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464 Hargrave Street
Winnipeg, MB, R3A 0X5

204-956-4708

Through words and images, we are on a mission to share our passion for pointing dogs, upland hunting and sporting dog photography. 

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Pointing Dog Blog

The world of pointing dogs in words and images, moving and still.

Filtering by Tag: Interview

An American in France.

Craig Koshyk

Bill Kelley is a man on a mission. The goal of his Cache d'Or Bretons kennel is to produce Epagneul Bretons (French Brittanies) in the United States equal to the finest found in France. So, every year he travels from his home in Maryland to France to learn about the breed, run his dogs in typical French terrain, walk with judges at field trials and learn about the finer points of conformation from the best show judges in the country. 

As a fellow francophile, I have much in common with Bill. I've spent a lot of time in France watching French dogs do their thing. But I've never actually met an American there or spoken to one that has dedicated so much time learning about the French system. So I was interested to hear Bill's thoughts about the French field trial scene and the dogs they produce and asked him a few questions.



Can you tell me how an American such as yourself got involved with field trials all they way across the ocean? After forty years of pointing dogs, I decided to get my first Epagneul Breton.  At that time, I didn't even know that a French Brittany was an Epagneul Breton! Like a lot of people, I was attracted to the "close-working" gun dog- and the tri-color coat. I wanted an orange/white female and the breeder (Kevin Pack at Carolina Brittanies) only had a black/white male. I took him.  So glad I did. When I looked at Cache's (Vulcan du Talon de Gourdon) pedigree, I noticed their were lots of red letters for champions. Having started my bird dog life in AF horseback trials with an English Setter, I knew what our field champions did, but had no clue as to what champions in France were required to do. The more I researched, the more I realized the only way to understand was to go to France and see for myself.

I have been fortunate since my time in the breed to have some very fine mentors, chief among them is Pierre Willems, former member of the CEB France committee and owner of the world-famous Hameau de Sorny kennel. Through Pierre, I made my first trip to France more than a decade ago. I was permitted to walk the trial with Judge Jean Moussour.  Understand, in French trials, there is no gallery as one would see in the US. Only the judge, landowner's guide, and handler are typically in the field.

Several days in the winter wheat of Vimpelles showed me I knew very little of what an EB was made to do- BUT I was anxious to learn! I did not know it then, but I was watching some of the finest EBs ever to hit the ground in France. The hunting and pointing was intense.  The rules were formidable and unforgiving. It was a real challenge- and one that I believe has helped form the EB into the breed it is today.


Tell me about your first experience(s) there, what was it like to compete in such a different scene and how steep was the learning curve? My experience in French FTs has been limited to walking with judges. I have entered one of my dogs in a TAN in France (which in my observation is significantly different than those run in the US.  see below.) We did well, passing the TAN and being recognized by the judge, a top French trainer/handler, as "the best dog I've seen today." In the French system, part of a judge's training is to work side-by-side with a judge. In terms of learning, this is far better than running a dog.

A handler get to only see their dog. When one is with the judge through the day, you have the opportunity to learn the intricacies of the rues and what a judge wants to see. Through the years I have had the privilege of walking field trials with several of the top judges in France. Each time is a wonderful experience. These judges are real dog men. They understand the demands of a working breed and the needs of the hunter who walks behind the dog.

Dog people are dog people, no matter the language or culture. I am fortunate to have some fluency in French, so that has been helpful. However, the common bond of loving good dogs and good dog work transcends any possible divide. The learning curve was steep at first, has smoothed out a bit, but I am still learning. What I have found is summer up in a saying one of my mentors has used- "When the student is ready, a teacher will be found." What wisdom. It's all about our willingness to learn. EVERY person I have met in the French dog world has been exceptionally welcoming and willing to share. It has been an amazing relationship.



What are some of the most important (or interesting or both) things you've learnt about field trials in Europe? The most interesting thing I've learned is that just as in the US, there is no such thing as "a field trial." While all the French/FCI trials are on foot, the game and terrain are as varied as Europe itself.  While the typical trial in France is the spring trial in winter wheat on wild partridge, there are equally popular autumn, shoot to retrieve, trials on released pheasants. There are also niche trials on wild snipe, woodcock, and mountain birds. Each has its unique requirements of both dog and handler. FT in France are serious business. Most dogs are handled by professionals whose livelihood depends in the success of their dogs. In addition, there is a circuit of trials held several days each week, not just on weekends. Dogs that come through this process successfully certainly have proven their merit for future breeding.


