I went to bed on September 22nd, excited that early the next morning I would be leaving for the first fall field trial of the season. However, instead of being awakened by my alarm clock, I woke up much earlier, too sick to go.
Wildly disappointed, I contacted my friend and training partner, Donna Brocht, who was also headed to the trial, “Will you pick up Nate and take him to the field trial? I’m too sick to go.”
For most obedience competitors, this may seem like a strange request, but the field trial season is short, and with so few competitions available in my area, I didn’t want Nate to miss this one. Furthermore, a field trial is a three-day event. My hope was that if Donna could successfully compete the first day, I would be well enough to finish the competition.
Friday: Series One and Two
Donna arrived at my house on Friday at 6 am and expressed skepticism about whether she was the best choice of handlers. In fact, in a text about an hour later, she said, “I will be more than happy to run Nate, but if you want someone else with more experience to give him a better chance of advancing, you will not hurt my feelings.”
It is not uncommon to handle someone else’s dog in a field trial. However, Donna had only tried her hand at a Qualifying stake, and Nate was entered in Open. It is comparable to asking an Open A handler to show someone else’s dog in Utility B. Donna and I have trained our dogs together for many years. I was certain that no one else at the trial would be more vested in Nate’s success than she would. I replied to her, “Enjoy!” Donna is a good handler and Nate is a great dog. I expressed my confidence in them from my sick bed.
Saturday: Series Three
A typical field trial consists of four series. The dog must do well enough to be “called back” to the next series. Donna ran two series on Friday and Nate passed them both. She called me that afternoon, excited to report that Nate had been called back to compete in the third series, but disappointed that she could not stay to handle him.
Unfortunately, on Saturday morning, I was still too sick to go to the field trial. I picked up the phone and called another training partner and friend, Darlene Houlihan. She was not competing with her own dog because she was in season. Darlene did not hesitate for a moment and said she would handle Nate in the next series. At 6 am on Saturday morning I was loading Nate in Darlene’s car.
Darlene was excited about Nate’s performance in the third series and looking forward to handling him in the fourth and final series on Saturday afternoon. But, after several rain delays, the fourth series was moved to Sunday. Nate was back at my house on Saturday night.
Sunday: Series Four
I felt much better Sunday morning and my husband drove me to the trial. Nate was amazing, finished the fourth series perfectly, and won the Open stake. This was Nate's first Open stake win. A win is required to earn a field trial championship title and this win brought him ½ point from achieving that goal. Moreover, with this win, Nate became an Amateur Field Champion.Three handlers, three days, and one amazing dog.
The weekend’s events show Nate’s ability. He is a dog that I know is situational but also in the habit of performing correctly. He competed with two different people that he knows, but who have never trained or handled him at a field trial.
However, more importantly, the weekend’s events are evidence of the incredible friendships that form among fellow dog sport competitors. I am very grateful for two amazing friends, who shared their time and took on the challenge of handling my dog. It took just one phone call on each of these days to find a friend willing to help me.
This is a tribute to dog sports- and the friendships that we share. “I couldn’t have done it without you” has never been truer.Thank you, Donna and Darlene!