Saturday, March 1, 2014

Joe Hurdle's early 1980s speech describes qualities of a good field trial judge

This photo is of Uncle Joe and Misty Morn. I'm guessing it is after winning some minor field trial, and judging by the truck, some time around 1955.

    My uncle, the late Joe Hurdle, used to take all of us young-uns hunting back in the 1970s. This was an era when deer were truly scarce, and I never killed one. I could kill one a day with a bow if I was willing to hunt off my back deck today; but then I'd have to clean it.
I don't know the dog or the man in the
middle,  but Uncle Joe is on the left and our
 good family  friend Hamlet Yarbrough is on
the right. Perhaps this is a National
Field Trial winner.
    I always appreciated the things Uncle Joe did for us, and over the years I told him so frequently, which is unusual. Usually we fail to thank people who are kind to us.
    Uncle Joe was an avid sportsman, and for a number of years was the chief judge for the National Field Trials held at Ames Plantation at Grand Junction, Tenn. He was named to the Field Trial Hall of Fame in 1989. He died in 1993.
    Back in the early 1980s Uncle Joe was asked to give a speech to a field trial judge convention in San Francisco, and he asked me to type up the handwritten speech he had written. So I went to my dad's office and with some effort converted his speech to typewritten text. Because of this I was able to make a copy available to my dad, who stuck it in his desk drawer, and that's where it remained until we cleaned it out the other day.
    I grabbed it up and decided to reprint Uncle Joe's speech. I know the average person really doesn't care about this sort of thing, but the way of the Internet is that for those who do, here it is.
    Oh, and the 2014 National Championship Field Trials just ran at the Ames Plantation. Bobby McAlexander, who is Joe Hurdle's son-in-law, was one of the three judges. And Shadow Oak Bo, a setter, won for the second year in a row. The double-win is even more amazing given that setters almost never win.
    And so, for the record, here are my Uncle Joe's view's on field trial judging:

Some Thoughts on Judges and Judging, speech by Joe Hurdle

    To properly bring this subject into focus, there are many aspects worthy of discussion. I will endeavor to knit these various facets together in this discussion.
    Exactly what is a field trial judge, his duties and responsibilities, and the clubs' responsibilities regarding the judiciary?
    A field trial judge is in a unique area of responsibilities, his opinion is paramount, along with that of his fellow judge, in the determination of the winners of the stake. A judge is not a referee, or an umpire, or a linesman as in tennis. He and his judicial partner assume a mantle of complete responsibility as the term judge implies.
    In going about his highly responsible job, his demeanor is all important as the example he sets should always be above reproach. At all times he must conduct himself as a gentleman, whether in the field or at social functions which accompany most trials. His behavior is always under scrutiny by each and every contestant. Respect begets respect. A judge must be in excellent physical condition, be always alert, have keen eyes, and above all an objective mind, capable of analyzing situations as they occur. He must also be a diplomat as sooner or later the occasion will arise, when he and his partner don't agree on the winners, and each must be capable of arbitration and analysis.
    During the running, the conduct of the trial is entirely in the hands of the judges, therefore other factors also come into play. Each should set the pace of the event and should be thoroughly versed in what the pace should be. Marshals should confer with judges unfamiliar with new grounds, so that all dogs are afforded the opportunity to run their courses at proper pace to prevent overlaps. If a judge allows a handler the liberty of setting the pace, the end result will be unequal as each handler differs in pace. The judges should direct handlers as to their responsibilities to properly show their entries to them, not the judiciary chasing ever forward to glimpse a fleeting speck on every horizon. It is, however, a judicial responsibility to maintain an always forward of gallery posture, aloof but not oblivious to amenities with gallery or club officials during the running. A 100 percent span of attention is deserved, and should be afforded every brace that runs.
    Two judges should discuss, prior to the running, what they are looking for in a winner, what they judge to be an unproductive, directing scouting activities, etc. They should meet unobtrusively at the end of both morning and evening runs to compare notes and should carry their top dogs in a timely fashion, day to day. Once a dog is dropped from consideration it should no longer ever enter into decisions again; this only leads to confusion and mistrust between judges. Mutual respect and trust between the judges is a must and in keeping with this each should be able to quickly and concisely describe to the other what each has seen during a separation period when covering birdwork, etc., and it should be done as it occurs, not trusted to memory for a later session. Accurate notes by each judge are always a must, and times of occurrence should be jotted down.
    A judge should be above average as a horseman, as his responsibility is to be able to get to a find without mishap. Apprehension in the saddle also takes away from the concentration on the dog's performance.
    One of the premier rules for a judge is positive judging, he should always accent the positive attributes of the dogs in arriving at a decision. Negative judging is merely looking for faults to throw a dog out on. All dogs have faults.
    Let's discuss an example of positive judging, using an All Age brace, to wit:
    First and foremost, a dog should run an all age race to be a contender, without this no amount of birdwork should be considered. If the race is of all age scope, did the dog complete his all age casts without excessive scouting, had a lofty gait, moved attractively and had letter perfect birdwork twice. Each find was clean and the result of a well defined forward cast showing hunting desire. The dog had an unproductive where his manners were good, stylish and in a birdy place, but none were put to air. At the hour's end, he showed a strong forward cast to finish ahead on the course. This dog had a group of positives and is in contention. His one negative is a lone unproductive. At this point in the running, after due discussion both judges agree this is their top dog. Later, another dog runs an equal in scope race, is over-handled, over-scouted and many times out of control, but he too has two cleanly handled finds of equal value with the top dog, but no unproductive. Now, how negative is an unproductive when weighed against the criteria of an erratic race, over-handling and excessive scouting? After discussion the unproductive is the lesser evil and there being no other dogs close, the winner is the original top dog because of accentuating the positives to eliminate the negative.
    This is a formula example for not just for an all age dog, but a shooting dog or a walking shoot to the kill trial also, and is a basic for judicial decision. Again, only by timely discussion and comparison of judicial notes can two judges make such decisions. Remember, when judging, you the judges must be satisfied that you have named the best dog you've looked at as the winner. Again I stress, there are no hard fast engraved rules; opinion of the judges is what determines the outcome, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    Each trial is a new contest, and a judge must constantly guard against predilection. Too much exposure to judging is usually the cause of this judicial fault. Remember every dog, even the worst outlaw, can have one of those spectacular performances. Never have a bias from a prior trial; guard against this at all costs.