What do your American colleagues think about your competing over there? As for my American colleagues, I hope things are changing. As far as I know, there are only a handful of Americans who have run trials in Europe. Typically, they go to France with dogs they purchased and were trained on the Continent. In addition, the demands of "the game" make it difficult for US dogs to be successful on new game, new terrain, and new rules. The limited success US folks have found has been in autumn trials on released pheasants- something that more approaches our conditions.

Overall, I find that the American EB community's attitude can be summed-up in a quote from one of their club officer's at the CEB France National show several years ago- "I came all the way to France and I didn't learn anything." See the quote above about a "ready student." Within the past month, two officers of the US club have gone to France and run one of their dogs. Hopefully, they were "ready students." I often hear people talk about how much they love the EB. I wonder if they understand the process (the French process) that created the breed they love. I fear that like many other things, the realities of time and distance lead to changes and alterations from the original . The expectations are different here - lower, in my opinion. I have seen US EB TANs and trials. What goes here would never go in France. For example, I saw an EB run a TAN here. After two attempts to find scent, the dog was put on a check-cord and handled onto the bird. It flash-pointed for a moment and moved on.  It passed. This would never go in France.

As for myself or others competing in France, I think most Americans are simply uninterested. We tend to be be quite provincial and think that our styles, systems, and ways are superior to others around the world. Unfortunately, I am afraid this attitude will lead to the diminution of the breed. I am convinced that if we want to maintain and improve the quality of the EB in the US, we MUST have a stronger relationship with our firends in France.  After all, they are the creators and guardians of the breed.

What are some myths about the european field trial and hunting scene that you've had to dispell? The best way I can sum up the"myths" of the French hunting scene is to recount my landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport on my first trip to France.  As we descended, all I could see were fields and woods. Little villages and towns, here and there, but mostly green. Where did Paris go? What happened to the Eiffel Tower? Like most folks, I think, my perception of France was a busy, urban, cosmopolitain place. It is that, of course, but so much more.

The landscape of France is vast and agrarian. The land is much more covered with field and woods. Spawling development in contained. Places to hunt, while typically organized for hunting clubs abound. Wild game, at least as compared to Eastern US, is abundant. Many French people hunt - and it is an important part of their culture. It is important to remember that for centuries hunting was the privilege of the ruling class. Poaching was a possible death sentence. Somehow, it appears that the French still understand these roots of our sport and strongly resist efforts to change the traditions they've developed. Mind you, neckties are not required when hunting in France as in the UK, but the French hunting traditions are strong. Frenchmen are proud to show you their Darnes and take you to the sporting goods stores. As you can tell, my appreciation for and affinity with the French culture is strong. I've learned a lot from my French friends and my life is richer for the experiences and relationships.

My best advice for any American who loves their EB and wants the breed to prosper is to get over their fears and insecurities about the langauge barrier and visit France, see their trials, and shows, and get to know the wonderful people responsible for giving us the dogs we love so much.


Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

www.dogwilling.ca



Interview with a Connoisseur

Craig Koshyk

Unlike most professional gundog trainers in France, and there are a lot of them, Xavier Thibault specializes in training French pointing breeds. His love of the 'old' breeds goes back to his youth when he first started hunting and continues to this day. Recently I asked Xavier about his involvement with the French pointing breeds and his opinions on the current state of affairs of the French gundog scene.

Xavier and a small herd of Braque Saint Germains

CK: Xavier, how did you first get interested in the French pointing breeds?
XT:  I must have been 14 or 15 when I got my first hunting permit, and I was initially attracted to two French breeds, the Braque Dupuy and Braque Saint Germain. But when I became a professional trainer later, I mainly trained and raised English Setters. However I found them to be overrated. Now, don't get me wrong, Setters are great dogs with loads of natural ability, but to me, they were just overrated. So I went in search of a dog that was not necessarily from the top breed in the world, but a dog that suited me. A combination of circumstances lead me to the Braque Saint Germain and, by extension, to the world of our old French breeds. The more I got to know them, the more I fell in love with them.  I realized that all our old breeds were developed to serve hunters in the various regions of France, that they were created by the hunters, game and terrain found there.


