The adventures of Nick and Ted
It never fails to amaze Nick Ridley how Ted can easily switch from job to job, whether it is being shot over or used as a “demo” dog
This month I have seen far too much of the dashboard of my truck. Early in the month, I headed up the M6 to Cumbria for a much-anticipated couple of days out on the rabbits with Ted. Then, two weeks later, I was heading in totally the opposite direction to deepest Devon. I must admit I don’t think I have done much to help the world’s global warming dilemma.
By now everyone will be aware that the heatwave is finally over and, just to prove the point, the drive “up north” could not have been wetter — it poured down the whole way. In fact, when we pulled into the car park at the well-known country clothing supplier John Norris of Penrith — a regular stop- off point on our shooting trips — the town was experiencing monsoon conditions and I have to say our general demeanour was not good. However, after bagging some excellent bargains, including a Schöffel tweed waistcoat for just £ 50, I started to feel a bit happier.
The next morning the weather could not have been more different. It was a bit nippy first thing, but by midday the sun was shining and spirits were high. It never fails to surprise me how quickly Ted gets back into the swing of hunting rabbits. There was plenty of scent about, but it was difficult for the little dog to push the rabbits out through the white grass and bracken. I could see him occasionally “punch” a rabbit out, but because of the cover it was hard to see the bolting bunny — let alone get a shot off. You get a spilt second to raise the gun and pull the trigger and quite often I end up having a shot in desperation rather than with any conviction. I quite often find myself willing the rabbits to bolt up a bank just so I can get a clean shot, but that rarely happens and, in truth, that is what makes it more challenging.
Due to the heat it was really important we kept the dogs and ourselves hydrated. Despite the amount of rain the previous day, it was obvious how little water there was on the moor; we also noticed there were far fewer rabbits about than on previous trips.
Rabbit numbers throughout the country have plummeted over the past year or so and it is thought that this is down to a number of factors. The late winter and the dry summer have certainly had an effect, but the main reason is the upsurge in rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD), a highly contagious disease caused by a calicivirus. Interestingly, climate appears to play a crucial role in the transmission of VHD. In normal conditions, most outbreaks of the disease occur in winter or spring. High temperatures in late spring and summer will considerably reduce the spread of the virus, so hopefully the hot summer will have slowed it down. That said, all the rabbits we saw were fit and healthy and, despite my best efforts, the effect on the local population was minimal. Ted did pull off a couple of good retrieves, and one in particular was a bit special. Our host Fran Ardley shot a rabbit high up on a stone bank and I had to push Ted through a bracken bank to get him up on to the rocks. Anyone who has tried to get a spaniel through cover on to “open” ground to make a retrieve will know how challenging this can be. But this is something I train for, and on occasions like this all the hard work pays off. In fact, that one retrieve made my trip.
A couple of weeks later I headed to Dartmouth for a photography job. I took Ted with me because one of my clients is interested in using him at stud next year. On my arrival, she asked if I would be willing to give a demonstration of Ted and how I trained him. I told her that he isn’t a “demo” dog, but that I would try.
Fortunately, Sue had a couple of place boards laying around, so I started off my “demo” by explaining how I developed Ted’s steadiness, recall, retrieving and delivery — the little dog was perfect. We then went down to the field and I put him through his paces and he didn’t put a foot wrong. In fact, he impressed me. It never fails to amaze me how Ted can switch from job to job, being shot over, picking-up, beating, being a model for my dog photography lessons and now being a demo dog.
“ted pulled off a couple of good retrieves on the rabbits”