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Spaniel work, French style!

Irish Water Cúboglach Fen Rustic - three awards in three in France

From 31st October to November 2nd 2003, the Commission Chasse of The Société de La Gironde, France ran a series of 22 Field Trials over the three days for spaniels writes Martyn Ford. They took place at Marcheprime, about 20 miles south east of Bordeaux on the edge of the vast wilderness known as the Landes.

SIn the 3 days my Cúboglach Fen Rustic won 3 awards. They were a third Excellent in an AV spaniel trial, and 2 firsts, both with a CACT, in the 2 breed confined stakes.

Breed records show that the first day’s result was the highest ever award won by a UK IWS in an AV non-restricted spaniel stake. "Fen" is the first UK IWS to win a field trial of any sort since Joan Long’s Ch. Wicklewood Sheila of Seedhill won an av "minor breeds" stake in 1962, and the first UK IWS to win two field trials since Sir Clive Coates’ Qui Hi of Helperby achieved this in the thirties. She is the first IWS to win two CACTs in France, and perhaps anywhere.

Bred by my wife Margarita, Cúboglach Fen Rustic is out of Champion Cúboglach Rosy Rustic by Fynder Galeoin.


My wife Maggie and I decided to take our 6 year old Irish Water Spaniel bitch Cúboglach Fen Rustic ("Fen") over to compete in these trials where, as in the other 79 member countries of the FCI, the breed is still classified as a spaniel for the purposes of field trials. As one can imagine, the logistics involved in putting on so many trials are enormous, as was the ground, but it all seemed to work very well and the days went by very quickly and smoothly. The ground was superb, and the first two trials in which I ran Fen were ideal for the breed with a damp bracken floor covering in mixed deciduous and coniferous woodland. There was nearly always ample game with birds having been released the eve prior to each day and very few dogs had blank runs. In France dogs are run singly under one judge with 2 or 3 guns in line. Otherwise the rules, eliminating faults and conditions are similar to those in the UK.

All dogs have to qualify before running in field trials in France, and the authorities accepted the GWT 1st that Fen had gained in England as a qualification. My understanding of the French system is that judges may award as many places as they wish, each of which may have the grades of either Excellent, Very Good or Good. They also have the option of awarding a Certificate of Aptitude for a Champion de Travail (CACT) to the top dog(s).

Winning 3 of which, plus a minimum of Very Good at a Show, qualifies the dog to be a French Working (Field Trial) Champion. One of these has to be in AV competition which includes all the spaniel breeds other than Cockers, which seems to be the most commonly trialled dog in France. There were 3 Cocker Trials on every one of the three days I was there! Too get a full French FT title, dogs also have a hip-score of a minimum C, and to pass eye test. I applaud a system that demands some basic health and conformation standards. Some trials also offer CACITs (International) and then you only need two awards if one was is a CACIT.

On the first day there were 3 trials for Cockers and 3 trials for other spaniels. We were drawn No. 1 in a trial with a card of 13 dogs which included 8 working English Springers. We were awarded 3rd place (Excellent) with 2 ESSs taking the first 2 places (also both with Excellent). No CACTs were awarded.

Nine other IWSs had travelled from Germany, Holland and France, and on the 2nd & 3rd days there were two IWS breed confined field trials with the 10 dogs running in each. The first trial was run on similar ground as that described previously. On the third day, the ground was very sandy heathland covered in strips of young dense conifers and a ground covering of small, thick and vicious young gorse about a foot tall. Many of the dogs came out bloodied and covered in thorns on their pads and faces.

At the end of every the day, each judge gave an overview of the trial and a critique of the best dogs.

On both days Fen Rustic was awarded 1st with a CACT. She also won the Prix de la Hollande presented by a group of Dutch IWS owners for the Best Performance of the trials by "Minor breed" spaniel. Clumbers, Fields, Sussex and Welsh Springers were all well represented in the trials, with the latter also having two breed confined trials running on the second and third days. "Fen" was also awarded a Trophy for the Best Performance by an IWS presented by Inge Fisher and Rainer Georghii.

Other IWSs featured in the first day’s trials awards. They were The Mets’ Saracen Eminently Eamon - 3rd Excellent, Roeterdink’s R’Bloody Mary 8th Excellent, and Fischer & Georghii’s Donais Profusion 6th Good. On all 3 days, Inge Fischer and Rainer Georgii’s dogs were handled by professional handler Jérôme Giraud.

The other results of the IWS breed confined trials were Saturday:-

2nd Excellent - Mets’ Saracen Eminently Eamon,
3rd Very Good - Fischer & Georghii’s Donais Profusion &
4th Good - Knoppert’s Donais Robinie.

And Sunday:- 2nd Very Good Knoppert’s Donais Robinie 3rd Very Good Mets’ Saracen Eminently Eamon, 4th Good Knoppert’s Donais Vitesse van het Nardinc Bastion
Given that it is nearly a decade since an Irish Water Spaniel has won a field trial award of any sort in the UK, that only one has ever won an AV retriever FT award in Great Britain, that being Fen’s dam, my Champion Cúboglach Rosy Rustic, I consider that the re-classification of the breed as a retriever has proved to be a complete waste of the breed’s multi-purpose talents. I shall continue to campaign for the breed to be as the breed standard states, "an enduring, versatile gundog for all types of shooting, particularly wildfowling".

With no breed societies in the UK or Ireland seemingly willing or able to put on breed confined field trials, it has been left to the breed’s supporters on the Continent to lead the way, and following the enthusiasm and dedication of Madame Cornet-Gougon in the early nineties, there have been breed confined trials taking place annually now for over a decade.

This seems to me to be the right way forward and I shall continue to support and promote the working side of the breed on the Continent.

We had a superb time with all our friends and we shall go back again to try and get a French Title for "Fen", something as yet not achieved by an IWS. There are more breed-confined trials in December, and we aim to be there.