“Turn ‘em loose!” Those words mean the start of an exciting sport to many Irish Setter owners who pursue field titles in either AKC field trials or hunt tests! Watching these beautiful dogs streak off the breakaway and then slam on point when they scent that quail is something that many of us spend our weekends in pursuit of.
Field trials are a competitive dog sport, meaning in order to earn a placement you need to not only perform better than the dog you are braced with, but also better than the rest of the dogs in the stake. In a hunt test the dogs are scored on a written basis of performance and are not in competition with any other dog at the test.
Dogs can run in either type of event from the time they are 6 months old and up. In a hunt test all but the judges and marshal are on foot, while at a field trial you can have both walking and horseback handled stakes. Handlers are permitted to walk in any stake they wish at a field trial - handling from horseback is not mandatory.
The ultimate goal of field trialing is that FC or Field Championship and Amateurs can also earn an AFC or Amateur Field Championship. Points can be earned towards a championship from the Puppy and Derby (juvenile) stakes but in order to finish a championship a major win and the majority of points must come from the adult or “broke” dog stakes - Gun Dog or All-Age. In hunt tests the titles are JH-Junior Hunter, SH-Senior Hunter and MH-Master Hunter. Different skill and training are required for each level.
For many years the Irish Setter who could compete in both field events and the show ring was a rare sight. Not anymore! There is a movement among owners to now prove their dogs in both areas once again proving our beautiful redheads are true “dual” dogs capable of spending a day in the field and also win hearts with their movement and beauty in the show ring. Nothing makes an owner prouder than when they see their Irish Setter point that first bird. There’s just something special in seeing a dog do what comes naturally!