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International Working Test

2nd England (left to right) John Halsted, Tess Lawrence, John Halstead
(Captain, not handling), Annette Clarke and Andy Latham

The largest Event of its kind in the World, the International Working Test held for the third year running at Sherborne Castle, Dorset, by kind permission of Mr John Wingfield Digby, was once again a tremendous success. With 13 Teams now competing, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Italy, Germany, France, Sweden and for the very first time in the UK teams from the U.S.A. and Canada, it certainly was International and credit must go to the sponsors Roger Skinner Ltd without whom it would have been nigh impossible to run this Event.

Rupert Hill and John Birkett excelled themselves by setting difficult but fair Tests Judged by Dermot Donnelly (Ireland), Werner Haag (Germany), Tony Parnell (England) and Malcolm Stringer (England) who had their work cut out on both days with 52 dogs to get through, each having 11 retrieves the first day and 5 the second day with one from each Team required to pick 2 more on the afternoon of the final day, giving all the spectators at the Country Fair a chance to see a world’s best retrievers in action.

The easiest Test was a short walk up alongside the lake, Judged by Werner Haag, with two dummies thrown into the lake, not very far apart, one for each dog, then a further short walk and a repeat. Surprisingly there were four zero scores, one each from Canada, Scotland, Germany and Sweden, which wouldn’t help their totals at the end!

Tony Parnell judged a difficult up hill retrieve over a wooden fence into bracken with two shots but only one dummy marked by the dogs, the second one hidden beforehand as a blind. Unfortunately this defeated one of the dogs from Canada as they don’t compete in tests or trials over fences so didn’t have a lot of experience, just several practices, which also applies to the U.S.A. who although they all completed the Test, their marks were not good. The French Team got the highest marks with 18, 17, 19, 17, well done.

Two long marks thrown into bracken made for some failures as dogs had to go down a steep dip before climbing up to the correct area, so several forgot where it was lying, having to be handled which always loses points. The U.S.A. Team made it look easy with excellent points scored by all four, two with maximum twenties but then the Americans train for long distances where the dogs have to go in a straight line so it suited them.
The fourth Test was tricky, three dummies hidden in a ditch about fifty yards ahead with quite thick cover around it. The handlers needed to get their dogs into the area and hope that they winded one, then send them back for a second retrieve. Scotland’s Team was brilliant getting 19, 19, 20 and 19, far better than any of the others.

In the afternoon there were two more Tests, a walk up through thigh high bracken, all four members of each Team in line with a dummy thrown ahead then the line swung round and a dummy was thrown behind. This was all about accurate marking although the dogs couldn’t have seen clearly just where the dummy went as they were below the top of the bracken but were marking by ear, hearing the thud of the dummy landing and lining up the fall, some with amazing cleverness but only two of Sweden’s Team earning 20 out of 20. The last Test of the day was not too difficult, a blind in cover in front of the handlers with a diversion dummy tied to a rope thrown into a pool to the right which all the dogs ignored, it was as if they knew it wasn’t for them to retrieve!

Bank Holiday Monday was also the day of the Sherborne Country Fair with transport laid on for spectators to view the Gundog proceedings taking place further up the hill. There were three Tests, a clever one with two fences, the first retrieve being placed between the fences and the second beyond the far fence, both blinds. The second Test also for two blinds but without the handler being told the exact position of the dummy just the approximate area so that Tony Parnell, the Judge, could watch each dog hunting the thick grass and assess its ability to use its nose and ability to work for itself, then sending it back to pick a second retrieve from the same area, (this is what gundog work should be all about, not the endless whistling and hand signals so prevalent in today’s tests and trials). The third Test was similar in that the dog was sent into a wood and had to locate the dummy by himself but unfortunately this time, the Judge couldn’t see the work done by the dog.

The final afternoon saw the four Judges standing by the lake with just one dog from each Team retrieving a blind in front and ignoring a dummy which had been thrown into the water to the left which he subsequently also picked.

Down to the wire

The spectators had a wonderful view as the lake was adjacent to the Castle and Fair and it was here that the potential Top Dog Labrador Ropehall Star nearly let his owner, Gareth Davies, down by twice refusing to leave him to retrieve, losing 7 points and finishing only 4 points ahead of 2nd placed dog, Labrador Rhypyker Rafter, owned and handled by Fons Exelmans from Holland, 3rd was Tess Lawrence with Willowyck Ruff from England. Wales was overall Team Winners with 642 points, England 2nd with 626 and Ireland (last years winners) 3rd with 583, Holland and U.S.A. tied for 4th on 575.