Labrador Retriever Club 
Patron:  Her Majesty The Queen
President:  The Earl of Lonsdale

The Labrador Retriever as a field trial dog
Joy Venturi Rose

The Labrador Retriever quickly became the pre-eminent Field Trial retriever in the early 1900's.  Since 1911 a Labrador has won the IGL Retriever Championships on all but a handful of occasions.  In fact in the last 25 years this competition has only been won by one other breed (the Golden Retriever) on two occasions including in 2006.    

The 2007 winner (the Championships are normally held in December) was the seven and half year old dog FT Ch Willowyck Ruff (FTCh Willowyke Henman X Cleeveway Nestle) bred, handled and owned by Tess Lawrence.  Ruff had qualified for the three previous consecutive years but did not run in 2005 as Tess was judging.  A closer look at his pedigree will show that he is a grandson of David Garbutt’s FT Ch Pocklea Remus (FTCh Haretor Mark of Drakeshead x Ir FTCh Drakeshead Gypsy) himself a Championship winner in 1991.  This dog is remarkable in that he has featured heavily in the breeding of Championship winners and qualifiers for a number of years.  For example, at this year’s championship the most prominent sire of this year’s qualifiers was Tom Smith’s 2001 championship winner, the yellow, FTCh Craighorn Bracken (FTCh Aughacasla Sam of Drakeshead X FT Ch Lochmuir Bonnie) clearly demonstrating that the, one time held belief, that the yellow Labrador was not as good a worker as the black, is now nothing but a distant memory.  Interestingly, he is also a grandson, on his dam’s side, of FTCh Pocklea Remus.  Remus, as I recall, was also a thoroughly typical looking Labrador.

Tess Lawrence is an experienced breeder and handler having in previous championships been awarded second, third (on three occasions) and on four occasions a Diploma of Merit.  However, she is exceptional in another way as well.  She was one of only seven breeder/handler/owners from a field of 50 qualifiers.  In addition, five other qualifiers were sired by Willowyck dogs.  One of these breeder/handler/owners (Kathy Tuck Olivertash) had also bred two other qualifiers.  However, overall the number of breeder/owner/handlers is probably a lower percentage than might be expected in the show ring where many of the top spots often seem to be taken by owner/handler/breeders.  

Other notable field trial Kennel names include Hatchfield - Diana Harrison, who although not qualified this year, had her breeding well featured with FTCh Hatchfield Feargal siring three of the qualifiers, a distinction shared with FTCh Hatchfield Fern on the bitch-side.   Most dogs were handled by their owners or part owners although not bred by them and six dogs were handled by other than their owners.  Two handlers owned the sires, but not the dams, of their dogs.  Consistent breeder/handler/owners include Mirstan (Stan Harvey) with breeder/handler/owner trends also emerging with Sarah Gadd (Birdsgreen) and Mike Tallamy (Brindlebay) and the renown Drakeshead (John and Sandra Halstead) who were also the owners of Breeze of Drakeshead who historically won the championships in 1985, 1986 and 1987 although he did not prove to be an influential sire.    It is also interesting to note that for the first time in many years one of the breed’s oldest Kennel names was featured in The Duke of Buccleuch’s FT Ch Buccleuch Opal (Garendon Mark of Pocklea X Buccleuch Gem) handled by Mr. D. Lisett.  

When looking at the pedigrees of most Field Trial Labradors today, one is struck by the fact that line breeding, where it exists at all, is clearly not the major driving force but rather perhaps the selection of a sire is more dependent on breeder trying to select to enhance or suppress the various working characteristics of their bitch.  This requires just as much skill as line breeding and to my knowledge there has been little written on the subject which might guide our newer breeders.  

Keith Erlandson’s book Gundog Training is the nearest I have read and (although he did make up Labrador FT winners) it is mostly about the thoughts behind the breeding of his various FT Ch Springers, of which he made up around 20,  He used both out-crossing and line breeding.  

Consequently, there seems to be a higher percentage of field trial competitors who ‘buy in’ a puppy with a pedigree which looks, on paper, as though it may be successful or bitch owners who just go to the nearest FT Ch, than experienced breeders who have an in depth knowledge of what pedigree lines will go well together.  Some of the previous and most experienced field triallers, and I would also underline the fact that they were good Labrador breeders, have been lost to the breed or have much reduced their breeding, through retirement, in recent years.  Mary Rountree (Tasco) and Gabriella Benson (Holdgate) would be two such that I would include here who have had major influence in the breeding of Field Trial Labradors which are still represented today.  However, this said the standard of work by current Field Trial Labradors, in relation to bidibility and handling ability is probably at an all time high.  My only concern is that various Labrador rescue organisations have indicated to me that where the breeding goes wrong it can go very wrong as some can be rather highly strung and in inexperienced pet hands may cause a problem, so this is something the breed needs to keep a watchful eye on.  

Second at the championships and in stark contrast to the winner was Sharon Coby the youngest handler running (and only in her third year of trialling) with one of the youngest dogs at just two and ¾ years of age  Fordley Moor Whisky Mac of Longwalk  (FT Ch Brindlebay Jude X Newbourne Caramel of Fordleymoor).  Clearly Sharon has a bright future ahead of her and hopefully she and the others of the younger generation, who we need to keep the sport going, will be well guided by their peers and be as consciencous about our lovely breed as those who have gone before them.
Tess Lawrence with FTCh Willowyck Ruff winner of the 2007 IGL Championship

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