoting the sport - they are a good stepping stone from the Hunt Tests to Field trials.
They differ in several ways - and it is important to this conversation that we discuss the differing interpretation of what type and range of dog one is expecting to see at both a Horseback and Walking Field trial. First, the pervasive concept that a "Walking trial" should have a different type of dog, and essentially different judging of the dogs abilities is wrong. Here is why.
Regardless of Walking or Horseback trials, the criteria is the same. Whether a Puppy or Derby stake, or a Gun Dog or All age stake, there is no difference in the criteria of performance. Walking handlers have always been allowed in any trial. There is no "Horseback Only" trial in AKC.
6-V Horseback Handling. The premium list for any licensed or member field trial must specify whether or not handling from horseback will be permitted in any or all stakes. If handling from horseback is permitted in any stake, the club should attempt to provide horses. Mounted and foot handlers are not to be segregated in the drawing.
The Judges shall see to it that any mounted handler uses his horse only as a means of conveyance on the course and never as an active aid in handling. The handlers shall remain on the specified course in front of the Judges and in the Judges’ line of travel, except as necessary to handle a dog that is seen on point. The Judges shall control the pace, whether both handlers are on foot or both are mounted. If one handler is mounted and the other is on foot, the Judges shall set a reasonable pace to accommodate the foot handler.
As one will note - the regulations dictate the horseback handler must proceed at a foot handler pace at the direction of the judges, except as necessary to get to a dog that is seen on point.
The ONLY difference noted is this, which applies ONLY to Gun Dog stakes - it does not apply to Puppy or Derby stakes, which we will discuss further.
*Walking Handler Gun Dog range—In Walking Gun Dog Stakes, the dog’s range should be suitable for the walking handler. Horseback Handler Gun Dog range—In Horseback Handling Gun Dog Stakes, the dog’s range should be suitable for a horseback-mounted handler taking into consideration the cover and terrain.
As walking is permitted in all Gun Dog Stakes, and Horseback handling needs to be kept at a walking handler pace - what difference is there?
In the Puppy and Derby Stakes, there is no difference in AKC regulations between Horseback and Foot range. Unfortunately, many of the "Walking trial" judges don't recognize that and in fact penalize dogs with great potential because they are forward reaching dogs. I think it is important to cite excerpts of the AKC regulations as they pertain to Puppy and Derby.
1-A Puppy Stakes. Puppies must show desire to hunt, boldness, and initiative in covering ground and in searching likely cover. They should indicate the presence of game if the opportunity is presented. Puppies should show reasonable obedience to their handlers’ commands, but should not be given additional credit for pointing staunchly. Each dog shall be judged on its actual performance as indicating its future as a high class bird dog.
1-B Derby Stakes. Derbies must show a keen desire to hunt, be bold and independent, have a fast, yet attractive, style of running, and demonstrate not only intelligence in seeking objectives but also the ability to find game.
Each dog is to be judged on its actual performance as indicating its future promise as a high class bird dog for Gun Dog or All-Age stakes.
Note, it does not say a word about foot handler range, but highlight "its future as a HIGH CLASS bird dog, and not only a Gun dog but also an ALL AGE prospect.
There is the contingent among the Field trial/Hunt Test community that actively discourage and do not care for a larger running "on the edge" dog. They only "compete" in Walking trials. In their stated opinion, they don't feel a bigger reaching dog that competes successfully in a horseback trial is representative of improvement or betterment in the breed. (My opinion is that is because they have never owned or competed with a truly exciting Field trial dog, most have never even BEEN to a horseback trial and are mostly Hunt Test folks, so it's human nature to justify that what we have is somehow better) This group generally doesn't stray far from one or two grounds near home that they run on, and has not experienced differing levels of Field trials to truly understand the differences and why a dog might run big, reach far, point from more than 2 feet from a bird, etc.
They are Title driven and want a Field trial Title and they want it on the type of dog they own - a personal hunting type dog. Many are show bred primarily and lack the hard driving truly athletic competitive field aspects of what I consider a true Field trial dog. (This is not to say that show Champions are not also capable of truly competing in the Field trial venue, but the numbers that can comparative to the show title are very small.)
So it is troublesome for them when someone shows up with a dog that can compete in horseback venues, and can also bring their dog "in" to compete and be hard to beat in a walking trial. In an effort to keep these competitors away, in addition to rigging judges that do things like - won't put up a National Class Puppy run because "for a walking trial - he ran too big and took the lines", they also put restrictions that those with hard charging dogs require - like tracking collars. Though absolutely permissible - and very, very commonly used not only in trials but for the average hunter wanting to locate his dog after it busts a bunny - they decide to say you can't use them. Their stated opinion is that a personal "foot handled" gun dog shouldn't need one. My take is that they just want to "dumb down" the competition so they can more easily, and un-deservedly achieve their title.
After telling the Trial Secretary and Chairperson that I would not be entering any dogs, they still wanted me to judge. I refused. I simply don't want to be party to any un-deserved placements. I know I could have judged and withheld placements if they didn't meet the standards, but when I judge I want to ride behind high class bird dogs. I want to compete with my youngsters. By not allowing Scouts or tracking collars they discourage competition. Rigging the judging slates that judge to Hunt Test criteria instead of the sparkle of a good trial dog - that's the worst thing that can happen. That is degradation of the title, which ultimately becomes a corresponding degradation to the breeds.
In my view, that covers the "why" for Field trials - but what of Hunt Tests? Why not allow them in Hunt tests as several clubs do? I asked about an upcoming Hunt Test which the premium is not yet finalized and the first response was that it is run on an Island (A large Island where dogs have gone missing for hours) with only two roads in or out. Now this Island is an Island in many areas separated by about 30 feet of water, which most dogs can easily swim. I cannot come up with any answer other than some feel that a Hunt Test dog shouldn't NEED a tracker. It is not a competition, so there is no competitive advantage/disadvantage.
It is a potentially life saving tool in the event it is necessary. It is approved for use by American Field and AKC. There are only downsides as it relates to discouraging competition. At the end of the day, there is no good reason to prohibit the use of a tracking collar in any Hunt Test or Field Trial.