After seven demanding days of racing over land and water, Ivy emerged as the top dog.
The 5-year-old Ivy, a female Labrador, won the 2013 National Amateur Field Trial Championship held June 16-22 in Mondovi, Wis.
Under the guidance of owner/handler Andy Kahn of Roseburg, Ivy made runs of up to about 450 yards to retrieve birds she had seen dropped or to retrieve birds she had not seen, but to which she was directed by Kahn via whistle and hand signals. Kahn said the Lab never wavered in her efforts to retrieve and return birds to him.
Asked how Ivy would describe her accomplishments in the 121-dog competition, Kahn spoke for her: “Retrieving is what I do, and the harder it is, the more I like it.
“This national was hard, but I liked it a lot.”
Kahn, a sheep and cattle rancher after retiring seven years ago from the eye wear business in Southern California, said he was confident Ivy had the ability to be a contender at the national event. Earlier in the year the pair had won three Pacific Northwest regional events, earning enough points to qualify for nationals.
“The harder it is for Ivy, the harder she tries,” Kahn said. “She really seem to thrive on the challenge. She wanted me to be pleased with what she did. She tried extra hard to get that acknowledgement, that praise.
“It’s still almost impossible for me to digest that we won,” he added. “People outside the sport just don’t know the odds to win this thing.”
The win qualifies Ivy and Kahn for the National Open Field Trials in November in South Carolina. Kahn plans to make the trip for the competition.
“I’d like to make history and win back-to-back the amateur and open,” he said. “That’s our goal.”
The championship journey started five years ago when Kahn, his wife, Shirley, and their daughter, Molly, drove to Missoula, Mont., to pick out a couple of puppies from breeders Roger and Donna Vangsrud. One puppy, soon to be named Ivy, curled up in Molly’s lap and didn’t leave. That puppy and a sister were selected and made the trip to Roseburg with the Kahns.
T.J. Lindbloom, the Kahns’ neighbor and the 1979 open champion with his Labrador, McGuffie, provided the early training for the puppies. Lindbloom was impressed with the development of both puppies, but gave the edge to Ivy. Thus Kahn ended up with ownership of Ivy and Lindbloom with Maddy, the sister.
Ivy then visited professional trainers John Henninger and Amie Duke of Tru Line Retrievers in Jefferson for more extensive training.
“Everybody knew the dog, where she was in her training and it produced a dog with really no holes,” Kahn said. “You want the dog to reach the absolute highest level that it can. With Ivy, you always knew she was ready for the next step up. There were high expectations.”
The dog competed in a derby series for dogs younger than 2 years. She then spent a couple of years competing in qualifying events for dogs between the derby stage and the all-age stake events. She easily qualified for the 2013 amateur nationals, which is based on the status of the handler, not the ability of the dog.
Kahn said there are 4,000 to 5,000 dogs that participate nationwide in field trials. Only 156 dogs earned enough regional points between June 2012 and June 2013 to advance to nationals and then only 121 dogs competed in the finals.
“Just competing at nationals is a huge accomplishment,” Kahn said.
The contending dogs compete in 10 series over seven days, each series consisting of two or three retrieves. Three judges score the dogs on how straight of a line they take to the birds and how well they follow directions from the handlers to find birds they can’t see.
“You don’t want to give directions on a marked bird while a blind retrieve is a handling drill,” Kahn said.
Only nine dogs advanced to the final series.
“Ivy was clean in her retrieves until the 10th series and on the last bird I had to handle her to the bird,” Kahn said. “To that point every other contestant had had at least one handle.
“Overall Ivy had done very good work in retrieving in a prompt and efficient way,” he added. “You want your dog to efficiently direct itself to the bird, you want the dog to run hard with determination, to exhibit courage, to push its way through whatever factors, cover or water, that might lie in the way of retrieving the bird. It’s not only about picking birds up, but doing it with style. Ivy’s work throughout the week was so exceptional. She was so straight she absolutely made it look easy.”
Kahn said one judge told him Ivy was an easy choice when it came to determining the national champ.
Lindbloom said he wasn’t surprised by Ivy and Kahn’s success. He said most national champion dogs are at least 6 years old, so Ivy being a champ at 5 is special.
“From the time she was a puppy, she was very good,” Lindbloom said. “She’s ahead of the curve. She’s as good as anybody and better than the rest.
“Andy does everything the very best he can,” Lindbloom added. “He put together a great team. When we sent them off to nationals, I expected them to do well.”
Kahn and Ivy didn’t disappoint.
• News-Review Features Editor Craig Reed can be reached by calling 541-957-4210 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.