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A Life in Dogs - Patricia Sutton (Rossut)

An early win with Ch Rossut Foreman

Patricia Sutton was certainly ‘bred in the purple’. A daughter of Catherine G. Sutton and ‘Beefy’ Group Captain AG Sutton OBE who married in l943, she was a partner in the Rossut affix and a successful individual in both equine and canine fields. The family were always interested in livestock and at one time they housed and bred a large variety kennel of approximately 20 breeds, the most successful of these being Beagles, where at least 15 champions were campaigned to their titles. Helen Davenport-Willis asked the all-important questions...

Patricia, you obviously grew up in a doggy household but when did you first become aware of dogs?

The first dog that I remember was a dear Golden Cocker called Jilly. She lived with us while father was stationed at Digby with the RAF. I was about two years old.

What breed first attracted you?

My first dog which I was allowed when I reached my eighth birthday was a Golden Ret. bitch called 'Goldie'. or 'Dollar of Kolahoi'. I had such fun with her and took her to gundog training days but I don’t think I ever showed her. She became a TV star and helped Peter West and Stanley Dangerfield present Good Companions. We bred two litters from her and I was allowed to keep a dog puppy. Over the next 20 years I always had a Goldie in the house as my pet and they all went back to my first bitch. In 1974 I became very taken with the I.W.Spaniel when our kennels became the halfway house for all the Annagh dogs from Ireland when their owner died and since then I have always had a Water Spaniel in the house.

What year was the kennel name "Rossut" first registered with The Kennel Club?

I think the name 'Rossut' would have been first registered in the early 50's when mother first began to breed Boxers. The name is an amalgamation of her maiden name 'Ross' (she was very much a Scot) and of course Sutton.

What was your relationship like with your parents?

Very good most of the time, but occasionally volatile with Mother particularly when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Poor Father would then have to referee and he often said to me ' You’re so like your mother’. I'm not sure I took it as a compliment then!

As well as having a large variety kennel, your family also ran a successful boarding kennel in Camberley, Surrey. Tell us about your early life in such a busy household.

When the kennels were full we could house about 80 dogs and 50 cats. This was run alongside a large variety kennel. Consequently we had a large number of staff, the head girl lived in the house and two or three girls lived in a large caravan in the yard. As my parents were regularly away most weekends judging up and down the country I became quite happy being left under their watchful eye, and indeed as soon as I was old enough I was expected to pull my weight with the cooking of lunch for the staff. I was expected to look after my pony myself and even remember milking two goats before school when mother wanted the best milk for the puppies.

Who were your mentors and what are the reasons for your choice?

I have wonderful memories of some of the old past masters in the world of dogs. Many of them came to our house on social occasions and I remember listening to them reminiscing and telling tales, such names as Joe Braddon, Bill Siggers, Frank and Hermoine Warner Hill, Judy de Casembroot, Lilly Turner, Connie and Wilson Wiley, Marian Fairbrother, Nigel Aubrey Jones, Stanley Dangerfield, Betty and Ivan Strawson, Yve Bentinck, Doc Rickards and many many more.

I think even at a young age I was very determined that my path was all things equestrian and therefore did not look at any one in the canine world as my mentor. However being brought up right in the middle of the dog world and with my parents taking on the running of the two big Championship Shows Windsor and Richmond I think that a great deal of what mother said did eventually sink in!

What were your hopes and ambitions in your formative years?

My early life really revolved around my ponies and then on to horses. My first pony was a skewbald called 'Oojah'. He had a really big jump and I progressed quickly through the Pony Club and on to Junior Jumping with him. Our finest hour was jumping in the main ring at Hickstead, a very new showground in those days, and coming second to 'Stroller'. We had to jump through the now famous Devils Dyke and the Tennis Court and on to and off a flat table bank many years before the Derby Bank was built. My next pony, a Strawberry Roan called Geronimo', was bought as a four year old and I had to educate him myself. He was a wonderful character and I learnt such a lot with him. He carried me to the top of the Pony Club Eventing tree, and in my last year in the Pony Club we won all six one day events that we competed in including the Championships that were held that year at Cheltenham Racecourse, not bad for a Welsh Cob cross. All this rather set the seal for my future ambitions and I settled down to producing young horses that would go on to event and hunt. At the same time I was climbing the ladder to become a BHS Instructor which I did in the mid 70's.

