Thursday, 19 June 2014

Western Cape Field Trial Club Story

The Western Cape Field Trial Club was founded in 2000 by a small band of eccentric individuals who are fanatical about Pointing Dogs. Our members come from all walks of life from all over the Western Cape – in fact some come from as far afield as Port Elizabeth, Plettenberg Bay, Piketberg, Johannesburg, Witbank and Lothair. What binds us together is a love of Pointing Dogs, a major component of which is the sport of Field Trialing. Our Cub offers one Field Trial in the Overberg in May of each year for British Breeds being Pointers & Setters and one Field Trial for Continental Breeds being the Hunt, Point & Retrieve Breeds which include German Shorthaired Pointers, Brittanies, Hungarian Vizslas, and Weimaraners.

What is a Field Trial? It is a competition brought into existence in South Africa way back in 1908 to resolve a problem that has plagued Pointing Dog people from the beginning of time. We all know that every hunter has the best dog and we all know that is not possible. So how do we resolve the endless debates about whose hunting dog is really the best? That is what a Field Trial seeks to resolve - the panel of three Judges at Field Trials are charged with evaluating the hunting performances of all dogs entered in that particular competition under those particular conditions on those particular game-birds. In effect they must decide which dogs they would take hunting if they could do it all over again under the same conditions. Field Trials attempt to provide as real a hunting situation as possible that makes real hunting demands of the dogs and provides the Judges with real hunting performances on which to base their decisions. Very importantly, Pointing Dog Field Trials in South Africa are run only on the wild naturally occurring game-birds in our diverse habitats. To be able to run all of our Field Trials on wild game is a rare privilege indeed and puts our Field Trials in a very exclusive bracket by world standards.  

For that privilege, we in the Western Cape Field Trial Club have nobody to thank but the many landowners in the Overberg that graciously allow us access to their land in order to do the game-bird counts and habitat assessments that are vitally important in convening a successful Field Trial. So they tolerate us with rare good humour while we survey their ground from early March to early May. Then they tolerate even more of us when we run our two Field Trials in May. In 2014, we hosted 45 handlers and 82 Pointing dogs over six days of Field Trialing in the Overberg. If one takes into account additional training time, that number rises to eight or ten days. Many handlers were accompanied by their spouses and friends. Some even brought their families. All these visitors were accommodated in Greyton and Napier and surrounds for the duration of the trials. Our visitors came from as far afield as Zimbabwe, Johannesburg, Pretoria, KwaZulu-Natal and last but by no means least a very large and loyal contingent came from the Border - Cathcart, Dordrecht, Molteno and Tarkastad.

Our most commonly occurring game-bird the Cape Francolin was once ruled “unfit for Field Trials” by the National Field Trial Association because it does not behave like a typical Francolin or Partridge. Fortunately for us this is tempered to a degree by the fact that we also have good numbers of Greywing Partridge which are probably South Africa’s premier game-bird. But Field Trials are really, really hard to win in the Overberg. The game-birds are really challenging, the cover is often harsh, thick and daunting for dogs not used to our conditions, the ground is hard and stony or muddy and the abundance of furred game represents real temptation for the dogs. In addition, porcupines present an element of real danger to the dogs. So why in the world would people come from so far and so wide for a competition in which the game-birds and the conditions are so totally foreign to them? In part they do so because Field Trialers are by nature competitive individuals who relish the very tough challenge of trying to win a Field Trial in the Overberg, but mostly because of the wonderful venues on which we run our dogs. For this, the landowners must take full credit. Add to that the breathtaking landscapes and spectacular beauty of our natural environment, our quaint and interesting little Overberg towns in combination with the warmth and hospitality of the Overberg inhabitants. Were it not for all of this, our club would not have survived against all odds for the 14 years of its history.

What do we Western Cape Field Trialers bring to the party? Well, we do bring ourselves and our visitors into the Overberg - we all require accommodation, meals, restaurants, our fine Cape wines and other beverages and we purchase various other local products. But we believe that our most important contribution to the Overberg is the commitment of a small group of Pointing Dog enthusiasts to whom the veld, the quarry and the dogs are of the utmost importance. We constantly monitor the wellbeing of our game-bird populations and have built an immense database of bird-counts and local knowledge over the years. We provide feedback to our landowners immediately we see that there are potential problems. As a result of our feedback the Hoƫrskool Riviersonderend fundraising shoot was cancelled for 2014 by the organizers to avoid placing additional pressure on the game-birds in a very difficult post-flood period of re-adjustment despite the fact that it forms a material part of their fundraising. We really admire their sense of responsibility and as a club we are working on possible ways to help to reduce their financial losses.

In summary, we are hugely indebted to the people of the Overberg who make our sport and our enjoyment possible. We hope to perpetuate this special relationship into the future and hope that one day we will be able to jointly host and celebrate the 100th Field Trial for Pointing Dogs in the Overberg.