Words and pictures by William Moores
The Drakeshead labradors await instructions
AT A time when dog shows and the Kennel Club concern themselves with the public perception of shows and what they have to offer, game fairs up and down the country continue to attract massive gates.
No less an attraction was the Midland Game Fair at Weston Park in mid September which enjoyed good weather and the last gasp attraction of being the final big fair of the season.
This year saw a new layout to the event which in recent years has divided itself into ‘villages’ of special interest to country enthusiasts.
History was made at this year’s fair, when a record 78,000 visitors travelled from across Europe to enjoy the UK’s premier countryside event. Outstanding arena attractions and superb Grand Final competitions were combined with perfect game fair weather, generating the Midland’s best ever attendances. The crowds of visitors in all areas of the show were testament to the success of the Midland’s new layout, and as promised, access was much improved, with queuing times kept to a minimum.
The working dog arena was sponsored by Autarky and each day had a cyclical programme involving displays from the Drakeshead Labradors of John and Sandra Halstead, Ian and Wendy Openshaw’s Rytex spaniels, Kelly Kelly’s HPR gundogs, the Reedland Retrievers, a lurcher display and the wonderful Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Display Team.
And for the man and dog have-a-go-enthusiast this year the organisers Countryman Fairs teamed up with Gear and Gundogs to present a revolutionary new format for the Dog & Gun scurry competition.
Using the totally unique Bango dummy system, the competition will be the first to simulate a real driven shoot. Handlers tackled four English sporting targets, designed to simulate live quarry.
Dogs then retrieved the dummies that had been shot (or not!), with the maximum score achieved with four first kills and four clean retrieves. Gear and Gundogs also offered one of their superb remote launchers worth over £300 for the overall Dog & Gun winner across both show days.
Interestingly the Midland fair offers more gundog scurries than any other game fair, with a £2000 prize package from joint sponsors Runnarköp Clothing and Vitalin UK.
Other competitions on offer include the Pot Black, Long Retrieve, 5-Dummy Pick-Up, Partridge Pen, Novice Scurry, Victor Ludorum, BASC ‘Chudley’s Challenge and the GCT Water Scurry.
It was also good to see Dick Finch in the Working dog area co-ordinating events with Julien Barney who is so closely involved with the British & Irish Dog Breeds Preservation Trust. Here sponsors Iams Eukanuba helped to support not only a display of these ‘vulnerable breeds’ but also the display of gundog breeds for the interested ringside.
In addition there were main ring displays in the shape of the the Rev Sims and his eight (yes 8!) working sheepdogs each one directed in a different language, foxhounds from the Albrighton and South Shropshire, the Ryeford Chase BGVs and the Dove Valley Mink Hounds.
Speaking after the event Countryman Fairs Chief Executive, Ian Harford, said, ‘We were delighted to welcome so many people, to enjoy what is widely recognised as the finest showcase for British country life. In response to feedback last year, we dedicated massive amounts of infrastructure and time to improving both our traffic management systems and campsite facilities, and the positive comments I have heard from visitors clearly reflect the success of our efforts in both areas.
‘We have developed the most successful event formula of any UK game fair, and by combining the finest field sports with top quality family entertainment, we will continue to take the Midland Game Fair from strength to strength.’
And if every dog had its day would it choose a show bench or a game fair?
Members of the British & Irish Dog Breeds Preservation Trust
KC Field Trial secretary Anne Greeves brings out her winners
in the best dressed handler competition on the Sunday
The Tollers are introduced to the crowd