ocket came into my life in an interesting way.
I started field trialing in 1984 after owning springer spaniels as hunting dogs for a number of years. In 1986, I had taken a two month trip to England and visited several English spaniel kennels - including Talbot Radcliffe's Saighton kennel and Keith Erlandson's Gwibernant kennel - both in Wales. After returning to the US, I carried on some correspondence with Keith, referring trailers to him who wanted to import dogs as trial prospects.
One day, Keith called me and said that he had just shipped a dog to a field trialer in California who had got his number from me. He said he hoped he had not made a mistake as the spaniel was a very good one that he did not want to get into the wrong hands. As it turned out, Keith had nothing to worry about as the dog in question, Tan Derwen Lad (Tan Derwen meaning "burning bush" in Welsh, I am told), promptly started winning trials in the US under his owner/handler, Ron Carlson.
I had the chance to see "Sam" (Lad's call name) at a Washington trial in the fall of 1986. The trial was run under extremely hot and dry conditions. I was impressed to watch Sam win it with his smooth run and incredible bird finding. Sam was a lightly built, leggy dog with an effortless style of running that seemed to float him across the course.
I was very interested in Sam and asked Ron if he planned to breed him. Ron replied that he had a litter on the way from an accidental breeding of Sam to a bitch in his kennel. On further inquiry, I learned that the bitch was out of a bitch that had been imported from England in whelp to EFC Badgercourt Muffin. This interested me because I had seen another dog out of the same litter run in a puppy stake. That dog, Maximillian of Badgercourt, had been an extremely hot, fast running dog. I decided to order a male pup from Ron's breeding.
The pup I received was mostly white and a real "lover". He enjoyed being held and would "coo" with contentment when stroked. He had a very gentle temperament, but was very active and became extremely athletic as he grew to maturity. Still, his temperament made him easy to train. He matured into a fast, wide-running dog that liked to stay out of trouble. Meanwhile, his daddy, Sam, tied for US Open High Point dog in 1988.
Rocket had Sam's effortless running style and did well in trials as a result. He was almost always in the third series, usually with a placement, but he only had one win - in an amateur stake. Rocket had only an average nose, but his ability to find and trail birds was awesome under good scenting conditions - such as rainy days in the fall which frequently occur during the Northwest trial season. He also had great stamina in warm weather trials, but had trouble trailing birds under hot and dry conditions.
Rocket's finest hour in trialing was in the 1990 National Open at Fort Lewis, Washington. Conditions were misty and damp. In the first series, he took a runner for hundreds of yards, having to be stopped at least ten times. The judge had to stop to catch his breath. That left me, Rocket and one gunman, Mike Fontana - one of the greatest shots ever, out there several hundred yards from the gallery. Finally, the bird was flushed and missed by Mike, who was on a dead run. Several times since, I have been approached by field trialers who had observed Rocket's performance and told that it was the most exciting runner they had ever seen taken.
"Several times since, I have been approached by field trialers who had observed Rocket's performance and told that it was the most exciting runner they had ever seen taken."
Later in the third series of the open, Rocket had a shot bird. When he ran to the fall, he found nothing. Then, within 60 seconds or so he took off, nose to the ground and disappeared in the Scotch broom of Scatter Creek - out of sight of the gallery, handler and judges. After a long five minutes or so, someone in the gallery shouted "there he is!" I looked and saw my dog, just a white speck in the distance. As he approached, we could see a live rooster in his mouth, looking about and giving us the evil eye. When I took the bird from his mouth, the gallery cheered and applauded. One observer said he had driven for eight hours just to see the trial and seeing that retrieve made it all worth while.
Unfortunately, through my sloppy handling, Rocket passed a bird in the fourth series of the open. The judge was almost in tears as he told me how he hated to lose one of the top dogs. I did, too.
A few days later, Rocket finished the National Amateur without a placement, not having had the opportunities to do outstanding work as he had in the open.
Unfortunately, Rocket's trial career was shortened by an injury. The cruciate tendon in his left rear leg ruptured and required surgery. The same leg had previously been broken by a fall from a moving vehicle which added to the problem. Nonetheless, after a long recuperation, Rocket came back and placed second in a large California trial. However, he never quite got back his old floating style of run and after several more trials I retired him to shooting dog status. He was one point shy of his AFC.
Though Rocket's trialing days were over, the best was yet to come. When he was thirteen, I decided to breed him to my bitch, Millstone Winsome, who had also done well in trials and was quite a hot dog. It was a good breeding. A female pup, whom I sold to a hunting buddy, Dick Krueger, went on to win a Certificate of Merit in the Open Nationals when she was two, and won the US Open High Point award in 2003 at the age of three. Her name is FC/AFC Hearthrock Blaze. She has also won the West Coast High Point Open award in 2002 and 2003 plus the West Coast High Point Amateur award for 2003. Blaze's brother, Millstone Chaps, has an open win and several placements. One of her litter sisters is a competitive trial dog owned by Paula Helmuth of Washington. The rest of the litter went to hunters - but boy were they class dogs. I regularly get letters or calls telling me how good the dogs are as hunting dogs and pets.
To conclude, I would have to say that the outstanding qualities of Rocket were his smooth style of running and his kind temperament. If he could understand what I wanted, he would do anything I asked of him. Fortunately, this quality was passed on to his pups. Interestingly, though Rocket's nose was only average, most of his pups have superb noses. Possibly Tan Derwen Lad's good nose skipped a generation, or else the pups inherited their mother's excellent nose, which I attribute to her Saighton lineage. Rocket also passed along an incredibly intense running style to Blaze and at least one other bitch that he had sired. I attribute this trait to the Badgercourt line, as described above
Rocket is a dog I will never forgetů and I don't have to since I have his son, Chopper, who is very much like his sire - but with a super nose. I also plan to get a puppy out of Chopper's sister, FC/AFC Hearthrock Blaze, to continue this line.