Novice handler Tina Hayes explains how she beat rejection, doubters and failure to make an award winner out of Bramble, her unruly spaniel.

I collected Bramble on July 9, 2011, with every intention of bringing her on as another beating dog. I let her be a puppy for the first six months, doing basic training, enjoying watching her grow etc. In December 2011, I was a first responder to an accident on the A1 and as a result of the trauma involved ended up in counselling for PTSD. Tackling a full on springer spaniel was something I just couldn’t face for months.

When I finally did start with Bramble again she was a nightmare. I would let her off the lead and she would range, running past me at a great distance without a sideways glance. I had heard that if you climb up a tree and hide the dog frets and comes looking for you so I tried that. I was up that tree for nearly 40 minutes watching Bramble running round and having a whale of a time. So I was forced to give up and come down.

A huge step

I applied for a place on the Kennel Club gundog training day thinking if I don’t get any help from these guys I don’t know what I’m going to do. I had even contemplated giving Bramble to someone who could handle this manic, hunt mad whirly gig I was struggling to hang onto.

I was allocated a place with Robert (Bob) Aldenton who could see the potential in Bramble, this despite a top professional trainer having shown no interest in us and whose last words to me were, “good luck with that, your going to need it!”
My first words to Bob were: “Hope you’ve got your running shoes on, lad”. “Why?” he asked. “Because we are going be in Matlock in five minutes!” came my reply. He thought I was messing about.

Tina Hayes and Bramble

Bramble and handler Tina Hayes have been through some tough times to reach their current level and now it seems like nothing will stop them.

We started the training session and Bob’s first instruction was for me to remove Bramble’s lead and to hold her where I was. I took off her lead and watched as she charged off, leaving a rather bemused Bob wondering what had just happened. I then ran after Bramble. Despite this setback that first session was the beginning of a wonderful friendship with Bob. He had told me I had “brought a Ferrari to learn to drive in” and he knew I was way out of my depth.

He took us on, though, and it was the start of some serious training. Every other weekend for a whole year we travelled to Coventry (a three-hour round journey) to see him. I will always remember our first lesson when Bramble sat while I walked away – a huge step.

A huge setback

We got a run at the Kennel Club novice spaniel gundog working test. It went from bad to worse on the day, Bramble going off on her own again while I was just left as the taxi home when she was bored. This was down to my lack of confidence and Bramble knew it. We came third last.

Since June 2013 it has been a mad year of training. There have been tears and tantrums. I was determined to improve on the last year’s results as we obviously weren’t as ready as I thought we were. I gave up smoking and having the odd drink, and cleaned some houses and offices to get some money and threw everything at getting us ready for 2014: a year’s food sponsorship from Skinner’s has also helped to keep costs down.

The sessions in Coventry continued nearly every week; sometimes they went well, sometimes they didn’t, but Bob never gave up on us. Bramble came with me to my workplace so we could train during lunch. We trained and trained and trained and when the fields were soggy I “borrowed” an electric vehicle from work, put the crate on the back and bounced and skidded to a dry(ish) spot.

A second chance

We applied and got a run in the Kennel Club novice spaniel gundog working test at Chatsworth in May. Our first run was not a disaster, Bramble deciding to have a bowel movement she couldn’t compete due to the amount of grass she had eaten. It took a few minutes to finish the run but her sit to shot, forward retrieve and hunting were spot on. We nailed the second run. It was perfect: the blind retrieve was no problem, the hunting was definitely not a problem and the sit to shot spot on too.

When we all congregated for the awards and our name wasn’t called for a certificate of merit I was a little disappointed. Moments later I was chatting to a friend when I heard the name “Evanscroft” being called, which is Bramble’s name. I thought there might have been another Evanscroft at the test and didn’t give it a second thought. Then I heard “Hayes” and was like a stunned slug – I didn’t even know what we had been awarded.

I came out of the crowd but asked the chairman of the Kennel Club to wait for a moment while I went straight to Bob to give him the biggest hug I have ever given anyone. We had been awarded second place – second out of 20 dogs.  As I write this I am still buzzing – what a wonderful reward for all our hard work. We are still training with Bob and our next lesson is going to involve game and rabbits. It’s certainly going to be interesting.

To follow Tina Hayes and Bramble’s progress visit facebook.com/esstestsandtrials