Friday, January 10, 2014

2013 VCA National Field Trial - Course evaluation

Janet and I just finished attending the VCA National Field trial - a horseback event held this year in Eureka, Kansas on the Huntington Ranch and Christian Hills Camp.

This was the first time the VCA has held an event here, though years before the National Vizsla Association utilized these grounds for their National Field trial.  I was asked often during the event questions such as "how do I like the grounds?"  What do I think of the location, etc. 

Knowing that I am only one perspective on a ragingly open writhing can of worms, I'm going to opine on this while it is still fresh on my mind.  (Sidenote - I wrote this right after the Nationals, but held onto it as it didn't seem to be of much consequence at the time.  Now that it appears the 2014 National is returning to Eureka - instead of opting into the facebook mire of insults, I am choosing this venue to offer my opinion.)

First, the grounds.  Personally, I like them.  Though there are a some tricky points of riding as it is the Flint Hills, thus loose flint rock, I thought they offered a good opportunity to showcase a dog that can handle varying terrain.  There were open expanses of low grass to see the dogs roll out, treelines they could work to demonstrate ability to take a line, objectives to reach to, rolling prairie with terrain changes and cover that varied from moderate to heavy, draws and undulations that a dog that can work open prairie would understand and demonstrate their ability to do so.  The event is, after all, held on the Prairie with the self-proclaimed Prairie Chicken Capital of the world only 35 miles away.
I heard several comments while riding braces and around camp that the cover was too tall.  This was from primarily the trialers who typically run on mowed grounds and treelines.  Interesting, virtually every dog in the second series was from those locales, and all dogs that I witnessed run in the second series never really got off the treeline, except to go to the next treeline.  This is where my personal opinion on the running of the trial begins.

I did not witness a single piece of birdwork anywhere but a treeline or a specific objective such as a tree with deadfall - with the exception of a rogue chuckar found by Laura Miller's awesome dog "Bull" that was not planted as it was first series.  My thought through this, and just having come off two months running dogs on wild birds in Open Prairie,

If we are going to have a trial on the Prairie, 35 miles from the Prairie chicken Capital of the world, it seems to me that there should be consideration in the running of the trial for dogs to run and hunt the Prairie.

 I had two dogs personally that had finds along treelines, and got through clean - but when they got to the Prairie section which is about a third of the course, and they worked it properly using wind, reading the topography change and knowing where birds would likely be in a Prairie environment, they were entirely overlooked and there was not a single find for a dog that could properly work Prairie.  Bird planting was not done to my knowledge on the Prairie section and it seemed apparent that judging was not taking into consideration dogs who worked the Prairie sections.

I use Tucker's run as a litmus test.  I was thoroughly impressed with Tucker's performance on his run.  Unfortunately - the only people who witnessed it was my judge, my scout and myself.  The rest of the gallery got hung back.  Tucker reached large at the beginning through the low and open field, beating his bracemate by half in run and reach for the first 6-7 minutes, when the two dogs separated with his bracemate getting hung up in the trees.  Tuck worked the treeline forward magnificently and was rewarded with a forward find.  The cover tightened and he did as well, managing and adapting his range to the changes in cover from treeline to tight cover hunting.  Through a top gate the course opened up to a large section of Prairie with a treeline on the low right side.  He took the larger course and began the open Prairie running.  When on the Prairie section he reached out to Prairie objectives, which are things like high side slopes of cover where wild Sharptail or Chickens would typically be found and always to the front.  The Prairie Objectives are changes in cover density and topography - not a deadfall. I don't know if the judges did not understand how dogs work Prairie, but from my perspective it appears it was not a consideration, nor was an adaptive run to differing covers.  Certainly it was not a consideration from a birds planted perspective.  Tuck's bracemate had I believe 2 or three finds - on the treeline and one on the horse track while coming up from behind.  She made second series.  Tuck did not.

Now I know that reads as though I'm unhappy with the results regarding Tuck and admittedly who that is competitive wouldn't be  - BUT - I know it's field trialing and that is the same whether at a weekend trial or a National.  I am merely using that personal experience to demonstrate what I saw.  I also use it to offer the 2014 run a chance to improve to use the whole course. 

It seems a shame to me that there are great grounds that can showcase dogs that can run a myriad of covers and terrains on one course, but only one type of cover seemingly evaluated and utilized.  I am hopeful that next year, if it is on the same grounds, there is consideration for the dogs that can run and find birds in open Prairie.  I hope the bird planting also takes that into consideration.  Otherwise why have it in the Prairie?

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