Field Trials Uncovered


Field Trials (FT) are held throughout the shooting season and represent, as near as possible, a normal days shooting when live game that the dog has hunted and pointed, is shot and sent to retrieve. Novice trials are the basic standard and Open the more advanced. An All Aged stake is in between the two.


The Kennel Club describes Field Trials as....

Dogs shall be required to quarter ground in search of game, to point game, to flush on command, to be steady to flush, shot and fall, and to retrieve tenderly to hand on command from land and water.

Dogs must be excluded from further participation in the Stake if they have committed an eliminating fault. The judge may also discard dogs for major faults. Where a dog is eliminated for hard mouth all the judges must have examined the injured game before the dog is discarded. The handler shall also be given the opportunity of examining the game in the presence of the Judges but the decision of the judges is final.

Competing - Dogs shall be run singly in order of draw under two judges judging as a pair. A dog, unless discarded must have been tried at least twice in the line, and complete a water test on the day of the trial, before it may receive an award.

Eliminating faults- Hard mouth - whining or barking - flushing up wind - out of control - unsteadiness - running in or chasing - failure to hunt or point - missing game on beat (excluding hare and snipe) - refusal to retrieve or swim - changing game whilst retrieving - blinking a point.

Major faults- Not making ground good - sticking on point - persistent false pointing - not acknowledging game going away - not stopping to flush down wind - failing to find dead or wounded game - catching unwounded game - disturbing ground - noisy handling.




I wonder if any of you have ever asked yourself why a few people keep telling fellow Spinoni enthusiasts, in breed notes, newsletters etc, that their Italian Spinone has won a Third (or some other award) in a Field Trial. What's so special about it, and why are we shouting about something that the average show exhibitor wouldn't mention??

To explain let's go back to basics…if you think you have a good specimen of an Italian Spinone you enter a show. If you think you have a good working one you enter a Field Trial. Easy so far? The Spinone is a member of the HPR sub group of gundogs so must be able to Hunt, Point and Retrieve in a FT. Thus you cannot use your dog to pick up (retrieve) all year and then expect to hunt and point to a standard good enough to trial. Neither can you be part of the beating (hunting) line on a regular basis and then retrieve properly on the big day. However, there are many excellent working Spinoni out there and if your dog fulfils your requirements on a shooting day - brilliant! Keep at it. You should be the proud owner of a working Italian Spinone.

If, however, you want to prove to the world that you have a working Spinoni then I'm afraid you have to enter a HPR Field Trial and do it the Kennel Club way!

FTs are simulations of a shooting day and there are 12 dogs given a 'run'. Your dog gets approximately 10 minutes on its own to prove it can HPR. If successful then it gets another run in the afternoon and maybe another one. If it has HPR'd satisfactorily all day then you get to 'go to the water'. A simple retrieve of a dead bird from water with gun shot to encourage. Bingo! Now you get 1st place and the other eleven get 2nd - 4th place or a Certificate of Merit. Easy isn't it?!

Well, not quite! Firstly, remember that, unlike showing, there is only the shooting season (4 months a year) in which to enter in a trial and win an award. Secondly, you may not get a run at all because if there were more than 12 entries, there has to be a draw and you may end up 9th reserve! If lucky you may have to drive 100 miles …and arrive 10 minutes late because of the traffic, to find your place has been given to someone who's turned up on the day!

Once you get into 'the line' there are still a fair few variables that affect the results on the day!

It's either too cold and the birds are tucked up in their cosy beds so there's nothing to find, or too wet and the birds don't fly so your wonderful dog 'pegs' - catches the bird before it flies. There may be no wind so your dog misses or 'bumps' birds…or too much wind…or it's in the wrong direction. Getting the picture?

Two of them to impress which lengthen the odds, but they are improving! In days gone by they didn't like women handlers, or Italian Spinoni (and novice, women handlers with Spinoni were about the lowest of the low!!) It is only through the efforts of people like Bill Pearson and Steve Kimberley with their consistently good dogs at trials in the past that the ice has been broken through. Now the judges are more interested and are seeing better dogs coming through.

There are either too many and your dog gets too 'hot' and is out of control. Or too few and you have three 'blank' runs. Tough if you've driven half across the country! Perhaps they are the wrong sorts of birds - you may be sent to retrieve a woodcock but your perfect dog puts two paws up and says 'not today, thank you'!

The land used for trials varies enormously. If you don't do your homework then you may enter your slowish dog in a trial held on hundreds of acres of flat stubble, or take your fast ranging dog to thick, bramble ridden woodland.

They can be helpful and tell you what your dog is doing when you've lost sight, but they can also have a bad day and miss all the birds that your dog puts up on its run!

Usually a very friendly bunch but their dogs can land yours in trouble! If your dog can't find the bird that a gun says he killed at x, and the next dog finds it at y, then you're out - not the gun!

Please also remember Sod's Law. Your brilliant dog will be put out of the trials for various misdemeanours. Your opponents' dogs will commit the same sins …and get away with them! Just hang onto the thought that one day it will be the other way round!!

Finally (and just to depress you even more!), the judges do not have to award any or all of the possible awards. In my novice experience at trials over 6 years, about 25% had no awards given at all and another 25% only had one or two Certificates of Merit. I have only seen about four 1st prizes given and only once seen 1st to 4th and COMs given in the same trial.

All in all the opportunity for awards is pretty small for a minority breed like ours, and why we shout about the few we do get! It is not impossible though, and I urge all of you interested to give it a go (it sure is sweet when that first award comes along!!). An HPR Field Trial is a great day out with like-minded people, all doing our favourite thing, and talking about our favourite subject! The people in the HPR world are VERY friendly, and they've all been in the situations mentioned above. BUT please take advice if you encounter problems…if your dog fails, ask why and whether you should continue. The chances are that the judge will tell you what is wrong and to go away, work on the problem and then try again. Very few dogs are consistent given the variables above, so get training and get those Spinoni on the Roll of Honour. And next time you see that a Spinoni has got a FT award please remember what precious jewels they are!

Alix Johnson