- Looking for that extra something
Nancy Bassant talks to Michael Coad one of the few people to have been successful in three different animals (dogs, cats and horses)
I dont think anybody in imagining the life of a professional handler would think there was time for other leisure activities. Michael Coad, I discovered is an exception. In between winning numerous canine show accolades for himself and his clients he has also found time to breed and show champion cats and also been very successful in breeding and showing his horses. And this wasnt all I found out!
NB How did you become interested in dog showing?
I grew up around dogs, my family always owned Miniature Poodles
and my grandmother owned a Standard Poodle and a Sealyham.
From a very young age I always had the feeling that I wanted
to put a dog on a lead and go into the ring.
When I was about eleven and still living in Ireland my family bought a Labrador called Bruce. There were a lot of country fairs and I used to enter Bruce in the fun classes, we won a lot of prizes, not always firsts, and I was smitten from then on. My mother was great at grooming the Poodles but she couldnt really scissor so I started trying to trim them myself. My first attempts were disastrous but there was no going back! I didnt get really serious until I was about fifteen when I wanted to leave school and work in a kennels.
NB Did you leave school at fifteen?
MC No, my parents insisted I completed my education. So on finishing school at 16 I wrote to a famous Pyrenean kennel "Defontenay" (because I had always wanted a Pyrenean) and asked if she had a job for me. Her reply was yes and so I went to work there for the summer but actually stayed for 18 months during which time I never went home! Eventually I did return to Ireland, my mother was very supportive of my career and I started to show and breed Pyreneans.
NB Why do you think you have been so successful?
A number of factors including determination, hard work and
having the courage of my convictions. You have to stick to
your guns even when the chips are down which is sometimes
a very hard task. When I started at the kennels I was paid
£4 10s for a 6 day week, that was if you were given
a half day on Saturdays. When you see everyone else your age
going out and buying clothes it becomes very hard and you
really have to learn to focus. Nothing came to me on a silver
plate, what I have now Ive worked for (Im not
trying to put a halo around my head but there are no short
I also had some good dogs because no matter how hard you work youve got to have something to work with. There are downfalls to working with animals, an old farmer once said to me "Always remember Michael, livestock becomes dead stock". You cant plan that well in advance you just have to take each day as it comes. In return though there are plenty of rewards.
You must want to win, I dont go to a show to come second - it happens and lower! Some people go to a show and its nice day out which is great and these people keep the dogs shows alive. But its my living and I want to win, who wants to stand second in life? All those hours spent in a grooming room are not so that I can stand second!
NB Do you think luck has played its part?
MC Definitely, luck is very important. In life you can be in the right place at the right time and vice versa. How many times have people said that had they been in the road two minutes earlier they would have been hit by a car? Ive always said there is someone on my shoulder taking care of me.
NB Where does your affix Pamplona come from?
MC The Pyreneans were my first love (aside from the Poodles). I was at a garden fete flicking through a history book with loads of pictures of dogs and horses. On one of the pages there was a description of the famous bull run which takes place in a village called Pamplona in the Pyrenees. I thought "Pamplona Pyreneans" - thatll do!
NB Which dogs not belonging or handled by yourself have left a big impact on you and why?
Although Saxonsprings Fresno was owned by my partner [Geoff
Corish] I think I can talk about her! She was the greatest
show dog of all time. Whilst no dog is perfect, Fresno was
the closest to that ideal. She had charisma and I never saw
her do anything but look good. Fresno took the group at Crufts
as a veteran and that brought tears to my eyes, she had that
something extra, she was special and so beautiful to watch.
The rest arent in order of preference but all are dogs I have admired. Montravia Tommy Gun, he was a very good Standard Poodle but more than that he was a great show dog and he gave everything in the ring. American Cocker Homesteads Tiffany at Boduf was another great show dog. She always looked good, never gave up and had a lot of charisma. She just oozed personality and showmanship. The American Afghan Pahlavi Putting on the Ritz was wonderful, out of this world. Ive never seen a neck, head, body or movement like it he gave me goose pimples. The Bichon bitch Devons Puff n Stuff was absolutely beautiful, again she had great showmanship and you could see she loved showing.
NB When you go to look at a show dog how do you know if it has that extra something?
If an owner shows us a puppy they consider to be of correct
breed type and conformation we concentrate on the practical
side - whether the puppy will show, and we also have the final
say on whether we consider the puppy good enough. You find
that with experience the quality puppy will shout out at you,
a bold (not aggressive) puppy who takes notice of its surroundings
is what you are looking for. I like to see them on the floor
sorting themselves out first before stacking them, after all
most people can stack a dog into the desired shape. If they
have it at 8 weeks theyll have when they
get older, unless something drastic goes wrong. In new surroundings
give the puppy a few minutes to settle but I dont like
to see a slinker (a puppy who creeps to the back).
