I enjoyed a wonderful road adventure this summer with my trip to North Dakota! This trip had been in the making since May when friend and mentor Mr. Rick Smith arranged for me to attend bird dog camp with Pro trainer Allen Vincent of Vincent Kennels based out of Oklahoma and summering in North Dakota. My goal was to be able to learn about Open All-Age pointing dogs running horseback field trials. WOW did I get quite an education as well as an incredible opportunity to run my own pups on hundreds of acres on the prairies chasing wild birds, mostly sharp-tail grouse with a few pheasants as well.
My trip began on August 3rd. I worked the morning at the kennel and then headed home about 2pm to finish packing my truck. I took along my Labrador Retriever “Treat” as my travel companion, “Elsie” my 11 year old German Shorthair just to enjoy the trip and chase some birds, and her 2 pups “Doozy” and “Timber” that are not quite 2 years old and are in training with me for field trials. I also had a 10 week GSP pup to deliver and my Lab “Cuda” going to a new home in Iowa. We hit the road about 3pm and watched the GPS inform us of our 30+ hour trek to Northwest North Dakota! Lots of time behind the wheel. My first day of driving went well, and with plenty of energy I drove straight through CT, NY, PA and into Ohio and at about 2am pulled into a rest stop, climbed in the cozy cab of my truck and snuggled with Treat. We got some decent rest… (well, Treat was a bed hog and maybe got more rest than I did). Back on the road again by 7am after the dogs were aired, fed and watered. I drove into Michigan for a jaunt, then to Indiana where I made a stop at the Lakota Horse Trailer Manufacturer to visit the folks who made my new horse trailer last year. I also took the dogs for a nice walk and we all enjoyed a break.
Next we ventured into Wisconsin to meet up at the Madison Field Trial. My Sport Vet Dr. Jennell Appel worked on my Lab Treat (she had knee surgery back in February) and I got to visit my retriever friends on their northern grounds. We typically spend the winters together on the southern circuit. After the trial I had a nice dinner with the group and then ventured again on my journey to ND. I drove until about 11pm and stopped over in Minnesota to get a good night’s hotel rest.
In Minnesota I delivered the GSP pup to his new owner. My trainer Jordan bred this litter and I was helping to deliver the pup to his new home. The transition went well. Next I met up with the gentleman that would be adopting my lab Cuda. I spent the better course of a year looking for a new home for our special lab because I decided to take a break from retriever field trials and Cuda just needed a job. After plenty of inquiries from interested people, I found the most perfect home with a gentleman from Iowa who manages over 100 farms for hunting, hunts tests his dogs and is eager to field trial. He and Cuda were a match instantly and it warms my heart knowing how appreciative his new owner is to have a well-trained, experienced dog to learn with and enjoy the journey. Their bond was instant!
I finally entered North Dakota about 5:30 pm on Saturday August 5th. With ominous skies I drove into the vast ND territory in awe of the open land and pot hole after pot hole filled with ducks and broods of all species. Truly a waterfowler’s dream! Right before my next destination in Linton, ND I took the dogs for a hike in the expansive farms and enjoyed the sunset which does not occur until between 8:30 and 9:30 out that far west. I then settled into a very cozy motel with ALL four dogs in this small town eager for our next adventure, visiting the wild horse herds. My own horse Tex came from this herd and lived here for 3 years in the wild before coming to the east coast for training. These Nokota Horses nokotahorse.org/cms/ are amazing and I was so excited to see them
in their natural setting. Sunday morning I met up with Mr. Frank Kuntz who leads in the preservation of these horses and we traveled by ATV along with another gal Shawna who studies, photographs and is passionate about them as well. With tears streaming down my cheeks I came over the horizon to view my first herd of Nokotas in their wild setting. I was blown away by their beauty, their power, their wild nature, yet upon walking into the herd true to their personality description, they were kind, calm, inquisitive and friendly. It was a feeling like no other to have these creatures surround you and invite you into their world. The 60+ herd of stallions, colts and geldings were naturally broken up into bands of 2 up to 15 in a group based on their social status and hierarchy. I watched them move, interact, socialize and assert dominance. It was fascinating.