CK: In your opinion, in what way do the French breeds differ from the other pointing breeds from England, Germany and elsewhere?
XT: They reflect the same differences that we can see when we compare the people and cultures found in those countries. The large variety of our breeds is due to the simple fact that they were created to suit the needs of the local hunters and average citizen of the area they come from. The major difference between the English and French breeds is also due to different breeding systems. English breeders developed a more sophisticated breeding system than the French.  To perfect the Pointer for example, the English used our Braques to lighten it, and then proceeded from there. We then adopted the English style and either anglicised our breeds by crossing them to Setters or Pointers or we abandoned them. On the German side, they turned to greater versatility, so they needed a different kind of dog, with a stronger character, but still easy to train. 

Braque Dupuy

CK: The French canine system has always faced the same challenges as canine systems in other countries. Egos and politics always play a role and make things difficult, especially in France where it seems that arguing has been raised to an art form. But despite all that, the French have created more pointing breeds than any others and they continue to produce some of the best dogs in the world. How is that possible? How can so many good breeds and good dogs come from a system that always seems to be at war with itself?
XT: Our system is becoming increasingly messed up, more and more people are breeders in name only and the system focuses only on the here and now, not on the long term. The rules are constantly changing and many clubs are now lead by people who are not there to manage a breed, but are there to use the club to promote a single line, usually their own. Too many breeders have no long term goals, their dogs are no longer being selected in a truly objective way, they are guided only by subjective criteria. Personally, I believe that if a breeder doesn't have long term, consistent goals and demonstrates strict selection criteria, he or she should not be allowed to breed. But French breeders reflect their Gallic heritage, they are guided more by passion than by logic and they can produce excellent dogs and we have created fantastic breeds.  


CK: What do you see in the future of French breeds? Which breeds are in decline? Which ones are on the rise? Are French hunters returning to the old French breeds or is Anglomania still strong in France?
XT: Anglomania will continue to be strong among French hunters, but some of the old breeds like the Braque d'Auvergne are on the rise. However, others are in decline, unfortunately. And the reasons are always linked to the people involved often at the club level. What happens far too often is that a gang of incompetent people seeking to gain an advantage over another gang of incompetent people, takes over a club. And the result is almost always the same, the breed's field abilities decline. If we want to improve all these old breeds our selection needs to focus less on creating the perfect dog and more on creating more good dogs. When I see an excellent dog that no one uses for their breeding program simply because it lacks a minor point in terms of breed type, for example, it makes me furious. Our French breeds are fragile and will follow the decline of the overall population of hunters I'm afraid. The ONCFS (Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage) had a repository of ancient dog breeds, but faced with a lack of interest on the part of the breed clubs and other stupidity, the program fell apart.



Braque d'Auvergne
CK: How do French breeders and hunters feel about the growing number of people outside of France that are now interested in the French breeds? It seems to me that there is very little effort to promote the French breeds outside of France, where there is a growing interest and a market. Aside from the Épagneul Breton, the other French breeds are almost completely unknown outside of France, why?
XT: Because too many French breeders are no longer breeders, they are salesmen who consider anyone with 'his breed' abroad as potential competition. I'd say that 80% of litters produced by our so-called 'breeders' do nothing for the breed.  80% are produced without any specific purpose, without selection of any kind. And that is why I got out of breeding.  Too few breeders actually breed. Many believe they do, but they don't. Breeding means implementing a strict selection process to improve the breed. It is not about stroking one's ego, or about self-promotion and selling to the masses etc. Anyone who isn't in the process of implementing a 5 generation plan is not breeding, they are just producing puppies. 

Breeding means 15, 20, 30 years of dedicated work, of whelping puppies, keeping the unsold ones, training young dogs and competing with adult dogs. It means having breeding plans for many years in advance. It means understanding that just because faults don't appear, that they are not there, it means being able to step back to see your breeding program objectively.  Too many breeds now face an uncertain future because too many breeders are seeking the one 'perfect' specimen. But there are no perfect dogs and even a near-perfect specimen may contribute very little to the breed overall because when a gene pool gets too small, the breed will die out.  The wealth of a breed is in its diversity! Nothing good can come from a narrow-minded breeding program run by a kennel blind breeder.

