WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
by Ron Hevener
I get lots of letters from people asking about dog shows and why they matter in the overall scheme of things.
Let's take a closer look at that question. Dog shows, like most shows for purebred livestock, started out as a chance for breeders to compare their kennels and evaluate the progress of their breeding, nutritional and training programs. We still have that chance today, in an age when shows have been elevated into glamorous events of national stature. Has just about everybody who loves dogs seen the recent Westminster Kennel Club show from Madison Square Garden in New York City? Of course they have. Nobody who has ever been to Crufts in England, the Salon du Cheval in Paris or the national Arabian horse show in Scottsdale can walk away without being impressed by how far the world of purebred animals has come. So, how does that fit with other kinds of dog training, you ask? Other disciplines like Obedience, Agility, Lure Coursing or Racing?
A recent conversation with Greyhound breeder/trainer (and former Quarter Horse jockey) Kevin Gresham, from his farm in Kansas brought an answer to that and it goes something like this: "Years ago," he says, "Back when I was ridin', you'd have horses that did all kinds of crazy stuff. Some of them horses could really get to carryin' on and a guy could get hurt. Well, there was this one trainer who did a lot of winning. And I mean a lot. I always liked ridin' his horses 'cause they would just, you know, be real calm and keep their mind on business. Well, what this guy said was, the best racehorses are the ones who are trained the most."
Now, that's a very interesting statement and a rather broad one. But, Kevin has a broad base of experience. Besides having a few show dogs, he raises and trains some of the most expensive, successful Greyhounds in the sport. Kevin Gresham counts among his clients some of the most well known owners in the game and he knows what he's talking about.
Hearing that statement is one thing. But, understanding it and putting it into practice is a whole different matter. What it boils down to is this: the dog with more experience is less likely to be surprised, distracted or worried about anything that happens. What Kevin is talking about is cross-training. And that can be the difference that makes a champion.
Some of the most successful people in other disciplines have come from the show world. What secrets do they know? To find that out, you'd have to ask the many Arabian horse trainers succeeding on the track. From there, you'd have to ask people like Neal and Ginny Ehrhart of Keystone Driving Force, who show horses and are also among the top winners in Harness racing. After Neal and Ginny, you'd have to go on and ask people like Jack and Mary Butler, who were busy showing Siberian Huskies in New England about fifteen or so years ago and today own one of the most respected Greyhound kennels in the world. Or ask Jan Troxell who to this day still raises and shows German Shepherds from her Greyhound racing farm in Oklahoma. The list goes on. Maybe what these successful breeders and trainers discovered is that all training disciplines - no matter how different from each other they may seem to be - go hand in hand. Maybe they see the world of champions from a wider scope and in a brighter light than their competitors do. Maybe it gives them an advantage.
We are in the show world because we believe in our dogs becoming the best they can be. Whether we are fans, owners or somewhere in between, all of us play a role in the making of champions and champions can be found in many different arenas. Racehorses have proven themselves in dressage, driving, hunter/jumper classes, western pleasure and halter. Obedience and Herding winners have become conformation champions and retired racing Greyhounds have gone on to win ribbons in the show ring as well.
In the dog sports of our choice, we see time-honored rituals that touch a chord in all of us. We see dogs from across the country competing to prove which is smartest, which is fastest, which more beautiful. We see kennels competing against each other like Esmeralda and Blanche do in my dog show novel "The Blue Ribbon" to prove which kennel is the best, which trainer the wisest and which owner the most savvy.
In a society growing ever more soft, where schools and companies and towns seem to be falling into a political correctness that makes our lives more boring at every turn, we in dog sports have something to look forward to. We live our dreams every day. We see their promise played out with every sporting event we attend - the promise that if you look straight ahead and give your all, you will get from where you are right now to where you want to be. You will cross the finish line, fast or slow. Dog sports are about the individual, not about hiding behind a team that you're part of, but about you, alone, against all odds. They don't teach you that kind of self-confidence in high school, but the dog world does. When you are a winner in the dog world, you will always know on some level - no matter how long you live or what you do - that you "made it."
There, for all to see, you stood before the crowd. You reached the winner's circle and somewhere in the archives of your Breed, the world will always know it.
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