Fieldsports Guide to Gundogs

100 field trial champions

Ian Openshaw has reached a truly unique milestone. Jon Kean reflects on the incredible achievements of this year's Cocker Championship winner.

Ian Openshaw has created a unique record in the history of gundog field trials: 100 Field Trial Champions – a phenomenal achievement which is unlikely to ever be beaten.

To give you an idea of Ian's dedication to the sport, at the tender age of 15 he won his first Open Field Trial stake with a springer spaniel. This year he and his wife Wendy qualified seven cocker spaniels for the Kennel Club's Cocker Spaniel Championships at the Queensberry Estate, owned by His Grace The Duke of Buccleuch. 

After more than 20 years of field trialling, the husband and wife team have won the AV Spaniel Championship a record-breaking seven times (six British and one Irish), and the Cocker Spaniel Championship four times. The icing on the cake came when Ian handled Nigel Partiss' six-year-old cocker bitch FTCh Brook Furlong of Tiptopjack to win the 2014 Cocker Championship in January.

What makes this victory so special is the fact that the 82nd Cocker Spaniel Championship attracted its biggest entry in the history of the sport. Forty cockers competed for the top honours in the spaniel world. Chairman of the Kennel Club Field Trials Sub-Committee, Wilson Young, said: “In recent years the Championship has developed beyond all expectations. It's perfectly clear that cocker spaniels are very popular and as the number of clubs approved to run Open Stakes for cockers increases, so too does the quality and the number of qualifiers.”   

 At the Championship in January, the judges noted that FTCh Brook Furlong of Tiptopjack demonstrated an excellent pattern over both bracken and bramble with drive and determination. They also pointed out how well she delivered game to hand. In a nutshell, Ian's handling skills and talent came to the fore and this has been the case throughout his field trialling career. 

Ian and Wendy have trained and exported spaniels to America, Sweden, Italy, Denmark and Canada, where they have gone on to win these countries' championships.

Immediately after this year's Cocker Championship prize-giving ceremony at the magnificent Drumlanrig Castle, an emotional Ian told me: “It's a great feeling to win the Championship. Nigel Partiss has supported me through thick and thin and I'm delighted for him.” Put simply, Ian has achieved something very special in the world of gundog field trials. Ian won his first Cocker Championship with Parkbreck Perfection in 2000. He also won the Championship with Chyknell Goldstar in 2004 and Danderw Druid in 2006. Wendy won the Cocker Championship with Chyknell Megan in 2003. 

(Above: FTCh Brook Furlong of Tiptopjack)

Ian's 100th champion came in December when he handled Nigel's four-year-old cocker bitch Mallowdale Music of Tiptopjack to her title at the Dorset Working Spaniel Club Open Stake. “He has a wealth of experience, knowledge and natural skills that he has developed over years of dedication to the sport,” regales Nigel. “He is naturally competitive and will only trial a dog when he is sure it is ready – this means he will only run a dog in novice trials when he knows it will win an Open Stake. With a gamekeeping background he also has a thorough knowledge of fieldcraft and understands how game may react on a shoot day. 

“So many people work dogs without ever having shot game or understanding game instincts,” he continues. “In addition to running a family business with his wife, who also shares his passion and commitment to the sport, Ian is an A-panel judge in all three disciplines – springers, cockers and labs – so he knows the standard that needs to be achieved in each. And he is constantly striving to learn and progress with the sport.” 

For example, he often travels to America, home, in his eyes, to some of the best trainers in the world, spending weeks just watching and learning how they do it. 

“Ian gives all clients 110 per cent,” adds Nigel, “but if you ask him for a specific role for a dog, i.e. trialling, Ian will give you an honest appraisal. This is what opened my eyes and taught me there is no point putting hundreds of hours into a dog that is clearly not going to make the grade when it comes to competitive trialling. 

“I know that Ian will get the best out of my dogs. He knows each dog's ability and the ground to suit each individual dog, be it woodland or thick bramble. He is a full-time professional trainer but goes that extra mile. 

“If you look at Ian being interviewed after our win,” concludes Nigel, “you can clearly see how much it means to him. His father would have been immensely proud. He has developed a special bond with Midge and fulfilled the potential that we both knew she had.”

Another gundog trainer who has tasted big success is Ben Randall, winner of the Cocker Championship in 2011 and 2012 with FTCh Heolybwlch Fatty. “Ian's record speaks for itself,” says Ben. “It will most likely never be matched. The standard has been incredible over the past few years. Every trainer has had to put in extra training to compete at the top level. Yes, we all still need the luck, but when it comes you need the tools to finish the job.”

Ian Openshaw Q & A

What has been your field trial career highlight?

In one season I made up six Field Trial Champions in three different breeds: two cockers, FTCh Parkbreck Jefferson and FTCh Wernffryd Siarl; three springers, FTCh Rytex Rime, who won the Championship, FTCh Moonreed Mischief and FTCh Debby Harry; and one labrador, FTCh Middlegate Teal.

Do you have a favourite retriever?

FTCh Ben of Mallowdale. He didn't reach his full potential as I trained him all wrong. He had so much ability, enthusiasm, style and drive. When I was training him he was very good at going out blind a long way, so when anybody came to see me I would show them his good points, not his weak points, which is a mistake most trainers make today.

Your favourite springer?

FTCh Rytex Racine. She won the Irish and British championships in the same season. I also bred her. She was a small bitch with the heart of a lion.

Your favourite cocker?

FTCh Mallowdale Rackatear. He had similar qualities to Racine. He was 2nd in the Irish Championship with Wendy handling him. With me handling him, he was 2nd in the Cocker Championship. Wendy also ran him in the Game Fair team at the CLA. It was a tragedy he got killed picking-up with a friend chasing a running pheasant.

What motivates you the most?

Training young dogs to reach their potential.

What sport do you like apart from field trials?

Rugby League. Wendy and me follow Wigan. I have been a fan since I was five years old.

If you weren't a professional gundog trainer, what other job might you do?

I'd be a grouse moor keeper as it runs on the same principles. The harder you work, the more success you have. I was a pheasant keeper for 12 years from 1979–1991.

What do you think of the standard of trials in other countries you have visited?

The Scandinavian countries, and countries such as Italy and France, are well behind us, but the USA is far superior as there are thousands of pros over there. I learned a lot from watching the best, which has helped me to have the edge when trialling here in the UK.

How many hours do you spend training dogs each day?

On average I would say four hours.

Who has inspired you in the field trial world?

John Halstead Senior. He was and still is the best I've been training with. He never leaves a stone unturned. He could train any type of dog with any temperament.

You've now made up an astonishing 100 Field Trial Champions – what motivates you to go on?

Quite simple – more champions and helping others to succeed who have not done so before. An example is Richard Wells, who came 3rd in this year's Springer Championship with his first Field Trial Champion.

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