CK: What advice do you have for someone outside of France interested in a dog from one of the French breeds, a Braque,  épagneul or griffon ? How does one find a good dog, a good breeder?
XT: I'd advise them to look elsewhere than the breed club. Look at the listings of litters and pups published by the French kennel club, and then contact the breeder to ask for pedigree and breeding program information. If you live abroad you will need to find someone over here that you can trust to help advise you, and if you can travel, then you should go see the parents in the field.  Avoid like the plague any breeder who bad-mouths other breeders just to talk up their own dogs. Avoid like the plague so-called 'experienced' breeders who've only been at it for 5 years and have had a grand total of two litters (you can generally find them on the board of directors of the breed club). Flee from all those who claim to have the best dog in the land, but always has a sketchy reason to never actually prove it in competition or tests. Avoid any breeder that does not hunt with his or her dogs! And for some breeds, look for a breeder outside France.

Braque du Bourbonnais

CK: Thank you Xavier
XT: You are very welcome!


 


Version française

CK : Quand as-tu développé ton intérêt pour les races françaises et pourquoi?
XT : Tout d'abord, j'ai été attiré par deux races françaises : le Dupuis et le BSG. Je devais avoir 14 ou 15 ans au moment de mon premier permis. Devenu dresseur professionnel plus tard, j'ai élevé du Setter anglais, mais ce dernier pour ma part était surfait, plein de qualités certes, mais surfaites. Je me suis donc mis en quête du chien non pas idéal, mais qui me correspondait. Un concours de circonstances m'a fait entrer dans le monde du BSG et, par extension, dans le monde de nos vieilles races que j'ai appris à connaître et à aimer. J'ai trouvé dans chacune de nos vieilles races un animal de terroir, un outil adapté à un territoire, adapté à des hommes, à une chasse, chaque chien de ces races françaises correspond à ce pour quoi il a été créé pour la majorité.


CK : À ton avis, comment et pourquoi est-ce que les races françaises sont différentes par rapport aux autres races de chiens d'arrêt? Anglaises, allemandes, etc.

XT : Elles sont différentes, comme le sont les hommes. La variété de nos races est due au simple fait que suivant leurs besoins nos paysans ou nos éleveurs ont sélectionné le chien qu'il leur fallait. Le fait qu'il y ait autant de différences entre chiens anglais et français est dû aussi à l’élevage. L'éleveur anglais sait évoluer dans l’élevage, le français non! Pour perfectionner le Pointer, les Anglais ont eu recours à nos braques afin de l’alléger, ils ont évolué. Nous, nous avons de tout temps suivi la mode et l’anglicisation de nos races ou leur abandon pur et simple. Du coté allemand, ils se sont tournés vers la polyvalence, donc il leur a fallu un autre type de chien, plus fort de caractère tout en restant corvéable.


CK : Le système canin français rencontre les mêmes défis que les systèmes canins dans d'autres pays. L'ego et la politique des hommes peuvent rendre les choses difficiles, surtout en France où s'engueuler est un art. Malgré tout, les Français ont créé plus de races de chiens d'arrêt que tout autre peuple et ils continuent de produire parmi les meilleurs chiens au monde. Comment est-ce possible? Comment tant de bons chiens peuvent-ils encore venir d'un système qui semble être en guerre constante contre lui-même?

XT : Notre système devient de plus en plus difficile, de plus en plus de gens n'ont rien à faire en tant qu’éleveur. Notre système, pour nos vieilles races, ne donne des résultats que sur un instant et sur un élevage. Les règles changent constamment au gré des dirigeants de club qui, en général, ne gèrent pas une race par l’intermédiaire d'un club, mais une souche; de façon générale, la leur. Le chien n'est plus vraiment sélectionné sur de vrais critères, mais juste sur des critères subjectifs. Trop d’éleveurs élèvent sans but, personnellement si un éleveur doit élever sans vraiment de but cohérent et une évidente sélection, il ne devrait pas pouvoir le faire. Mais l'éleveur français reste avant tout un passionné, l'éleveur français est resté gaulois dans l'esprit comme le résumait si bien Sénèque, je crois.


