Judges and Judgment
I have read the recent articles in The Field concerning the subject of judging. Like everyone with any longevity in field trials, I have seen my share of poor performances rewarded and good ones ignored.
Like it or not, our game is a subjective one along the lines of a beauty contest. Dogs are judged on race (range and forward pattern), class, bird finding ability, and manners and style around game. Although these performance characteristics provide a basis for judgment, they pale in comparison to time trials in track or objective measurements in most sports making judicial knowledge and integrity critical.
I am seventy-eight years old and have always been one of the youngest of those who grew up foot hunting ditch banks, hedge rows and honeysuckle thickets. I am fortunate to still be able to see multiple coveys of quail a day, but that opportunity no longer exists for most people who are now where I started. Exceptions may be individuals with access to quail plantations or someone in Oklahoma, Texas, or one of the western prairie states. My point is that there is a dwindling and aging pool of persons with first-hand experience of wild bird behavior and dog interactions with it.
The Southeastern Quail Championship is run on my property and adjoining plantations. I have been involved in getting the judges over the years. We make every effort to run a fair trial. The “home team” (i.e. an entry connected to participating plantations) has placed less than ten percent of the time and only twice in nearly thirty years has any judicial decision been totally unexplainable. In short, I believe we have been very fortunate in the quality of our judges. I am concerned about the future, not the past.
When you ask someone to judge, you are requesting that person to spend multiple days in the saddle away from his usual responsibilities. That is a lot to ask of anyone, but being retired and owning two horses, although helpful, does not constitute judicial qualifications.
To win a field trial, you need a dog that can win, ready to win. You need to draw a course where that dog can show enough to win at a time when the birds are moving. When you are lucky enough for all these “stars” to line up, it is essential to have someone judging that knows what they are seeing and rewards it regardless of who the owner or handler is. These individuals still exist, but attrition is shrinking their ranks. To land a qualified judge, you must beg early and often. Those that are well respected are being pestered more and more.
The standard answer to what most threatens our sport is “grounds”, but I think in the future, it will be the lack of good judges. I am at a loss to come up with another competitive sport that is so dependent on volunteers to arbitrate the outcomes. I believe we should go to a paid panel of judges that have been certified under approved judges. This would not be practical in the beginning except for major championships. It might take 60 dogs to get two certified judges and 25 or 30 entries to get one plus an apprentice. They would still be humans judging a beauty contest, but they could be graded and evaluated. Some would have a narrow strike zone and some a little wider one, but overall, a wild pitch would not be called a strike.
A paid panel of certified judges randomly selected to judge major trials would go a long way toward stabilizing the future of our sport. I realize that there are financial considerations. Maybe we could begin with certified observers. The American Field is the logical body to pursue this goal.
Dr Ron Deal