Silverwood ~ Interview with Robin Gates
Strideaway presents a new series of podcast interviews with trainers on the greatest field trial birddogs they have trained and campaigned in their careers. We’ll ask them to recall what made these dogs exceptional, what character traits helped bring them to the pinnacle of success…and what their legacy was.
We start the series with all-age trainer/handler Robin Gates. Most anyone who has followed Robin’s long career can guess which dog came immediately to mind. The immortal 10x CH Silverwood. But there are other dogs Robin has had great success with and whose names are etched in our memories. One such dog is the great producer CH Joe Shadow. At the end of this interview Robin also talks a about Joe and how the legacies of these two Hall of Fame dogs became one through their progeny. For more on Joe Shadow
Silverwood by John Donaldson
1996 Continental Championship. In the foreground, winner Silverwood with Robin Gates and Brady Porter; R-U Pleasant Run Dot (Colvin Davis) with Wallace Reichert.
The small buildings in the background (between three quarters and a mile away) are Rawhide’s Place where Silverwood pointed a covey of chickens the first time he was let loose after his long convalescence.
Silverwood’s Championship Wins:
R-U: Border International Championship, 1995
Wr: Continental All-Age Championship, 1996
Wr: Dominion Open Chicken Championship, 1996
R-U: Quail Championship Invitational, 1996
R-U: Continental All-Age Championship, 1997
Wr: Southeastern All-Age Championship, 1997
Wr: Masters Quail Championship, 1997
Wr: Continental All-Age Championship, 1998
Wr: Saskatchewan Open Chicken Championship, 1998
R-U: Kentucky Open All-Age Championship, 1999
Wr: Georgia Quail Championship, 2000
R-U: Continental All-Age Championship, 2000
Wr: Georgia Quail Championship, 2002
Wr: Florida Open All-Age Championship, 2002
Wr: Southeastern All-Age Championship, 2002
Silverwood produced the following champions:
CH Flatwood Maggie
CH Dog Outa Arkansas
CH Hub Cap
His importance as a sire was primarily realized through his producing females.
Tom Word’s riveting description of Silverwood’s 2002 Florida Open All-Age Championship win:
Silverwood Captures Crown, Double Rebel Pearl Named Runner-Up
In a race that will be retold as long as any who saw it can faintly remember, ten-year-old pointer multichampion Silverwood scorched the second course at Chinquapin Farms, scored four perfect finds and unleashed a spectacular finishing drive that carried him a mile beyond the usual finish to capture the Florida Open All-Age Crown for handler Robin Gates and owner Dr. Everett Crouch. His was a near-perfect hour, on a course of hogback ridges, sloping plains, wiregrass cover under sparse pines and abundant wild quail — as fine a stage as exists in quaildom. It yielded Big his ninth open all-age championship, on the heels of his week-before win at the Georgia Quail Championship. Double Rebel Pearl won runner-up with a two-find race on the course called “27” that was deep, responsive and consistent, and reminded of the winning performance of her grand-sire Double Rebel Buck on the same course. She is owned by Dr. Tom Kennard and Ted Baker and was handled by Fred Dileo. Vernon Vance of Winchester, Kentucky, and Luke Weaver of Jackson, Georgia, judged.
Believed out of competition two years ago because of life-threatening spinal-column problems, Silverwood has achieved a miraculous physical comeback against all odds, chronicled later in this report.
Silverwood’s bracemate Million Dollar Man also performed to championship standards with a forward, fast, deep and responsive race and one good limb find. With one more, he might have been runner-up. Excitement built through their hour, as the mounted gallery lifted in their stirrups, and the dog-truck riders stood at their high seats, all silent. It was the kind of hour that comes seldom, but reveals our sport’s unequalled power to thrill. Seventy-seven were entered, and seventy-six came to the line. The stake commenced Friday, January 10, and concluded on Thursday.
