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Bridging the Great Divide Between Show and Field
Some sporting breeds are divided between the field type and the show type, with the two types resembling each other only faintly. English Setters are one of those breeds.
Compared to show type English Setters, field English Setters are smaller, have less bone, have a different style head with less flew, a lot less coat, and carry their tails very high.
Show type English Setters love their birds just as much as field English Setters do.
Field type English Setters would be unlikely to win points in the show ring because they don’t fit the written breed standard. Show type English Setters find it difficult to win field trials because they can be slower than the judges like and do not hold their tails at 12 o’clock as the judges want them to do; indeed the standard calls for a tail that “is carried straight and level with the back.”
Both types evolved from the same origins with the express purpose of helping put meat on the table. So how did this divide occur? English Setters are not the only breed in the sporting group to have such a divide.
The dual championship is the only title that certifies that the dog has enough breed type to earn a show championship and enough hunting skill to earn a field championship, one of the most difficult titles to attain in all of dogdom. Of the 28 breeds currently in the sporting group, only 9 have finished dual champions over the last five years. They are
Dual Champions finished over the last 5 years, by breed
• Brittanys 90
• Vizslas 43
• German Short-Haired Pointers 29
• German Wire-Haired Pointers 18
• Gordon Setters 5
• Irish Setters 4
• Pointers 2
• Chesapeake Bay Retrievers 1
• Weimaraners 1
What do these breeds have in common? Most of them are not coated breeds. So amount of coat may be partly responsible for the great divide.
It is impossible to keep English Setters in show coat and run them in the field at the same time because the vegetation in the field tears out that precious coat. Those who have gone the show ring route have had to give up running their dogs in field trials, which requires a commitment of years of training time and years of running in field trials, making coat growth impossible. Yes, coated breeds can and do earn hunt test titles, but the jewel in the crown – the dual championship – eludes their grasp if they want to have enough coat to be competitive in the show ring.
Some owners have done their show ring campaign and then shaved the dog down for the field. A good example is DC Set’r Ridge’s Solid Gold CDX MH HDX CGC, who won the National Specialty and many Bests in Show before he got shaved down to work on his field championship, proving once and for all that a great show dog can also be a great field dog.
The American Brittany Club has been very successful at keeping their breed from undergoing the great divide. They really work at it. Since 1943, Brittanys have held their National Specialty in conjunction with their National All Age Field Championships, demonstrating the parent club’s commitment to promoting the breed’s participation in both field and show. The Brittany judges’ education materials emphasize over and over that the parent club wishes this breed to be a dual breed. They have written into their standard the following words about coat: “too little is definitely preferable to too much. Dogs with long or profuse feathering or furnishings shall be so severely penalized as to effectively eliminate them from competition.” Their methods must be working because Brittanys lead the way, by far, year after year, in the number of dual champions finished, and now they have well over 700 duals in the breed.
There are only 12 dual champion English Setters, the last one attaining his dual title in 2002. The distinctive dozen are treasured as members of the breed who have attained a rare and difficult honor.
English Setter Dual Champions with date FC/AFC* Championship finished
1. DC Heathrow’s Rainbow Robber HDX, FC 6/1985
2. DC Indian Bend Bow and Arrow MH, FC 6/1992
3. DC/AFC Cobblestone’s Stolen Moments CD MH, AFC 1/1996, FC 6/1992
4. DC Gemody’s Heathrow SoSiouxMe MH, FC 6/1993
5. DC/AFC Heathrow’s The Black Marble MH CGC, AFC 6/1997, FC 6/1994
6. DC/AFC Heathrow’s Robbin’ Hood MH, AFC 2/1995, FC 6/1993
7. DC/AFC Heathrow’s Winchester Ranger UDX MH TD OA NAJ NAP NJP VCD1 HDX CGC, AFC 7/1995, FC 5/1995
8. DC Set’r Ridge’s Solid Gold CDX MH HDX CGC, FC 2/1997
9. DC Columbine Heathrow’s Skylark MH CD CGC, FC 4/1997
10. DC Gold Rush’s Fancy Dancer CDX SH HD, FC 5/2000
11. DC Kelyric Starry Starry Sky CDX SH HD, FC 12/2000
12. DC Set’r Ridge’s Real Gold MH, FC 11/2002
*FC = Field Champion; AFC = Amateur Field Champion, i.e., handler is not a paid professional.
List compiled by Carl Sillman, English Setter Breed Historian
Though many English Setters are talented hunters and fine examples of breed type, they rarely get an opportunity to show what they can do in the field. They can’t hunt and satisfy that coat “requirement” for the show ring.
This “requirement” is strictly an artifice of the contemporary show ring. English Setter Ch Daro of Maridor went Best in Show at Westminster Kennel Club in 1938 with only an inch or two of coat hanging from his belly. The amount of coat Daro had when he went BIS at the Garden would have presented no problem for running in the field at the same time. With that amount of coat, he could have run in a field trial one day, had a bath, and then competed at a conformation show the next day. The English Setter breed standard says feathering should be: ”of good length but not so excessive as to hide true lines and movement or to affect the dog's appearance or function as a sporting dog.”
Photos of ES National Specialty winners reveal that they carried moderate coat until the 1980s when coats started getting longer and longer. When the dogs with the big coats started winning, guess what? Breeders started breeding for more coat. And that’s how we got to the situation we’re in now where many English Setter show dogs have coat almost to the floor.
Consider that all the standards of all the sporting breeds emphasize structure for hunting, not coat length. Excessive coat serves no function except to give the dog a certain look, and indeed, it interferes with the dog enjoying normal doggie activities.
So, parent clubs, judges, breeders, owners, how about if we let all our sporting dogs go back to being dual purpose dogs? If that means decreasing excessive coat to a moderate length, maybe that’s what we should do. I guarantee, the dogs won’t miss their long furnishings at all.