Aglorious day at ‘Downton Abbey’, home to a very countrified county show. With not a pony club in sight, this was a serious countryman’s pursuit day with fly-fishing displays, endless shooting and gun dog trials. If you were looking for a rusty objet d’art for the garden or a new combine harvester you were in the wrong place, but you could purchase the vital green shooting tweeds, leather wellies and any amount of dog leads, collars and canine coats.
The Husband, Star II and I accompanied by the Pagan Pup arrived early, something of a feat for us, and with few folk around there was a chance to check out the various arenas where gun dogs were to be worked.
We paused at a narrow pitch with a series of wooden jumps.
“Fancy a go? The dummy gets thrown down the course then you release your dog over the jumps and it retrieves the dummy – easy”. Explained a smiley lady with a whistle around her neck. We must have looked a bit doubtful.
There was that word ‘release’. The Pagan Pup had already excitedly released himself from the back of the Trusty Renault on arrival and acquainted himself with quite a few well-behaved Labradors during a couple of quick circuits of the car park.
Not many of those present had any notion that “get the bloody dog back Sandra!” was a quite normal command for a gun dog. We moved on swiftly in search of coffee and once equipped with lattes settled down at the main arena to watch demonstrations on fly fishing casting and a lovely man from Cornwall encouraging children to leave electronic games behind and get out in the fresh air. Excellent! After which he gave a comprehensive guide to firing muskets and how to make one’s own gunpowder. Star II took copious notes.
That was followed by a large troop of dogs of various origins and their handlers who staged a series of well- choreographed obstacle races up ramps, over high platforms and, as a finale, through hoops of fire!
It was at that point I remembered the days of the Pagan Pup’s agility training. Oh how he loved it, leaping over fences and beams like a canine equivalent of Olga Corbett.
Then in the distance I spied it, an all-ability agility course,
“You’ve got to be joking Mum!”
Nothing would do that. I paid my two pound donation to a canine charity and queued up clutching a handful of doggy treats which The Pagan Pup would get as a reward for our magnificent clear round.
At the far side of the ring leaning on the fence stood The Husband shaking his head and Star II with phone at the ready to capture our triumph.
“Right then”, said an enthusiastic official,” we’ll just pop a collar and lead on him instead of your rope lead- don’t want him dragging you through the tunnel now do we.”
‘Through the tunnel’- what is she on about?
“I’ll walk you through- ready steady go! ’’She slapped me on the bottom which I took as my cue to move.
And we were off swiftly over the first three jumps and after only a slight hesitation through the hoop (not on fire). But then The Pagan Pup caught sight of Star II and was off through the fence. I had visions of the Fire Services being called to cut his head free from the railings, so with a mighty heave Pup was back on the course and quivering at the foot of a ramp that led to a flat platform and down the other side. While the official pushed (my dog) from behind I used my best dog training encouraging vocabulary- “ Oh good boy, good boy, up up up- UP for Christ’s sake!!”
We negotiated the hairpin bend at speed leaving me just enough time to release the lead as the Pagan Pup careered through the plastic tunnel and headed for the exit.
I threw the treats in his direction and grabbed him as he hoovered them up, then it was the seesaw and two more jumps, the third being an utter refusal.
We fell over the finish line, with me in a sweaty heap while the Pagan Pup attempted to wrestle free of the borrowed pink and rhinestone encrusted collar and lead.
“Well done!” clapped the overly enthusiastic judge, “ Don’t just lie there dear, off you go – round two!”
I won’t begin to tell what I thought – the Pagan Pup having exited the ring already. Instead I smiled politely,
“I’m not sure we have the ability for agility”.