The stars lined up at Chinquapin for a great canine athlete, the men who trained and handled and scouted him, the owner who backed him, the veterinarians and caregivers who repaired his injuries with surgery and therapy, and a generous host. The result was a magic hour, with all the drama of a sellout Broadway show. Fortunately, Dr. Everett and Gerry Crouch were riding to watch Silverwood, and R. O. Berryhill and Larry Lee to watch their Man.
They began their battle in the second hour at the ridge top where Ch. Chinkapin’s Bisco Buck is buried (the second highest hill in Florida) and rolled to the front through the first leg at flank speed, both pointed out as dots in the distance. At the corner where the course first turns left, Silverwood was found pointing at 9 on a knoll on the right, chin and tail up in a typical pose. His birds were quickly put to wing fifteen yards before his nose, and he remained a statue at the shot. Released, he hunted through the descending terrain to the next corner where he was again found standing on the left at 15; all was letter perfect on the bevy which rose in a tight bunch dead ahead of the dog. Silverwood quickly regained the front as Gates heeled him up a mowed strip on hillside on the left, and the two master ground workers used the rising terrain to show at the front at great distances. At 22 call of point came for both dogs, Man on the right just inside the cover next to fence-line firebreak, Silverwood on hillside just left of the course path. Silverwood had a single, Man a big covey, both quickly handled with style and manners. They bore on to the front at true all-age range past the power-line crossing where they both momentarily took the firebreak beside tree line on right, Man a few yards in front. At 33 scouts called point, and Dileo rode to the firebreak expecting to find Man, only to find Silverwood standing five yards into the cover. He called Gates in, and a perfectly located bevy was put to wing for the proud champion who had just wiped the eye of his younger bracemate. After the turn left away from the highway at 42, both dogs bored in deep, and handlers rode to turn them. Here all wondered, can Silverwood, considering his age and physical adversities, possibly have the stamina not to fade? The odds seemed stacked against him…
Here began the climax, as Silverwood hunted bigger and bigger, coming across the front at the second power-line crossing and filling the country on the left side of the cone, while Man worked the right at comparable range. When we reached the ridge-top where the final leg of the course turns left (south) toward the highway along a gas pipeline, both dogs came around in wide arcs, swinging for handlers at great distances, and as the final minutes ticked away, they reached down through the cover toward the corner where Silverwood had scored his second find. At call of time, they had used all the land available.
Silverwood’s was the best job in an hour stake that this scribe has been privileged to watch. Robin Gates later asked Judge Luke Weaver if he’d ever seen a better all-age hour. “I’ve been thinking about that. The best I’d seen before was Buzzsaw’s Stormy Bud for Bubba qualifying at the Continental… I guess Bud’s was the best–but that’s because I like Bubba better than I like you,” Luke teased. Judge Vernon Vance later called it the best all-age hour he had witnessed below the Canadian border.
Watching Silverwood’s race was a spiritual experience for all. Afterwards as we rode to the third course breakaway reflecting, the symbolism of the old dog’s epic effort began to sink in. It had been a triumph of will over adversity, of heart over hardship. A feat symbolic of Robin Gates’ comeback, with the support of a loving family and the inspiration of a son, now his scout. Symbolic of Joe Hick’s victory over the staph infection that just a year ago threatened his life, overcome with the loving support of his Talisha and of Ted Baker. Symbolic of the sacrifices of all the heroes, living and fallen, of 9-11 and its aftermath, so much on everyone’s mind.
Silverwood’s win record begins in the spring of 1994 when he captured first in the Vidalia Club’s Open Derby and Open All-Age stakes. These wins foretold a fabulous career, to yield to date nine open all-age championships, the Dominion (’96), Continental (’96 and ’98), Southeastern (’97), Masters (’97), Saskatchewan (’98), Georgia (2000 and ’02) and now the Florida (’02). He has also been named runner up five times, including twice in the Continental (’97 and 2000) and at the Invitational (’96). In 1999 he was named top qualifier in the Continental, an hour this scribe will always remember along with this year’s race in the Florida. His placements to date total 27, and he has produced 27 winners of record with 88 placements. Likely he will be remembered for the producing daughters he has sired, like Alford’s John and Rebel Wrangler.
