A new generation of birddog hunters will quickly dominate the sport of field trialing, soon to share the competition ring with the most elite veterans of the hunting world. On June 26, 2021, the Alabama Field Trial Association hosted its first youth field trial and birddog training seminar at the Greenway Sportsman Club in Union Springs, Alabama.
This free event, sponsored by the association and Purina, encouraged all youth, avid hunters and non-hunters alike, to attend the seminar in an effort to teach handling skills, horse care and management, hunting etiquette, and birddog training, among several other topics.
Each topic provided activities that were engaging and informative, as the attendees took part in hands-on work with experienced members of the sport. Professional field trialers and long-time amateurs each presented and spoke on these various topics, imparting their knowledge of the sport and wisdom gained over their years of experience. Among such professionals was Handler of the Year Mike Tracy, his father and Hall of Famer George Tracy, as well as Buddy Smith, inventor of the “Buddy Stick,” and professional field trialers Tommy Rice and Jamie Daniels.
The young attendees, varying from 4 to 17 years old, were divided into groups as they rotated to each presenters’ station, receiving hands-on work with horses, dogs, and real-life scenarios they might experience out in the field.
Addison McDuffie (photo below), daughter of long-time field trialer Hunter McDuffie, who began competing when she was just 4 years old, was also in attendance. Addison received the award of Dixie Trace Runner Up Youth Handler of the Year, an impressively decorated field trialer at a young age. Although Addison enjoys the competition, she says her favorite part about field trialing is the friends she makes, “I know it’s a competition, but in the gallery, we’re always goofing around.” Addison, along with many other youths who attended, are seasoned field trialers already, and seminars like this only further teach them the skills to compete at the highest level.
Mike Tracy (photo below), who is a third-generation dog handler, spoke on the importance of youth seminars to mentor the next generation of hunters. Learning largely from his father and grandfather, along with other mentors, Tracy remarked, “I was always taught that if you keep your eyes open and your ears shut, you learn, so I just listened. I learned from those guys, and they were always kind to me, even though they knew I was going to run against them one day, they helped me.”
Tracy hopes to offer the same mentorship he received to this generation of youth field trialers. To him, one of the most important aspect of the sport that he strives to impart to the next generation is sportsmanship. “The biggest let-down I have at a field trial is when a guy wins, and no one congratulates him. At the end of the day, we’re all here to compete, and at a professional level, we’re all here to make a living- but we’re not the ones judging it.”
The seminar, in conjunction with the Youth Field Trial Alliance, is the first event of its kind in reaching a wider audience of youth. Tony Gibson, field trial hall of famer and avid supporter and benefactor of the sport, along with Mike Green, came together to create the idea of a free youth seminar.
“Kids aren’t getting into the sport like they used to, so you have to recruit. We have to save the sport,” Darron Hendley, Event Marshall said. “It means a lot to me to continue that…I want to see my grandchildren doing it. I never had anyone teach me to field trial; I learned everything the hard way. This is very unique for these kids to have people teach them, professionals teach them. I wish I had someone sit me down and tell me how to do it.”
The Alabama Field Trial Association and The Youth Field Trial Alliance hope to continue having events such as the Youth Field Trial Seminar, encouraging and supporting the generational tradition of the sport of field trialing.
The Youth Field Trial Alliance seeks to encourage people around the country to host field trials for youth and promote the success of the sport, overall. For more information regarding The Youth Field Trial Alliance, please visit: yfta.strideaway.com