The Greatest Gift
The words above were spoken by Fred Musone at the 2023 induction ceremony for his English Springer Spaniel, Annie, into the National Bird Dog Hall of Fame in Grand Junction, Tennessee. When Fred opened his remarks by saying this, I couldn’t write it down fast enough. If ever there was a true statement…
Anyway, it got me to thinking about the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met as a result of my involvement with these amazingly talented dogs. It would take much more space than I have here, and I’m sure I’ll miss mentioning some of the special people, but I’m going to try to do this anyway.
If you follow me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/bill.brockett) you already know that I travel with my two dogs extensively. FC AFC JoJo’s Easy Keeper is my current field trial dog and his mom, JoJo of course, is retired and rides “shotgun” everywhere we go. Since I began running Spaniel field trials almost 20 years ago my dogs have taken me to the following places in approximate chronological order: Idaho, Montana, Washington, Alberta, Utah, Minnesota, Manitoba, North Dakota, California, Oregon, Kansas, Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, and Colorado. We are blessed to be able to compete with our dogs on some of the most beautiful properties in North America without question. And the camaraderie amongst the participants is a sight to behold. Which leads me to – the people we’ve met…
It all begins with Dr. Jim McCreedy of Kalispell, Montana. Jim mentored me back into field trialing after a very long hiatus from the retriever field trial world. Jim and Donna McCreedy’s retirement home in Highwood, Montana quite literally became my second residence for about 5 years until I moved to Washington in 2010. We trained together, hunted together, Jim bought puppies from me…it was an amazing relationship that laid the foundation for this incredible field trialing experience. Jim McCreedy was the cornerstone!
When I decided to attend my very first field trial in western Idaho in perhaps 2006 I entered my dog, Ria, in both the Open and the Amateur. At breakfast the day before the trial a Scottish gentleman from Alberta asked if he could join me at my table. He introduced himself as Wally Stewart. Wally quick ascertained that I was a total novice and asked if my dog had ever run in brace. “Has my dog ever run in what?”, I replied. “Finish your breakfast, we’re going training”, said Mr. Stewart. And we did. Ria successfully finished the 2nd series both of the following two days.
So many others have helped me along the way that I simply can’t go into all the details. Dr. Jeff Miller (who purchased 4-time National Field Champion Blackriver’s Tanner from me as a 7 month old puppy) helped me in so many ways. Likewise Tom and Myra Bratrud from Alberta who opened their home to me on several occasions and have given me training and handling tips that have made such a difference. Fellow Albertan’s Ron & Sylvia Hillman have always extended an open invitation to stay and train (and shoot sporting clays) at their beautiful property any time I find myself north of the border.
Along the way I have become friends with professionals like Mendel Woodland, owner of Woodland’s Hunt Club in Imperial, California, Lynn Miller from Colorado, Mark & Morgan Haglin of Minnesota and South Dakota, Tom Ness of North Dakota, and Todd Stelzer from of Wisconsin who holds a special place in my heart for reasons I won’t go into here.
Then there’s Amelia and Curtis Greene and Amelia’s parents, “Sir” Graeme and Lorna Baxter. Where to begin? Amelia and I became Facebook friends and then met for the first time at a field trial in North Dakota in June of 2020. At the National later that year in Utah my friend Kat Brusko and I went to dinner with Amelia and Curtis during which Amelia offered to handle my dog Keeper in the National Amateur in Ohio. It would be her final event as an amateur before turning pro. After the national I drove to Texas to pick Keeper up and wound up spending the winter training with Amelia. And one winter has turned into three…so far! The Baxter clan has become like family to me.
For the past three years, when I leave Texas, I drive straight to Tennessee for the Hall of Fame field trials. These two trials have become my favorite of the entire year. Most of the reason is the Cowan family. Bill and Sally, Ashley and A.J., Ben and Brittni, and Trey absolutely roll out the red carpet for me! Such amazing southern hospitality. I even go to church with them the Sunday after the trials are over. And I can’t not mention my very good friend, Pastor Roderick Blaylock, who makes perhaps the best BBQ’d ribs in the state of Tennessee!
And Gary Riddle, the Riddle family, and my wonderful friends on “Team Riddle”. Gary gave us all quite a scare last January when he tangled with a freight train. I was in Texas but it felt a million miles away at the time of the accident. Gary has been Keeper’s trainer for the past three years and has taken him from a training challenge to clearly one of the top Springer field trial dogs in North America. Thank you doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings. Having Gary “back in the saddle” is such a miracle!
Then there’s Dr. Greg Kuhlman…you and Kim are quite simply the best! And Jeanne and Tom Nabity who recognized and then diagnosed my vertigo in the gallery at a field trial in Kansas and then Tom wrote an amazing letter to the VA disability raters for me! And Jeanne is most of the reason that Keeper acquired the nickname of “America’s Dog”. Thank you both so much! And Greg Royer from Alberta who handles Keeper in Canada for me whenever I am having a bad day with my vertigo.
These are just a few of the truly wonderful people I’ve met over the years because of my dogs…people I otherwise would have never known.
“…the places they take us and the people we meet”. Indeed!