How it all started for me….
Horses and dogs have been a large part of my life since I was 10 years old. In my teens I fell in love with the Dalmatian breed when I met a delightful dog called Quinky, presumably named after the ink! Although I owned other breeds, it was not until many years later, as a keen carriage driver, I fulfilled my ambition to own one. I then discovered the pleasure of working them alongside a carriage or ridden horse. It had been a dream of mine to ride out with a dog, and now I could fulfill this dream with a dog that was bred for the task!
But my friends’ responses were negative: “A Dalmatian, they’re mad aren’t they?”.
After reading a chapter in Patches Silverstone’s book “Dalmatians Today” about Road Trials in America, I decided these trials of obedience and endurance for working Dalmatians just had to come to the UK. I wanted to prove their negative opinions were wrong.
The next few years were spent researching via the internet. I contacted Road Trial aficionado Peggy Ann Strupp and after visiting Washington Dalmatian Club in 2002 to shadow the organisers; I began to plan. In 2003, with a wonderful group of fellow enthusiasts, the inaugural trial Carriage Dog Trial was staged.
Since that time I have been involved organising, competing and judging in all the national and regional trials that have taken place. It was an honour to help run the inaugural Swedish trial and judge at the first Scottish (2006), and Irish trials (2010), as well as the Fenix National championships.
I qualified all three of my Dalmatians as road and carriage dogs and in 2006 was proud to be in the first group of people to qualify at gold level. I won the championship in both carriage and road discipline, but most important to me is the fact my animals have consistently been awarded, or short listed for, the best conditioned awards. These coveted awards show not only that the dog or horse has been correctly conditioned for the competition, but also received the highest standards of care on the day.
My dogs have been involved in many carriage dog demonstrations, including the very busy CLA game fair where they were required to stay behind the carriage off lead at all times. Once, this included a 30-minute waiting period that culminated in the hunt coming past! For a display at Paws in the Park my first carriage dog Woody was taught to bark and “see off” a highway man.
In 2006 I become the founder chairman of the newly formed British Carriage Dog Society (BCDS), a post I hold to this day, aiming to serve the membership and continue to promote the Dalmatian’s working heritage.
My involvement with carriage and road dogs drew me further into the world of dog training and behaviour. I was very lucky to come across the renowned John Rogerson, and his tutelage has shaped my philosophy of relationship based training. I was honoured to be his assistant in India on his 3-week International course for dog trainers and behaviorists, where I saw native carriage dogs working with oxen carts.
In 2007 I enrolled on the Kennel Club Accreditation Scheme for dog trainers and behaviourists and I was encouraged to develop a specialist module for Carriage Dogs. The process in order to be accredited was very rigorous and required many hours of study and practical experience. So I was very proud to be awarded my advanced accreditation as the first ever Carriage Dog specialist at Crufts in 2013. Although I am no longer a member of the Kennel Club scheme; I thoroughly enjoyed learning about so many aspects of dog training and behaviour in order to gain my advanced accreditation.
There is nothing more thrilling than watching the dogs and their owners as they learn to enjoy this new experience together.