If Paul Falkowsky has his way, his field trial event — the 61st running of the Border International Chicken Championship and Alberta All-Age Classic — will mark several “firsts” for the 100-year-old sanctioned sport.
A guaranteed purse and plans to be the first televised field trial ever, will draw an exciting lineup of professional handlers and dogs from all over North America to compete in this annual, national qualifying event currently taking place in the Southwest.
“My ultimate goal is to make this event the first $100,000 purse for all stakes in the history of the sport,” says Falkowsky, president of Manteo Group of Companies and the Alberta All-Age Field Trial Club, host of the event. “The handlers running the dogs are the Tiger Woods of the sport and the dogs are like the I’ll Have Anothers of the sport,” says Falkowsky. “It’s the best of the best of the best.”
Competitors — from Florida to northern Alberta and New York to the west coast have descended on Sage Brush Kennels near Pennant in southwest Saskatchewan, to compete in the three-stake event that includes the Border International Chicken Championship, Border Open Derby and Alberta All-Age Classic.
The field trial started on Monday, September 2 and runs for about eight to 14 days depending on how many dogs are competing. There are 75 dogs expected to compete in the Border and Classic and 25 in the Derby. This event is one of about 70 qualifying trials throughout Canada and the U.S., for a chance to compete at the “big show” — the National Championship at Ames Plantation in Tennessee that’s been running every February since 1896.
“There are two things that happen at every trial — competitors are either trying to win their first championship or trying to re-qualify so they can go to the National Championship,” says Falkowsky.
Dogs — typically English Pointers and English Setters — have to win two qualifying stakes to qualify for the National Championship. Once a dog has qualified, it must re-qualify every year after that to earn a spot at the February event. A guaranteed purse of $45,000 is planned for the three Alberta stakes — $25,000 for the Border International, $15,000 for the Alberta Classic and $5,000 for the Derby.
“A dog that’s on the tour or on the truck as we like to call it in our game, may do 20 or 30 events during the year,” says Falkowsky, breeder of English Pointers and amateur competitor. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years and I’ve never qualified a dog, it’s that hard.”
This is a serious sport and one that takes considerable financial means to participate in — some dog owners spending upwards of $10,000 a month to compete on the field trial circuit. Many owners are also astute business people or professionals who may be on the lookout for good investment opportunities — a great incentive for sponsors to get on board.
The sport requires large tracks of natural or agricultural land, complete with a good game bird population to run the field trials. Briefly, here is how the field trial works: A marshal leads everyone, on horseback, to the course. Behind the marshal are two handlers, each with a dog racing out front of the riders. Behind the handlers are two judges, who will decide if the dogs are in contention to win, followed by a gallery of spectators.
The dogs run out, two at a time, in front of their handlers and “hunt” for birds — prairie chickens, Hungarian partridge and pheasant in Canada and quail in the U.S. When the dogs find the birds, they are expected to stop and point. The handler sticks his hat in the air indicating that the dog is pointing. Everybody gallops up, the birds are flushed out and a blank pistol is fired. The dogs are judged on a number of things including how far they run out in front searching for birds, their manners around the birds and their style on point — standing erect, tail at 12 o’clock and head held high.
A welcome benefit of the sport is the ongoing efforts of the field trial community to help preserve the large tracks of land and the wildlife needed to participate in the sport. Over the last 40 years, more and more pump-jacks dot the prairie landscape so there is a perception that the energy sector is killing the land used for field trials, says Falkowsky. “It’s quite the reverse actually,” he says and explains that most energy companies have done a great job managing and cleaning up after themselves that the land, in some cases, has been improved with better access to roads, power and water. “There may be a pump-jack in the middle of nowhere but it doesn’t affect the birds and doesn’t affect what we do.”
The Alberta field trial qualifier is a chance for owners to earn bragging rights for their dogs, handlers to make it to the National Championship and for sponsors to take advantage of a great marketing opportunity. And recent improvements to the event ensure that competitors and spectators alike will enjoy the sport for years to come.
The massive event would not be possible without some generous sponsors said Falkowsky.
“Oil and gas has really infiltrated Saskatchewan in the last few years. I would really like to point out that companies like Crescent Point Energy, who have some of their battery stations and wells [in the area] are big supporters of this. They are really putting back into the very local communities exactly on these grounds where the things are being run.”
“Crescent Point Energy and Coyote Ugly Whisky, which is also a local whisky that is brewed in Alberta that is also our sponsor, they are really trying to put back into the people that are purchasing their product.”
He also pointed out the sponsorship of Bone Beer, a local company that is geared towards outdoorsmen and donates a portion of a proceeds to wildlife and fish products in each province that its products are sold.
Falkowsky said there are a lot of local dogs running from Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, but there is only one pro from the area competing. All the other pros are from the Deep South, guys that have been doing it for generations in their families.
“Swift Current is proud to have the first Canadian that competed at the Nationals last year as a pro, Travis and Jenny Gellhaus. They won the Border Championship last year in Stoughton and they qualified that dog and went to Ames to the big show and ran down there.”
Falkowsky said spectators are welcome and that most of the spectators are local landowners or owners of dogs that will fly in to watch their dogs run. Additional event information can be found at Americanfield.com.