Having recently returned from competing for Team GB at the world championship for pointing dogs in France, Howard reports on the trip, which turned out to be an experience of a lifetime
Report from the world HPR championships
For the third year running, the Kennel Club sent a GB team to the world championship for pointing dogs and this time it was held in a little place called Herm, near Bayonne in the south of France. The GB team consisted of team captain Meryl Asbury, Sara Chichester, Maddy Raynor, Linsey Whitley, Mick Canham, Rob Gould, John Naylor, Micheal Raynor and me.
Being selected to represent Great Britain is a huge honour but it brings with it a huge responsibility and everyone on the team felt the pressure to perform both for the team but primarily for the country. Right from the moment we had been selected for the team, my biggest concern was to ensure that our dogs remained fit, healthy and free of injury. These HPRs hunt with real pace and power so injury is always a worry.
Linsey and I travelled with our two dogs in convoy with team vet and fellow competitor, Rob Gould, to Portsmouth where we boarded an overnight ferry to Caen in France. From there we drove eight hours to the team hotel near Castets.
On Sunday, we went to watch the English Setter Championship. I have recently started to trial two lovely English setters and having qualified one of them for the 2018 Pointer and Setter Championship I was really excited about seeing the dogs run.
The trial was held in Atlantic pine woodland with an undercover of heather and bracken. We had a fantastic day, especially as the judges let us follow them around so we were able to get right up with the action. In the UK, our trials are run on open ground, heather, stubbles or spring corn occasionally in roots. Watching these dogs negotiate the trees with such pace was nothing short of exhilarating. Halfway through the trial Rob was asked if he would like to carry his gun, and of course he jumped at the opportunity. This was the first time I’d seen dogs competing while wearing location bells and the noise made by them, while odd at first, still rings in my mind, provoking great memories each time I think about the trip.
It’s easy to lose sight of your dog when running in woodlands, so handlers listen out for the jangling of the bell and as soon as the dog comes on point you race to the last known location to find your dog. This is a real adrenaline rush as you charge out, ever hopeful that this will be the point and flush that gives you the award you’re after.
It was also a great way for us to settle in and orientate ourselves to how things would be over the next 10 days: relaxed and very friendly!
Later that afternoon, our fellow teammates Sara Chichester and Maddy Raynor kindly arranged for us to take our dogs training. It was really nice to be able to get the dogs out and working; for me, this was the point when the excitement of being at the world championships really took hold.
No time to sit back. Monday morning saw Sara and Maddy off with their setters and Linsey, Rob and I with our German long-haired pointers off to compete in the Mediterranean Cup.
One of the big considerations when running in trials on the continent is that dogs are run in braces. This brings another dimension to a handler’s game plan. It’s essential that you concentrate your efforts and focus on your own dog but the other handler and their dog can have a significant influence on your run.
Here at Mullenscote we work really hard to train our dogs to hear and be responsive to all whistle commands, but this can work against you when a brace mate has a similar whistle and commands.
In my first run in the Mediterranean Cup, I chatted to the Croatian handler as we made our way through the woods towards the judges.
“I have to apologise now,” said Nicolina. “He’s a real handful and I’ll need to blow the whistle a lot to keep him with me.”
“No worries, you need to do what you need to do,” I replied, trying to be as polite and sportsmanlike as I could be.
Whoa! Within 10 seconds of casting our dogs, Nicolina’s recall whistle, a long loud single blast rang out through the French woodland. Tashi, my dog, stopped dead in his tracks. He looked forlornly at me as if to say, what did I do?
I quickly encouraged him to hunt on but almost as soon as he started to get going the other dog had turned and came crashing past him with a pace that indicated that he wasn’t going to be with us for long.
Nicolina clearly recognised his mindset and set about him with the whistle while apologising to me. These long loud blasts simply shut my dog down. I called him to me and cast him to the opposite side to get away from the whistle and Nicolina’s rapidly departing dog.
Once again, I urged Tashi to move on and find those high-range hunting gears that made him the championship-winning dog that he is. Nicolina’s dog had now ‘left the building’ and to my horror I heard the judge shout to her, “use your whistle, call him back…!”
You have got to be kidding me, I thought. The rest is history, the judge picked us up and said, “he’s not really hunting,” to which I nodded and put my dog on a lead. Nicolina apologised again and I thought to myself, this is why I regularly tell myself to give up trialling. The judge is always right, shut up and put up Kirby. And oh, by the way, welcome to the world championship!