Soon after leaving school at 17 I started a livery yard and began with six stables that my parents allowed me to pinch back from the boarding kennels. The kennels were in fact all part of an old stables that would have housed 40 - 50 horses in its heyday. Before we moved to 'Wheatlands Manor' in '84 I was running a yard with 15 stables.

I had bought my first brood mare in the late 70's and so my own first steps into breeding and producing young stock had begun. I was very lucky in the mares that I chose and found that one of them was to consistently produce top class event horses.

One went on to become shortlisted for the American Olympic three day event Team for Seoul and one super little mare that stopped growing at 15 hands went on to be Working Hunter Pony Champion at the Royal Show.

In amongst my own very busy life Riding and Teaching I was occasionally persuaded to show dogs!

The first time I can remember showing was a Junior Handling Class at the LKA when I was eleven, the judge was Macdonald Daly and I handled Judy de Casembroot's Greyhound, a full brother to Treetops Golden Falcon who had gone Best in show at Crufts that year. I won my class! I have always enjoyed handling and more often than not I would be persuaded to handle all the difficult puppies while mother showed the adults. I have never been more thrilled than the first time I made up my own dog, an Irish Water Spaniel known throughout the horsey world as 'Golly Sutton'. I had won tickets with several Beagles, an IWS bitch and qualified several other breeds for Crufts but nothing came close to getting Golly's third ticket.

Have you any unfulfilled ambitions?

I think I have led a very full life and been privileged to meet many interesting people but one of my ambitions is still to breed the next champion.

You have had such an interesting and varied life, being involved with so many activities, if you could change anything what would it be?

If I could go back in my life the one thing I would change is a decision I made when I was 16. I had been on the school hockey team for several years, playing at centre-half and I was offered a place on the County Team which I turned down as it would have clashed with my hunting every Saturday. I realised many years later that you can only play that sort of sport for a few years whereas I could Hunt for much longer.

As well as a passion for dogs, you have been successful in equine pursuits. Please tell us more.
I have been so lucky in my equestrian life and I think I managed to fit rather a lot in!

When I left the Pony Club at 21 I became chief instructor for my local branch. I held this post for a good 10 years and also began examining at branch level. I also trained Members of the Modern Pentathlon Army and Olympic teams and organised the riding section of several International competitions at Crystal Palace and the very first British Ladies Championship was held in our field at Camberley.

I was offered a ride in a Point To Point when I was 38 on a very good horse that had gone very nappy. Much to mother’s horror I accepted and those of you that used to Group Steward at Crufts will remember one year that a call from the Group Captain's daughter was put straight through to the Chief Stewards Office with the news that I had come third. I loved it and I think that if I had had the opportunity when I was much younger I would have really taken many more rides.

Poor mother never got over me falling off in front of her in a Show Jumping competition and breaking my collar bone when I was 10 years old. She hated coming to watch me compete after that. Father on the other hand was a great chauffeur and loved coming to the large events with me.

The one thing mother thoroughly enjoyed was the racing and when I started training my own Point to Pointers she was enormously interested. We had great fun with several good horses.

One little horse came second 10 times in ladies’ races and another very lovely grey won several point to points and also two Hunter Chases.

Among the many hats that you wear, one is as Master of Draghounds. What does this entail?

I first began my hunting life when I was seven or eight and thoroughly enjoyed it. The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst had a pack of Foxhounds and also a pack of Draghounds all kennelled near us at Camberley and it didn't take me long to track them down and help to exercise hounds.

I was soon spending every spare moment up at kennels and was asked to whip in on Saturdays during the Winter. Once I started producing young horses I began hunting with the Draghounds as it entailed lots more jumping. Once the Master realised that I had whipped in as a teenager to the Foxhounds I was asked to do the same for the Draghounds and that, as they say, was that. I was asked to take over hunting the hounds in 76 and carried on for the next 20 years.

In '84 I was asked to help out the Oxford University Draghounds and hunted them for the next two years.This was a wonderful time and I had two super horses who carried me across the cream of the countryside and enabled me to keep up with two good packs of Draghounds.

In 86 I was asked to hunt a pack of Bloodhounds for one season so I consider that I have been so privileged to have had these opportunities to work with a variety of hounds.

In '87 I was asked to become a Master of the SC & RMAS Draghunt, the first civilian Master and a woman! This hunt has a great historic background and is the very last of several military draghunts that were begun over 150 years ago. Drag Hunting has become a large part of my life over the last 10 years as I also became the Chairman of the Masters of Drag Hounds and Bloodhounds Association and have therefore had to be involved at a political level. The MDBA has had a great deal of input into the Burns Report on Hunting with Dogs and did a great deal of lobbying trying to persuade the government that we were not an alternative but an entirely different sport altogether.

