A week has passed so I think I can aptly dispose of my emotionalism and give a succinct appraisal of the 2013 National Amateur Retriever Field Trial Championship in Mondovi, Wisconsin.
This is my one man's opinion, and only my opinion, and you can take it for what it is worth. I was there from beginning to end and saw at least 80% of the whole trial. I attended three National events back in the late 1970s, and haven't attended any since. That is my only frame of comparison.
GROUNDS: Un-Be-Liev-A-Ble. I died and went to retriever training heaven. What do you want? They offer it. Terrain, cover, constant changes of both. Technical water to choose from. This is a dream. It has to be a dream. The grounds crew planted trees, mowed different heights in the cover at various angles. The judges had a world of choices for bird placement and factors to the fall on both water and land.
WORKERS: Absolutely fabulous on every level. The marshals were informed, trained, and professional. The set-up and grounds crews were pro-active, fast, accurate, and on the ball. The hostesses were circulating in the gallery almost every thirty minutes handing out candy, sunscreen, band-aids, and more. The guns and especially the birdthrowers were exceptional. The game stewards were well organized, the birds were well cared for, shaded and away from flies. Traffic crew often got the news last, but did a good job and could answer questions when asked.
JUDGING: I heard some complaints about the "clock" on early series -- handlers had a certain number of seconds to set their dog and signal for the birds or the judges would call for them on their own. From the gallery I only saw one dog of over 120 struggle with it. I thought it was fair. I thought all the judging was fair. Tough, tough, tough tests, and generous callbacks. That is what I hear FTers say they desire at weekend trials. They got it here. Small dings got carried. But two big mistakes and you were out. The judges were consistent. That is what most of us desire.
DOG WORK: A lot of impressive work. Some remarkable. But sadly no one stepped up and took the trial by the balls. Maybe it was the overall difficulty of the trial? Maybe it was the competing dogs? Whatever the case, they had the chance. Any one of them could have ran away with it, and none did. There was no clarity, even through ten. There was no standout. The judges had to find him.
CRITICISMS: Only two. First, to the traffic committee, if I get up at 4am to catch the caravan at 5am, please do not make me park a thousand yards farther away from the test than the person who sleeps in and gets there at 9am. Show some deference for the person who gets there earlier. This was a repeated problem.
Second, and this is a biggie. The placement for the gallery was AWFUL. Hundreds of yards from the line? For real?? More than half the time we couldn't even see the line. Sure, the overall view from the top of a hill was pretty good, but it really took the gallery out of the event. Back in the day, and this can be substantiated by reading the various books recounting, the judges set the tests with the placement of the gallery in mind. There is NO WAY you can convince me they did that this year. We LITERALLY needed binoculars to see the action.
And the worst? The tenth series. The showcase series. We applaud the finalists as they caravan to the site. There is a celebratory bird throwing by the four gun stations. The finalists are announced over a loudspeaker by name, owners, and handlers. The gallery? We couldn't see a thing! We couldn't see the line, nothing. We were over a hundred yards away and this time not even on a hill where we could see. The tenth were water marks, the dog were swimming and we couldn't see the dogs in the water. We could see the dog hunt up a bird or two but that was it.
SUMMARY: If you are a field retriever junkie, doesn't matter if you participate in HTs or FTs, doesn't matter if you like British or American, don't EVER miss an opportunity to spectate a National event when it is within your grasp. It is special. VERY special. Even better when you can see the action.