When assessing adults I prefer adult show dogs to come here because most dogs are happy and up on their toes in their own surroundings. When assessing show dogs specific breed characteristics must be taken into consideration, for example I wouldnt expect a Lhasa to come bouncing in like a Standard Poodle. Sometimes you need to give the dog the benefit of the doubt, it may be having an off day or may not behave well around its owner but temperament is paramount. If they dont walk on a lead or theyre a little crazy I dont mind as long as the dog is happy.
Two things we never do is waste our time and/or a clients money as both are precious.
NB As you are so well known are there times when you feel under pressure to win and how do you deal with this?
MC Pressure comes with the job. I have learnt how to cope with the pressure and I think most people work harder under pressure. I try not have a lot of people chatting and laughing around me before I go into the ring. I think of the last big win I had with that dog and try to think positive thoughts, never negative. I make sure everything is ready (dog, ring number, jacket, lead etc), it helps if you can have a runner keeping a tab on things. As soon as I enter the ring the butterflies go and I have a job to do and concentrate on the dog. Most of the pressure is outside the ring but make sure you arent near people who you know can wind you up (not necessarily deliberately). If you get uptight in the ring itll go down the lead so you must think positive.
NB Which of your achievements stands out most in your mind?
My first ticket, won at Bellevue, Manchester with a Standard
Poodle bitch called Sheer Heaven from Tiopepi (went on to
become Eng/Ir Ch), won under Mick Watson, she also won best
of breed and that sent me into orbit! That was probably the
most memorable one.
I took the group at Crufts with her granddaughter Ch Pamplona Something Special under the late Lionel Hamilton Renwick. It was all the more sweeter because she was home bred. I won BIS with her at the St Patricks Day show and that was like going home and winning. Another which stuck out with her was winning the Champion Stakes final under Zena Thorn-Andrews.
The ultimate win was Best in show at Crufts with Mick in 2000. Crufts is the one everybody wants to win so even if I do nothing else I can say that I did it!
A very special win was making up my first champion Pyrenean, she was wonderful, I loved her very much.
NB Whilst you have been a professional handler for a number of years you have become more so in the last five years - why?
Circumstances. Up to that point Geoff was handling most of
the outside dogs and I was campaigning my own
- Sadie [Standard Poodle, Something Special] and Fatal Attraction
[Bichon Frise]. We won a lot of CCs and Groups, Sadie won
13 best in shows which is still a record. To go back to the
word pressure, I found myself needing a break from the dog
scene. The fun was still there but I was tired, consequently
I spent more time in my other interests and didnt go
to more than about five shows that year. I have bred horses,
miniature Shetlands, shown horses and bred cats. During this
break I bred a beautiful litter of Burmese, one of which became
a champion, and I qualified one of the horses for Wembley.
New clients started coming along and I made up a couple of my own Standard Poodles so things were getting quite exciting. I started showing Scarf Michaels father and won a group with him and the big wins were coming with clients dogs. It is a conflict of interest to show your own dogs if you are serious about campaigning your clients dogs. So I stopped showing mine and concentrated on the professional side.
NB Who are your biggest influences?
My late mother, she was always there to support me and she
engrained into me that I could do anything in life if I was
prepared to work for it. She taught me never to look back
and no matter what happens to have a goal no matter how high
it is. I owe her everything for that, she gave me so much
advice I didnt always listen but it was great advice.
Also Geoff, over the years he has helped me keep my feet on the ground. I tend to get a little carried away wanting to run half a litter on and then not wanting to part with them! But Geoff always says that to have a successful kennel its about quality, not quantity and there is no need to keep that many dogs. I can remember going to a well known store and wanting to buy a chimpanzee. I wanted it so desperately that I would have sold the car out in the street to buy it! Luckily though Geoff dragged me out of there for which Im grateful.
NB There are many juniors who look up to you as a handler, how would you advise them in becoming professional handlers?
MC Its not something that comes easily so you have to work extremely hard. Go to as many shows as possible and watch plenty of different breeds and make a point of watching the top handlers in the breed. Dont be afraid to go and speak to them, choose your time - either after judging or a long time before judging starts. Make a list of breeds and handlers to watch and observe them winning or losing, how they are with their exhibits and how they are with puppies and naughty dogs. Watch listen and ask plenty of questions. When you are handling remember you are dealing with an animal, talk to it and be aware that it will not always behave in the same way and be prepared for different characteristics, a robot does not make a good handler.