The grounds at Chinquapin
Sidelights from Chinquapin
That Silverwood should compete in this year’s Florida and Georgia Championships, much less win them decisively, is a miracle, a tribute to veterinary science, skillful surgery and rehabilitation, and to the loving care of the Gates family. Most of all, perhaps, to the character of the dog.
Silverwood’s physical problems first revealed themselves in the qualifying heats of the 2000 Continental, when on the breakaway he collided with his bracemate and yelped in pain. He was obviously hurting badly in his hindquarters, and Robin considered withdrawing him, but in seconds, he seemed to recover, and his desire to continue hunting showed in his eyes. He proceeded to qualify and win runner-up honors, proof of an intractable will. Later, it became obvious that he was suffering, and after Doctor Crouch made extensive inquires, Big went to D. C. Sorjonen, D.V.M., a specialist in neurosurgery. Doctor Sorjonen describes his work on Big in March 2000:
A 20-cm incision was made along the back midline over the last three lumbar and first three sacral vertebrae. The bone overlying the spinal segments at the last lumbar and first two sacral vertebrae was removed exposing the lumbosacral nerve roots. A massive bone and soft-tissue compression was noted around these nerve roots, predominately on the left side. The compressive material was gently removed, and the affected nerve roots were traced out of the spinal canal into the peripheral muscles, removing any additional compression. Following the decompressive procedure, the spine was tested for instability; finding none, a routine 4-layer soft-tissue closure was performed.
This was major surgery, performed with the hope of prolonging the life of the gallant campaigner, without any hope that he could continue to compete. But after convalescence at the Gates kennel, he seemed to regain his strength and to be pain free and unrestricted in his movements. In July, Robin decided to take him on the trip to Canada, not with a view to further competition, but to get him out of the South Georgia heat. By prairie-trial season, he seemed fit and anxious to run, and so Robin and Doctor Crouch decided to enter him in the Alabama Prairie Trial (Pelican Open All-Age, Broomhill, Manitoba), which he won! His pre-injury wins put him on the chart for the Invitational, and in preparations for that, he showed first signs of returning lameness. He completed the first two days at Paducah, but there it became evident his back problems had come back to haunt him. X-rays revealed a vertebra fracture in the area of his surgery.
Again Doctor Sorjonen was asked to evaluate. He explained further surgery might be an option, but with too-high odds of adverse consequences. He referred Silverwood to Jan Steiss, D.V.M., Ph.D., PT., a specialist in physical therapy with the Department of Biomedical Scientists of the College of Veterinary Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health of Tuskeegee University. Doctor Steiss explains her services to Silverwood:
Dr. Sorjonen requested physical therapy for Silverwood after he determined that surgery was not the best course of action at the time. My goal in the rehabilitation program was to strengthen Silverwood’s back muscles but at the same time avoid harmful movement of his spine at the fracture site. If Silverwood had been a person, he probably would have been fitted with a custom back brace. However, this is not practical in dogs.
I designed a rehabilitation program based on isometric exercises. For example, while Silverwood was with us at the Animal Health Center, he was slowly walked on leash to the treatment room 2-3 times per day; after he stood quietly, we worked on shifting his weight from side to side for 10-20 repetitions. Silverwood was set home with instructions to repeat the isometric exercises twice per day, to kennel him alone, to avoid situations where he would be twisting or turning his spine, and to leash walk him very slowly on level ground for short distances. The distances would gradually be increased as he improved.
For more on Silverwood, here is Barbara Teare’s telephone interview with Robin Gates published in the 2002 Fall issue of Field Trial Magazine: Barbara Teare FTM_Robin Gates_ Silverwood
Retired from competition after his extraordinary last season, “Big” lived to a ripe old age. He died January 4, 2008 and was elected to the Field Trial Hall of Fame the very same year.