Judy Hempstead, founder of the Working Minority Retriever Club, has participated in Crufts for the past 40 years, winning numerous prizes in both the breed and BASC classes. She talks about her passion for training gundogs and experience of Crufts.
Q: What breed of gundog do you have and why?
I own Irish water spaniels (IWS) and was smitten by this breed when I first met an IWS at the age of 13. I loved their character, their unusual look and versatility – I could take them out in the rain or for a swim and show them at a championship show without having to worry about their coat.
Now, having bred and owned many IWS over the years, they have completely captured my heart. They’re funny, loyal and incredibly challenging at times, but make a terrific all-round dog with the ability to be trained for many different disciplines.
Q: How long have you been working gundogs?
I was brought up with show cockers, American and English, as well as springers and red setters. At first, I worked Labradors having been introduced to the sport by a family friend.
When I had my first IWS, I was introduced to working tests and gundog training. I continue to train my dogs for the shooting field and for working tests. I take pride in the fact I have produced good quality dogs for the show ring that are also capable working dogs.
Q: What type of work do you do with them?
Throughout the shooting season all my dogs work at least three times a week. They are used in the beating line and as picking up dogs.
In the off season, I run gundog training sessions and use my dogs as demonstration dogs for my clients. I enter working tests and run minority breed gundog demonstrations, breed parades and meet the public at a range of country fairs in the UK, including The Game Fair.
Q: How long have you been showing dogs at Crufts?
I have been showing dogs at Crufts for over 40 years. I started showing cockers owned and bred by my parents; then, when I got my first IWS and qualified for the breed classes I have never missed a year of showing at Crufts since the age of 11.
Q: What made you participate in the BASC rings at Crufts?
Having the opportunity to have my dogs judged as working dogs in the BASC classes, not just on looks and conformation to the standard is fantastic; their well-constructed, powerful bodies and their amazing drive and confidence are noticed and appreciated.
They may have a bit of coat missing around the hocks and belly, and a few scars around the eyes from working, but the judges selected by BASC understand that working dogs may well incur such damage.
Q: Do you think participating at Crufts and in the BASC rings is important?
Yes. It is vitally important as it holds up our history of working dogs, the shooting community and gamekeepers. It’s important that true working dogs are recognised and judged to the breed standard.
We should remind people of these breeds and their true purpose, and not lose sight of the fact that they have been around for centuries, working alongside us and playing a key role in the history of our sport.
Crufts plays a significant role in keeping the real purpose of our working gundogs alive. The show promotes the breeds as they have been intended and it gives us, the owners, an opportunity to network and continue to promote some of our most vulnerable breeds.
Q: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about entering their dog to the BASC classes?
I would advise that both dog and handler have at least two full seasons’ experience picking up or beating. The handlers will be speaking to the public in the BASC area, so they must have a good knowledge and understanding of the sport.
Those wanting to enter BASC classes should consider whether their dog fits the criteria required for entering – does it have both the skills and the looks? Owners should also consider their dog’s welfare – is the dog good in busy, noisy indoor environments? If not, I would advise that they prepare the dog prior to entering Crufts.
The dog must be used to being handled by a judge too and not all dogs take kindly to strangers touching them. A dog may be confident in the shooting field, but it does not mean they will be confident in an environment such as Crufts.
So, before entering, think carefully about whether both you and your dog are ready for this immensely fulfilling challenge – get ready so you don’t spoil your experience!