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Springers At the Millenium

by Francie Nelson

The advent of a new century is a once-in-a-lifetime experience -- cause for celebration, reflection and forward thinking all at the same time. Reflection, celebration, vision. Three words upon which to base our hopes for our Springers at an historic moment.

The English Springer Spaniel crossed the Atlantic accompanied by the dreams of those who admired this all-purpose workman hunter. An athlete by day and a companion at the family fireside after that day's work, the Springer was, in the early decades of our fast-departing century, a do-it-all dog by necessity. Competition didn't enter the picture until the 1920's and the advent of competitive field events. Form followed function, and the new breed standard, crafted in the 1930's, described the functional athlete of that day before breeders began to select toward their own individual competitive goals.

As the 1930's progressed, things began to change as breeders selected toward competitive goals. However, the dogs remained a true dual type. During the 1940's, our last Dual Champion earned his title.

The 1950's saw the refinement of the American show Springer and the American field-bred Springer. Both "ends" of the competitive spectrum share responsibility for the divergence from true type that we are taking with us into a new millennium. Field trial competitors selected, from our root stock, those qualities that led to high performance. One cannot evaluate today's field trial-bred Springer Spaniels by reading the AKC approved breed standard.

Similarly, the show enthusiasts began to make their own selections. Exaggeration created a glamorous dog that became rapidly competitive in sporting group rings, drawing the interest of new exhibitors and breeders. Some maintained a commitment to dual function, and their breeding programs produced fine hunters that were representative of the breed standard. As we moved through the late 1960's and into the 70's, however, most show dogs had become so exaggerated that they, too, began to lose key elements of functional type.

These reflections bring us to the end of our current century.

Despite our divergence in the 1930's . . . despite choices that took us away from true dual type . . . despite exaggeration of appearance not consonant with our breed standard . . . we have a great deal to celebrate as we look back. We have the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association, our parent club, begun in the 20's from field trial interests and now nearly 1,000 members strong. Our parent club uniquely honors field and show interests, with the wisdom and foresight to keep the heritage of these great dogs foremost on the agenda. We respect individual interests; responsibility to the breed is paramount.

The 1980's saw the advent of health and genetic education, and the 1990's evolved our private foundation to provide the necessary financial backing to tackle Springer health challenges. Our competitive events have become increasingly well managed, and we are working hard to identify, recruit, and involve a new group of leaders into whose hands the future of Springers may be confidently placed. We celebrate our differences and acknowledge individual accomplishments. The end of our century offers great hope for the future.

A Vision for a New Millennium
It is the year 2010. A dog-handler team approaches the line, ready to run in their first field trial. The handler is a young man of 25. His Springer's pedigree combines English and American show stock with old midwest field trial lines. He makes a creditable run and makes the second series. He doesn't place, but this owner-handler is pleased with his dog's performance and the gallery cheers enthusiastically. The next day, this same owner-handler shows the same Springer in conformation and wins two championship points. Again, an appreciative gallery celebrates his accomplishment. This dog is the product of a breeder's end-of-century dream. He is sound in every way. He both looks and works like an English Springer Spaniel.

Watching at ringside, and on the line, are a host of Springer enthusiasts from decades past, whose vision, enthusiasm, and hard work has brought the English Springer Spaniel into a new era -- an era in which common goals, hopes, and dreams have crafted a dog as comfortable and productive in competition as it is in its family environment.

May we have the wisdom to encourage a broad diversity of participation and involvement, and may we have the fortitude to dedicate ourselves to the great dog described in an elegant and comprehensive breed standard. Our ultimate success will be measured by the dogs themselves, and the passionate, reciprocal devotion that they continue to inspire in us all.

It's a new century. Let's "dream big," so that our Springers might reflect the very best of what we are, and can be.