CK : Que vois-tu dans l'avenir des races françaises? Lesquelles sont en déclin? Lesquelles sont à la hausse? Les chasseurs français retournent-ils aux vieilles races françaises ou est-ce que l'anglomanie est toujours aussi forte?

XT : L'anglomanie restera toujours aussi forte, car dans l'esprit des chasseurs, leur race est la meilleure « du moins tant qu'ils n'en changent pas ». Certaines vieilles races ont le vent en poupe, le braque d'Auvergne, par exemple, d'autres sont malheureusement en déclin, les causes sont toujours humaines. En général, une bande d'incapables cherche à prendre l'avantage sur une autre bande d'incapables mais, de façon générale, ils se retrouvent toujours pour nuire à ceux qui eux travaillent sur le terrain. L'élevage de toutes ces vieilles races devrait être quantitatif et non qualitatif. Quand je vois un chien bourré de qualités ne pas reproduire juste parce qu'il manque légèrement de type, par exemple, cela me fait bondir. Les races françaises sont fragiles et suivront le déclin des chasseurs. L'ONCFS avait fait un conservatoire des vieilles races de chien, mais devant l'inintérêt des clubs ou, pour certains autres, leur virulence cette heureuse initiative est tombée à l'eau.


CK : Comment est-ce que les éleveurs et les chasseurs français perçoivent les gens de l'extérieur de la France qui s'intéressent aux races françaises? Il me semble y avoir peu d'effort fait pour promouvoir ces races à l'extérieur des frontières, là où il existe un intérêt croissant et un marché. Mis à part le Breton, les autres races françaises sont inconnues en dehors de la France, pourquoi?

XT : Juste parce que l’éleveur français n'est plus éleveur, mais un bon marchand qui voit dans le développement de « Sa race » à l’étranger une concurrence potentielle. Pour beaucoup, leur élevage est bon vu qu'ils exportent. 80% des portées faites par « des éleveurs » ne le sont pas par intérêt de la race, 80% sont faites sans but, sans sélection d'aucune sorte. J'ai arrêté le chien pour toutes ces raisons. Peu d’éleveurs élèvent.  Beaucoup le croient, mais peu le font. Élever c'est sélectionner pour améliorer la race et non flatter l'ego, s'auto-recommander, s'auto-déclarer, etc. Ne pas voir plus loin que les cinq générations à venir ne s'appelle pas élever, mais produire.

CK : Donc pour quelqu'un en dehors de la France qui s'intéresse à une belle race française, braque ou épagneul, que lui conseillerais-tu? Comment peut-il trouver un bon chien, d'un bon éleveur?
XT : Je lui conseillerais de prendre conseil ailleurs que dans les clubs, regarder les naissances auprès de la SCC, ensuite demander aux éleveurs une projection de pedigrees. Et ensuite, se renseigner, si vous habitez à l'étranger faites confiance à une personne sur place et si vous pouvez vous déplacer demandez à voir les parents sur le terrain. Pas de terrain, pas d'achat. Évitez comme la peste ceux qui pour valoriser un élevage en casse un autre, les éleveurs savants qui élèvent depuis cinq ans et ont fait deux portées (en général ils dirigent ou font partie du club de race). Fuyez tous ceux qui ont le meilleur chien du canton, mais qui pour x raisons n'ont pu faire de concours. Fuyez celui qui n'utilise pas ses chiens sur le terrain! Et pour certaines races, achetez votre chien dans de bons élevages hors de France.


CK: Merci Xavier
XT: Je t'en prie.

Everybody Knows Where Broomhill's At!

Craig Koshyk

Field trials for Setters and Pointers have been run in Manitoba since 1886 when the Manitoba Field Trial Club held its inaugural Derby and All-Age Stakes near Morris, about 50 miles south of Winnipeg.  


Field trials are still held in Manitoba today, but further west, just outside of Broomhill, a small hamlet that most people in Manitoba have never heard of. But among field trialers, Broomhill is almost as well-known as Grand Junction Tennessee. When I interviewed Hall of Fame trainer and handler Colvin Davis last fall during the Manitoba Championship Trial, I asked him about Broomhill. Here is what he had to say.



Stay tuned for more video of Colvin and more on the history of field trials in Manitoba including first hand accounts from over 120 years ago!