NB Do you think in the UK we should be looking at the scale of handling professionalism found in the United States?
In the US it is such a vast place that some handlers never
meet. For that reason I dont think this country is big
enough to support that scale of professionalism. Besides which
I dont feel there are enough shows for that here or
the wealth of clients.
However I think we could take notice of their showmanship and become smarter as handlers. I dont mean anything over the top but shell suits and jeans have no place in the ring. Having prepared your dog to make it look beautiful you enter the ring looking like youve just come from the kennel. Im not saying thats everyone but I think we could smarten ourselves, whatever your level of competition - it doesnt cost much.
I think we could also work a bit more with our dogs. In the US the dogs are not stacked as much as ours, on returning to the judge the dogs free stand as opposed to many of us who come back to the judge and fall to our knees stacking the dog. Im guilty of it myself but it would only take some brief practice in the garden with some bait.
NB How do you envisage the pet passport scheme affecting the dog scene?
MC I think its a great idea, it will make us realise that not all of our breeds are the best in the world and that there are other countries with dogs as good, if not better than ours. We are still very strong in a lot of breeds but some people might wake up and see there is some better stock elsewhere. We still have some of the greatest breeders in the world but it will help to open up the gene pool.
NB Do you get much time to relax away from the world of dogs, if so describe the perfect scenario.
MC During the summer we get very little free time but if there is a spare e-ening I would like to go to a lovely Italian restaurant with a small group of friends. Enjoy nice relaxed conversation, preferably not about dogs all the time as it is a big world out there. I love to go horse riding and try to do as much as possible. The perfect way for myself and Geoff to relax is a holiday to South Africa.
NB How do you build a rapport with the dogs you handle and is it much harder handling a dog you meet for the first time on the morning of a show?
MC We will not show a dog that weve had nothing to do with. Ideally the dogs we handle live with us which enables us to build up a rapport. We are very lucky because our hobby is our living so were here all day with the dogs. We have an unwritten rule that something is done with each of the show dogs everyday, however small. We might check the ears, teeth or make sure their bands are okay. Some of the dogs we handle dont live with us but at some stage they have done just so that we get to know them. The exception might be a bomb proof dog that we know well or an owner/handler is really stuck but we have to know the dog well. Otherwise you let the dog down or the dog lets you down and everybody can have good laugh.
NB What are the pitfalls of being a professional handler and are there times you wished you just handled for yourself?
I love my job and I dont think there are any pitfalls
as such, when things go a little wrong you just try and get
over it. It is hard work keeping show dogs in top condition
for clients, particularly when the weather is bad but we do
our best. If there is a disagreement with clients we try to
talk it through and the owner always has the choice of taking
their dog but luckily that doesnt happen.
I have never wished I only handled my own, although it is easier as you have no one to answer to if you dont win. However there is such a great sense of achievement when you tell the owner youve won the ticket, there is such a buzz from that because theyre so happy at their dog winning.
NB Which other handlers do you admire?
Mark Shannof who was an American professional handler (mainly
in Poodles) and I feel very privileged to have known him.
He had presentation and rapport with his exhibits, he treated
all of them as best in show winners. He was a wonderful and
knowledgeable man who would explain anything you wanted to
know, he helped an awful lot of people and he is my number
1 all time.
Ernie Sharpe who is now semi retired is a great handler and watching him show the terriers is something else. When he was handling a lot of dogs we used to caravan at the same shows and I remember watching him for hours preparing his dogs. I have a lot of respect for him as a person, a judge and a breeder.
NB From the point of view of a handler what makes a good judge?
MC Knowledge of breed and breed type, experience and a judge who will judge the dog regardless of whether the handler is a professional or an owner/breeder. I am quite happy to show under most people as long as I get a fair crack of the whip and if I do I will enter under them again. On the odd occasion we have come across people who say they dont want professional handlers in this breed because they think we have an advantage. Considering everybody has the same tools I think perhaps they might like to take a look at their stock and ask themselves if they put the training in that we do. Luckily there havent been many instances like this.
NB Which of your own dogs is your favourite?
I have two and I cant split them but they are both dead.
My Pyrenean Kerry went through a lot of hard times with me,
she was always there for me and knew every move I made. I
had to have her put to sleep and had I not kept her two daughters
I dont think I would ever had shown again.
Also Kizzy (Sheer Heaven), not because she was a big winner but she was human and like Kerry she knew my every move. I adored her and she is behind everything that Pamplona Poodles are today. I would say that both of them were like soulmates.
NB What does the future hold for you?
MC I would like to continue being happy and healthy, perhaps with more money and to continue showing lovely dogs, winning groups and best in shows. I wouldnt change anything in my life; I am a very happy person.