ON POINT A 38-YEAR-OLD EVENT BRINGS SPORTING DOG ENTHUSIASTS AND ANIMALS TOGETHER FROM ALL OVER THE NATION. WRITTEN BY GINNY McCARLEY
n a frigid morning, the trials begin. Contestants and their dogs gather in fields, everyone tense with excitement, before the dogs are let loose to sniff the air for the scent of quail. Scouts follow on horseback as the dogs move boldly and purposefully through the field, with a larger group observing on horseback behind. Once the dogs catch a whiff of quail, they stop on a dime, holding the point position perfectly. Blank shots are fired into the air, after which the dog is touched lightly on the top of the head by its handler and allowed to break form. The National Amateur All-Age Invitational Championship, a much-anticipated bird dog competition, is underway.
INVITATION OXFORD | FEBRUARY 2019
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOE WORTHEM
The event takes place annually in December, under the auspices of the American Field Trial Clubs of America, at the historic Ames Plantation, just a little over 50 miles north of Oxford. Each year select dogs and horses from all over the country trek with their owners to take part in the trials. The stunning 18,400 acres of land dotted with row crops, purebred Angus cattle, forests and horses has been home to bird dog championships for over 100 years. Twelve dogs from eight states qualified to compete in the invitational, one of the three most prestigious amateur stakes in the nation. Behind the graceful movements of the dogs and handlers in the field are countless hours of hard work and training.
Pat McInteer, who has been attending field trial competitions with her husband for more than 40 years, said the sport is “truly a passion.” The couple, who live in Nebraska, train their dogs for hours every day, even in the dead of winter. “[Our children] say, ‘Dad’s gonna die on a horse working a bird dog,’” McInteer said with a laugh. “But he’d die happy.” In 2018, all of the dogs that qualified for and competed in the championship were English pointers. Gary McKibbon of Hernando, a field trial enthusiast and judge in the 2018 National Amateur Invitational Championship, said judges are looking for a dog that stands out and can hunt, find game and have good manners around the game.