My crew spent the weekend across the Oklahoma state line and into Ozark Mountain Country. Each morning the alarm clock lived up to its name at a startling 5am. After airing the dogs (Handler talk for letting them go potty), we loaded the truck and were off to the Ozarks Hunting Retrievers Association hunt test. With the heavy-hitter, “My Fair Lady,” in the dog box, the Started Test judges and spectator gallery were in for a treat… hopefully. Lady, as many of you who have shared the blind with her know, typically performs flawlessly in the field (although the occasional memory lapses, that all trainers encounter with their pooch, are no stranger to us).
As a first time handler, pulling up to the OHRA test was overwhelming to say the least. The test was full with 46 dogs in the started category! Not to mention, the countless mind games and scenarios that had abducted my previous night’s sleep. As we walked into the fog-filled field for the handler briefing, I felt like David wishing Goliath luck before the big fight. In my head, all of these trainers were professionals with hundreds of titles under their belt, and some of them were, however you would have never known by their approachability and kindness. I was instantly greeted by our two judges, Lisa Foster and Sherri Rains. They must have sensed my nerves and proceeded to clearly explain how the test works and provided plenty of “insider tips” to the new handler. Before long the test was underway and, before I knew it, I had that black labrador torpedo posed at the line ready to “work.” A quick quack on the duck call signals that we were as ready as we would ever be, the gun sounded, and I sent Lady on her first 60 yard mark of the competition. She delivered flawlessly to hand and proceeded to knock out the second land mark that was in the neighborhood of 50 yards with ease.
As we returned to the truck, I breathed a sigh of relief while Lady was still trying to figure out why we only killed two ducks on this lousy hunt. After each of the 46 retrievers navigated the land marks, we moved to water retrieves which seemed to be every Labradors’ favorite station, paws down.
In a total of 2.19 minutes, “My Fair Lady” had completed her water passes for the test. As the wingers were reloaded with birds for the final few dogs, we reloaded for Tulsa to get some rest and prepare for the final day of the test.
The final day was Lady’s opportunity to title as a SHR (Started Hunting Retriever). This means that she has successfully completed 15 championship points and with the final day of this test (worth 5 points), Lady would possess the new title.
In an effort to make day two quicker and easier for handlers running multiple dogs in multiple stakes, the Started Test ran all four marks, per dog, simultaneously. This was no problem for Lady as she is used to killing many birds each time we hunt. Following the blast of the gun, the first winger sent a bird into the sky like a firework… Soon after, Lady was hot on the trail. She blew past the mark by a “short” 120 yards and worked her way back to the bird and retrieved it to hand (Hey, thats why it is called a Started Test and not Finished). The following three retrieves went more smoothly, as if we were tossing a bumper in the yard. Before we hit the road home, we conversed with the judges, received Lady’s ribbons, and loaded up the dog that is now referred to as “Trentham’s My Fair Lady (SHR).”
I want to thank the Ozarks Hunting Retriever Association for being so welcoming and making the event fun and family-friendly. We look forward to returning to their next test!