What each club owes its entrants and judges.

    After selecting judges, they should be contacted at the earliest possible times, and once committed should receive details, dates, accommodations, flight schedules, etc. as soon as possible, and the judges’ names should always be included in the American Field ad. Six months ahead is not too early to get the above done. Judges to be announced, in a field trial ad usually indicates a lack of organization by the sponsoring club or a derelict secretary. This should be eliminated.
    Clubs should select judges with experience, wherever possible, but at minimum have an experienced judge with a new man on the scene, who possesses attributes previously discussed. The club secretary should converse with the experienced judge and ask him to counsel with and help begin training the new judge. There is always a shortage of new judicial blood in this game, and the old heads are usually most cooperative in grooming aspiring new judges. It should always be remembered by judicial aspirants that the social aspects are merely sidelights, the running is always paramount. A thick hide is a looked-for attribute in a judge, as criticism is always a happening; only the winner is happy and sometimes the judge’s placement is his wrong dog. In most cases, judging is a thankless job. Therefore, a judge must always satisfy himself with his decision.
    The club owes its judges decent lodging, nourishing meals, good horses, and should never allow any form of impuning to occur without a reprisal to the offender. All amateur events have hard fast rules in this regard. Open stakes should take a same stance, if not more forceful.
    In recent years it has become the vogue in most sporting events to question the ref, boo the umpire. John McEnroe of tennis fame cusses linesmen. This has no business in our sport. Remember, your judges are the supreme authority during the running of your particular trial. Mistreatment of these judges should never be tolerated or unpunished. Bearing in mind the above, no judge worth his salt ever takes offense at a properly put inquiry as to dog placements, or why they didn't place; but both judges should be asked in a polite manner, at the same time and this should not be in front of a crowd, but private.
    Once the trial is over, decisions made, etc., placements named, and all gone home, it is a judge' s responsibility to his fellow judge to never discuss their decision in other than a mutually agreed-on positive manner. One-on-one discussions with a disgruntled handler should always be avoided, as words can be twisted and hard feelings created between judges .
    In summary, judges should be ever alert, knowledgeable (not just well read) but of practical working knowledge, bird-hunter background, work his own dogs or with his professional handler enough to gain experience. They should be in good health, possess stamina, maintain a high moral stature, and be known for their integrity. They should be average or above horsemen, and in the case of trials of long duration, should be expected to be in shape to make day after day in the saddle. Availability is not the prime consideration, but once committed, a judicial assignment should never be taken lightly. Only a major occurrence should create a cancellation, and once on the job, time should never be of paramount importance. The trial should be run in an orderly and timely fashion by the judges, but a weather delay due to unfair conditions for dogs should be taken into consideration, and time should not prevent a callback, if agreement between judges requires one to determine the best of the lot.
    When one accepts the judicial responsibility, one must first, last and always satisfy himself that he and his partner have given every dog their undivided attention and after due process, have chosen the best performances which suit their (the judges) criteria to be named winners, runners-up, or third.
s/Joe Hurdle

    For anyone still reading I will share one more story. Men's Journal magazine did a story on the National Field Trials and Uncle Joe was featured in the article. The writer wrote about the shock that one experiences when a phrase that one has heard for a lifetime is suddenly used in the proper context. As it was when Uncle Joe, astride his horse, urged onlookers not to crowd the dogs: "Hold your horses, boys, hold your horses." The author had never heard anyone say "hold your horses" when that was literally what they meant.
    Later in the interview the writer asked about dogs which had surprised the judges, both by underperforming and overperforming. In giving a reason for one poorly ranked dog's victory, Uncle Joe said, "Every dog has it's day."
    Indeed they do!

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