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Early on Saturday morning last I was driving on the M6 in Britain in a state of anxiety and wondering what the hell I was doing. I was headed for the NEFRA* Autumn working test. I consider these people field sports heavyweights and I felt out of my depth. However, I had promised her breeder, Wendy Battison, that I would bring my Saoirse over to compete.

She was entered in the special puppy competition and since I had come a long way, I had entered her in novice as well. The two competitions ran in parallel but clever allocation of competitor numbers made it possible to compete in both. Saoirse had a poorish enough start with the first exercise for the young dogs and I thought, “Uh oh, here I go on a path to disaster when we’ve only just begun.” However, she steadied and I was pleased with her as she had no fails. I reckoned that while she had dropped points here and there, she had given a good account of herself.

When the results were announced, I was more than pleased to find that we had taken fourth place in the competition for young dogs. I then began to dream that I might have scraped a mention or even fourth in Novice. No joy, however, as the commended and fourth placed winners were announced. I relaxed as third and second were announced. Then it came to the winner and to my utter astonishment our little Saoirse had won! Yes, she had dropped points but just 8 of them over the first three exercises and a perfect score on the final exercise, giving her 72 out of 80 and a win by just one point.

I was speechless but I was asked to make a speech. I recovered and delivered a speech. Now these people don’t know me and they still don’t realise how risky it is to invite me to speak when friends and family have put great effort into shutting me up. I kept it short. Well, I thought it was short; it was still daylight when I finished.

It should be mentioned that the test results were – I would imagine – unprecedented in that all four winners in puppy were sired by the winner of the Open competition, and the three dogs taking 1st, 2nd and 4th in Puppy plus 1st in Novice were from the same litter.
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* Northern England Flatcoated Retriever Association

I have other pieces on this blog concerning flatcoats and retrievers generally: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/rethinking-the-decline-in-the-flatcoats-popularity/
https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/retriever-breeds-use-them-or-conserve-and-use-them/

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