I am still a Master albeit rather senior these days. This still entails a great deal of work organising hunting days and seeing farmers. As I am the Master in charge of hounds I still go on hound exercise once or twice a week, on foot or on bicycle.

These days we hunt most Sundays through the winter with the occasional Wednesday; this tends to curtail my showing until the end of March with one or two exceptions.

Do you have any pet hates or dislikes?

I don’t have many real hates. I can think of only two that really get me cross.

The first is being lied to. One of the facts of getting older is that you have heard it all before. So as Alan Sugar says ‘No Bullsh*tters’!

The other is perhaps a little righteous as I don’t smoke but I hate it when people smoke when on a horse.

What year did you start to judge dogs?

I started judging Beagles at Open shows in the late '60's and gave my first set of tickets in the early 70's

You award CCs in three breeds, Beagles, Field Spaniels and Irish Water Spaniels. Have you any aspirations to judge other breeds at CC level?

I have not got a great wish to do much more judging although I thoroughly enjoy the breeds that I do. One appointment that I really enjoyed this year was doing the Gundog Puppy Group at Birmingham this Spring.

In recent years you are seen more at dogs shows, so do you still maintain your equine interest?

Yes I still run a large Livery Yard with 24 stables; most of the horses are at full livery so I still have a large staff. As ever over the years I have been blessed with really good employees that have been happy to look after the dogs when I am away. I still have one of the bigger showing and breeding kennels and have up to six litters a year with about 20 beagles in kennels.

How do you see the future of British Dogdom?

As I said I have one of the bigger showing kennels and I think that these sort of kennels are going to become more and more the exception. I love playing with my breeding programme and have become very open minded about it. I feel so lucky to still be able to keep this many dogs as I have a huge depth of pedigrees to play with. I think with modern life being so busy and people living in houses with smaller gardens that the norm in the future is going to be people showing and breeding with very much smaller numbers, and the consequence could be the loss of the much bigger range of knowledge that the large kennel has access to. I think we already see people moving through the world of dogs at a much faster rate than we used to. They either come in to the showing world and want to move up the ladder of judging very quickly or just stay for a year or two and then leave. Mother firmly believed that the best way to learn about a breed was to buy a well bred brood bitch, have a litter, then watch the puppies grow! Any breed that she was interested in and perhaps was hoping to judge was approached in this way. I remember when I was quite little being taken for afternoon visits to many of the top kennels to look through prospective puppies and her discussing pedigrees with the breed experts. A year or so later she would spot a prospective sire and off we would go to look at them and if possible their sire and dam.

I do realise that time is of the essence these days and all of us have to fit more into a day than we used to, however some things cannot be hurried and I am sure Dog Knowledge is one.

How often do you get to judge abroad?

I judge abroad usually about once a year. I always enjoy my visit although the day before I leave I always tell myself this is the last time.

When not involved in the world of dogs, what other interests do you have?
I have lots of other interests; I particularly enjoy going to the theatre. I regularly go to the Windsor Theatre which is a charming small Theatre and very old fashioned. They put on very good plays before they go to the West End.

I started a small Single Suckler beef herd in 84 and after looking at various old breeds I decided on South Devons. I applied the same rules to that as mother had to her various breeds, and went and bought well bred heifers from old herds that were giving up. When I had got a nice neucleus of cows and begun to gain experience in cattle husbandry particularly calving I then went to one of the top breeders of bulls and chose and bought a young bull that i hoped would have the strength in his bloodlines that put to my variety of females would begin to produce the type that I wanted. He turned out to be a wonderful producer of heifers and I began to see the results with a really nice level herd of cattle. I thoroughly enjoyed my cattle and only sold up after the foot and mouth epidemic when the paperwork became too much. So now there are South Devon cattle in the south of England with the prefix Rossut in their pedigree.

Have you any advice to pass on?

I'm not sure I'm good at giving advice but I have learnt over the years that there are many roads to Rome and nothing is all right or all wrong and to pick your way to suit yourself. That sounds very profound but as I have been told by several people recently that I am quite stubborn I suspect it is very true of me! However I do think that everyone needs a sense of humour, so my advice is if you haven't got one, find one!

Finally, Patricia, how would you like to be remembered?

Well in Dogdom I think to be thought of as a clever breeder would be an achievement.