Growing up with gundogs

Fifteen-year-old Oscar grew up surrounded by gundogs; he tells BASC how he became one of the most successful young handlers in the UK…

Well, I suppose it all began before I even knew about it. My mum, Judy, has always had an interest in dogs and especially gundogs. As I grew up around litters of Irish water spaniels (IWS), Crufts, game fairs and other shows, my own interest started to grow.

Mum used to take me on shoots, carrying me about in a backpack, but once I could walk I took up beating and helped pick up. When I was six, I remember handling mum’s water spaniel, Flo, at a club show junior event. Flo was kind to me; like a mother she took care of me and like I had seen my mum trot around the ring, I just did the same and good old Flo Cuboglach Heath Rustic @ Cuvana obediently did what she had to do. The prize was a bright red rosette, a few goodies and praise from friends and family.

In 2010, at seven, I handled for the first time at Crufts. Brise was not so easy as her mum Flo, and a bit more excitable; I had quite a difficult time but with the help of the stewards I carried on, the tears rolling down my cheeks; Brise trotted by my side and we managed 12th place out of 15 kids in the young handler gamekeeper class. We missed the next Crufts but that year I attended all the game fairs and country shows and helped out with mum’s IWS club events. It was great fun; we and other club members got together and had a great time camping, a bit like a big family holiday; we loved it. I took part in fun working tests with both the IWS and our black lab Plume and ran them in scurries.

Then Plume had a litter. Mum said that I could have a pup but (with mum there is always a but!) I had to dedicate my time to this pup if it was to truly be mine. I had to train it, so that it did not become focused on mum like all our other dogs. So, in September 2011, my little Skyr was born and since that day my life has changed so much. She is my companion and friend; she stays by my side always. Over the years I have run her in many scurries – even beating Mum on many occasions in timed events. Skyr loves to retrieve, especially if the dummies are launched. She is fast and clever and sometimes it’s been hard to keep up the training but mum has helped me all the way through and now I have my very own working gundog. As you may know, I have done quite well with Skyr over the years and even got awarded Young KC Sporting Talent of the year 2015.

Skyr and I passed the Kennel Club Gundog Working Certificate in September 2012. I was the only child handling that day with 11 adults and only seven of us passed.

Since 2013, I got fourth out of 15 competitors with my mum’s IWS in junior handling at Crufts. I entered the IWS in a breed confined working test and was awarded a certificate of merit. I was the youngest handler on the day.

In 2014, I got third in junior handling, out of 18 children, with mum’s IWS at Crufts and mum, grandad and grandma won Best Gundog team. I achieved my Silver Good Citizen Award with Skyr and passed a grooming qualifier grooming out Quill, our IWS, and preparing him for the show ring at Crufts 2015. I have since been placed third and fourth up till 2017 at Crufts in the gamekeeper junior handling with Quill. I expect many of you may know Quill; he is so funny.

I have experienced YKC (Young Kennel Club) camp for a week with Skyr and Quill and did lots of dog training, like agility, flyball and obedience.
I have been attending Firle Show and won the Best Junior Handler in the scurries for the past four years with Skyr. Sadly, there was no competition this year but we were asked to set up a demo and scurry/have a go event in 2019, so I’m really excited about it.

In 2017 and 2018, I took part in demos at Ardingly Show on minor gundog breeds.

As a Scout I gained many of my badges through working with gundogs. I am now an Explorer Scout and Young Leader and I have used my gundog work to complete my skills section for the Duke of Edinburgh Award. In 2017, I won all the junior events run by BASC at the Game Fair with Skyr and Eider. I help my mum when she runs training clinics and enjoy helping people, especially other children, to train their dogs.

At Crufts 2018, I handled Eider, an IWS, in the Gamekeeper Junior Handler class and got second place. I have also shown her at the IWSA Championship Show, Eider was best working bitch and also got a Reserve CC. I also handled her in a breed-confined working test and was first in an unclassified test and the only child handler on the day. Most recently, I won the Gilbertson and Page junior challenge at Sandringham Estate with Skyr. We had the fastest retrieve and pick up time out of six junior contestants! I also handled Eider – it was the first time a junior handled a rare minor breed at this event.

I am looking forward to beating and picking up this season with both dogs.

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