This is long. Ok...
The Glory of Defeat
I know, right? How can there be glory in defeat?
I entered my young dog, Smarty, in her first and my second derby this week. I went in anticipation of having ‘our asses’ handed to us. I mean, let’s face it. I am an amateur trainer who trains alone 95% of the time. I have very limited access to training grounds, esp those required for gaining the needed experience on technical water and the long marks seen in trials. I also happened to enter a trial in which the Bill Hillmann and his fantastic young dog Shadow were running, Mary Tatum, and her dog Songbird(sister to Shadow), and another incredibly talented dog named ‘Rain’ handled by Dan Devoes – who is the top derby dog, currently, for this year. (If I am not mistaken). So, yeah….
It is safe to say I felt intimidated because of my lack of experience running field trials - the many (many) walks to the line at hunt tests did not really make it any easier waling to the line on the first series of our first derby together. But, I knew I would regret not entering Smarty in at least one derby, before she aged out. (And I don't even want to talk about the one I missed 2 weeks ago because I somehow managed to lose a day of the week). However, by the time I walked to the line for the fourth series, it felt not unlike the same feeling of walking to the line at a hunt test. Everyone was incredibly friendly and there was always cheering going on for the dogs as they made their way through the day.
So....We did quite a credible job on the first series. The long mark was thrown into pretty good cover (as were all the marks on the first 3 series). The water was hidden from the dog’s view until they got out a ways. I believe Smarty was one of the very few to take a line close to the line to the long mark – I tried to pull her left when I lined her up, so that she would hopefully stay left – and she did.. Initially I thought she was going to go all the way around the pond, but she got in the water and made it to the opposite shore to the left of the line to the mark... She had a short hunt for this mark. Most dogs went right – choosing to take the running water, or avoiding the pond entirely. Several hunted the open field behind the gun station before working their way to the mark.
Second series had an interesting go bird. The last piece of the mark was behind the low hanging branches of a tree, so the dog saw most of the arc of the fall, but not all. Smarty had an exceptionally long hunt for this mark. She stayed in the area most of the time, but did hunt around the gun and also did hunt deep of the gun. After what seemed an eternity (probably about 1.5 min) she finally found the bird and came back. I kept expecting the judges to say ‘put your dog on the bird’ hahahaha….Then she practically pinned the memory mark. (whoohoo!!!!)
Third series sort of blew my mind and I figured would be our undoing. We have no such access to this type of training grounds with so many cover changes and terrain changes. The long mark was thrown 350yd away (give or take).. The line to this mark was full of challenges, angle entry into cover, down a hill (8 foot drop) into a pond, across the pond and up the dike on the other side, then through cover easily 5-6 feet tall, and back into knee high cover, through another section of very tall cover, then out into the open. There was also a lot of terrain factored into this series, multiple up and down areas where the dogs lost sight of the guns. Smarty took a perfect line to the short mark, down the ditch (out of sight) up the hill, through mowed strip, through cover and right to the bird. She made a good decision to get wet on the memory mark, squared the pond and took a line that she eventually led her behind the gun where she hooked hard right and went right to the bird.
Fourth series – Seemed to be a down the shore concept taking the dog across two points for the go bird, and one for the memory bird. I can’t say for certain all dogs cheated the go bird, but lots did. Smarty took a perfect line to the mark. It couldn’t have been more perfect. I immediately thought to myself, holy 'chit', we might actually finish this derby! However, she came back with the go bird and I knew right away she did not remember the memory mark. She just didn’t set herself up for it. I lined her anyway and she took a very good initial line… but when she got out of the water on the point she just kind of milled around, wondering what to do. She came back to the road to my left about 80 yd and I called her in. The judges were very apologetic about the situation but, while I certainly wished for a different outcome, I was thrilled with what she showed me on her first and last derby.
I bought her a cheeseburger at McDonald’s, shared my fries with her, and reveled in the glory of defeat.