The Mediterranean Cup
Two days of the Mediterranean Cup saw our pointer and setter handlers, Sara Chichester, Maddy Raynor and John Naylor earn awards in their respective trials meaning they were racking up points for the team. Sara with her Gordon setters, Maddy with her Irish, Ginger and John with his massively powerful pointer, Deano.
Success for Linsey
For the continentals, Rob and I both had two days of blank runs: frustrated doesn’t even come close. Linsey on the other hand took the competition firmly by the ‘Mediterraneans’ and after a barrage, which is a run-off in front of all the competitors, finished third overall.
I have never felt so much pride and pleasure from someone else’s success; the unassuming, nice lady with the German long-haired has only just gone and got a third in the Mediterranean Cup. All of my life I’ve been taught to be humble, but at this point I’m just so blooming proud.
On Wednesday we all entered an Open Trial, with the exception of Linsey who wisely chose to give her dog a day off. The rest of us had a great day of competition and continued to gain knowledge and experience.
The main event
It was time for the Big One, the world championships. By now we had all settled in and the team looked relaxed. The HPR legend, Mick Canham, had now joined us and it was clear that he needed as much support as we could offer to get him and his dogs acclimatised to all the sensory experiences that this amazing competition throws at you.
We started Thursday with some team training, which was nice and relaxed and all handlers and dogs looked to be in good shape. By 3pm we had all gathered at the championship HQ for the presentation of the teams, all dressed in team uniform with our dogs and guns.
I did this in Serbia in 2014 – it was a fantastic experience but this time the team presentation was something else. The atmosphere, stage and team camaraderie was great and as our national anthem played out across the park it made me feel 10 feet tall. From the first time I entered a working test I’ve always wanted to be the best I can be… now here I am wearing a Team GB badge stood among some of the best in the world! It’s a feeling that will be hard to beat; if you don’t believe me ask my teammates. Better still, why not try it for yourself: train hard be the best you can be and get yourself to the team selection next year.
The worlds ran on Friday and Sunday, straddling the St Hubertus competition which ran on Saturday. Sara, Maddy, Micheal, Rob and I competed in the competition called the St Hubertus. In this you carry a gun and shoot over your own dog; it’s my favourite as it puts destiny firmly in your own hands. The steward takes you to your judges at which point you introduce yourself, your dog, your gun, choice of cartridges and determine the quarry species that you are hunting today. Pheasant was the only quarry on the menu.
Your judges then identify the area that you are to work and after demonstrating that you have assessed all around you, including wind direction, you cast your dog. You have 20 minutes to demonstrate your qualities as a hunting partnership with your dog, your objective being to hunt, point, shoot and retrieve two birds. The GB team put in a sterling performance and once again Sara and Maddy showed off their skills with the mother and daughter team finishing second in the team scores.
Day one of the world championships was a good day for Team GB with handlers gaining awards. All dogs were fit and healthy and we were clearly wearing our very best game faces. It was now all about the final day, Sunday. The day concluded at the water and all handlers and dogs that were in the running for awards had to make water retrieves. As each member of the GB team made easy work of the water it suddenly became apparent that GB might have achieved something extraordinary.
None of us were really sure, as the numbers, maths and calculations were not available to us. We could only hope. As we shuffled nervously into the concluding evening’s award ceremony one of the Czech Republic competitors rushed over to us and whispered, “You do realise that the GB pointers and setters are right up near the top of the points table? I’m sure Linsey is there as an individual too.” Now the nerves really kicked in!
Organisers thanked all of the judges, stewards, guides, caterers and an army of behind the scenes staff that made this championship run like clockwork. Music accompanied a superb supper and then came the award ceremony. Our source was right! The pointer and setter team, Sara, Maddy and John, were second overall in the team event. Linsey was third in the individual awards. What an amazing achievement! Second placed team and third placed individual in the world championships!
Be proud, Great Britain.
Ready for the off: Howard and FTCH Tashi
All handlers are hoping for that magical point and flush Howard Kirby, Chudleys Brand Ambassador
Sara, Maddy and John were second overall in the team event
Running in braces adds another dimension to the trial
Linsey and Rory at the water in France
Linsey took third place overall