Warning: working gundogs can seriously dent your bank balance. Thats certainly been the case for Anne Maddison, as I discovered when I visited her and her six English setters at her home near Woodbridge in Suffolk. Parked outside on the drive was a smart Land Rover Discovery, bought not only to pull the caravan needed for regular visits to the northern moors, but to take her and the dogs off-road when competing. If it wasnt for the setters, Anne told me, she and her husband, Peter, would never have bought a caravan, let alone a Discovery.
As a child growing up on a farm near Melton Mowbray, it was her grandfathers Border collie, Spot, that kindled Annes passion for dogs. Spot was a working sheepdog, and grandfather taught Anne how to handle him and work the sheep. It was an experience she relished, but it was to be several years before she came back to working dogs again. When she and Peter were first married, they worked in Jamaica. A friend who lived on the island owned a couple of Irish setters. Anne promptly fell in love with them and promised herself one when she and Peter moved back to England in 1982.
Anne usually makes the decisions on dogs in the Maddison household, but on this occasion it was Peter who insisted that if they were going to get a setter, it had to be an English one. There was only one problem: finding a suitable puppy. They eventually located one that was for sale because of its owners ill health. Anne told me that she was an outstandingly beautiful dog. Her sire had been Best in Show at Crufts and her mother had also been successful in the show ring. I bought her as a pet, but was soon tempted to show her. We did well, too, winning local shows and getting awards at bigger events. She was my introduction to showing and I didnt look back.
Three generations later along came Kiri. Though of show breeding, she was the sort of dog that was game for anything, from obedience to agility, and it was thanks to her that Anne discovered the working side of the breed. The Mid- Herts Gundog Club started training sessions with a retired professional gundog trainer who was very knowledgeable about setters and pointers. Every week over a period of several months we worked the dogs in a field doing stays and recalls. It was basic setter training, so essential for the dogs, and I really enjoyed it, too.
The working bug had now bitten, so Anne took Kiri up to Scotland to take part in one of Peter ODriscolls training weekends. Both dog and handler loved it. I discovered that she quartered naturally. When Peter told me to cast her off so that she would work to us into a back wind, I thought that she wouldnt have a clue as to what was wanted, but she did it instinctively. She wanted to find the grouse, though she had never seen or smelt one before. That summer I entered her in two field trials in Norfolk. As a show dog she didnt have the pace or the style to be a winner, but she didnt disgrace me.
Competing in trials with a show setter is a bit like racing in Formula One with a Formula Two car. You are never going to win, however hard you try. The answer, of course, was for Anne to get a working setter puppy, which she did in 2002. Talis came from Val Isherwoods Laverstoke kennel and was of pure working stock. Anne is the first to admit that, in the right hands, Talis would have made a great trialling dog. Her problem is arguably that she is too intelligent, and very fast, with a super-sensitive scenting ability. One leading trialler remarked to me that she would be a certain winner if I chopped off a leg to slow her down, removed half her brain and then blocked her nose with Vicks.
Talis has had her moments. There was the time when I was working her on a long line on an area of set-aside when a hare suddenly got up and she was gone. I thought that she would come back to where I had last seen her but she didnt and as there were roads close by I was getting more and more frantic. I even waved down a passing bus and asked the driver if he would look out for her. A few minutes later I saw the bus coming back and there was Talis sitting three rows back looking awfully pleased with herself.
Apart from times such as this, Ive had terrific fun working her and she has taught me a great deal that Im planning to put into practice with my new puppy, Daisy. Daisy is the latest addition to Annes kennel. A delightfully pretty tricoloured puppy of working stock, she is a niece of Talis. Anne, I gathered, is quite a competitive person and is determined to do more than simply make up numbers in a trial. Living in Suffolk, rather than close to the moors, is a handicap for a working setter enthusiast, but now she has the Land Rover and the caravan, Anne is determined to make sure that Daisy gets the chance to fulfil her potential. Im sure they are both going to have a lot of fun together.
You can meet Anne and her setters in the Sporting Dog Pavilion at The CLA Game Fair, Ragley Hall, Alcester, Warwickshire, from 23-25 July