Next we ventured by truck trailering the atv to another preservation land to see the mares. This herd of about 120 mares, yearlings, and foals seemed more peaceful than the boys, fatter and they had far less bite marks than the boys! The weather turned on us quickly so I decided to continue on my journey another 4 hours to my destination in Columbus, ND. My wild horse experience was one of the most special moments in my life!
The drive from Minot, ND to Columbus was by far the longest 2 hours of the drive. Not much to see and the eagerness to get to my destination was overwhelming! I finally arrived at Vincent Kennels around 3pm on Sunday. I was greeted by Allen, his wife Lori, and their assistants Josh and Race along with another trainer Larry Huffman and his wife Piper. We all got acquainted, I got my dogs settled in, we enjoyed some cocktail time and a nice BBQ meal. Our other guest Ann from Canada soon arrived and she too was there to experience bird dog camp and learn. Ann and I rented a house together about 15 minutes away from the camp.
Monday morning, bright and early we were up at 4:30 am and on the road to camp by 5am. We all met up at 5:30 to load up the horses and head just down the road to basecamp where we launched from every day. There was an old run down (but still standing) Sear and Robuck home on the sight that was beautiful. By 6:30 we were in the saddle, all 8 of us off loping across the prairies chasing after English Pointers running into the sunrise as far as you could see. These dogs were running machines, barely on the edge of control, covering miles in search of wild birds and seamless boundaries. The first morning was exhilarating with the spectacular sunrise and higher than average finds of coveys! Today was our day to watch, learn, and take it all in. We spent about 6 hours in the saddle covering about 12 miles over the wide open prairies. Just amazing!
Our horseback training adventures continued through Saturday with some unbelievable scenery and dog work. It was quite an education to watch and participate in the training with these two highly experienced Pros working not only derby puppies but All-Age Dogs and even past National Champions. Both trainers were kind and willing to share ideas, training tips and show off their horseback and dog skills. It was truly eye opening and impressive.
Five of those days afield I had the opportunity to work my own GSP pups. While we have been training intensely for over a year, nothing could compare to the vast expanse of open prairie, 8 people on horseback and a strange brace-mate running big across the land. My 2 pups handled better and were more obedient than they were free running and covering huge ground. I learned that my background in retriever training (which is all about micromanagement and control work) greatly influenced my training practices for my future goals with my pointing dogs. Easier said than done, because out west you can let the dogs rip and run nearly out of control and then reign them in. In our confined New England land, we cannot afford to let our dogs run off out of site because in a flash they can get lost in the woods or run across roads. Even though they did not run big, they both found wild sharp-tailed grouse every day and I was proud of my pup’s bird finding skills. I simply let them free to point, bump and chase and learn. They got an education that I can NEVER simulate in the Northeast and certainly not with pen raised birds!
After our 6th and last training day Saturday I got the opportunity to ride in a John Deere combine to harvest field peas ironically being harvested for dog food. It was a really cool experience and the farmer was so eager to share his story, explain the process and educate me all about the farming practices, crops and harvests. It was an amazing experience!
Next I drove on another 2 hours to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. After an amazing sunset drive for over two hours through the North Unit, I drove another 2 hours south to Medora, ND. Another few hours sleeping in my truck overnight, and I was eager to view the park at sunrise. It was not to be since it was dreary and overcast so ventured into the old western town of Medora and had a huge breakfast and took in the quaint town now very geared to tourists, shops, museums and eateries.
It was a very cool experience with people riding horses through the town with hitching posts at every store. The weather broke and I toured the South Unit of the park. All I can say… EVERYONE needs to go explore this area! To view the Badlands, the terrain, the wildlife and nature at its finest. WOW. I saw bison, mule deer, white tail deer, coyotes, wild turkeys, prairie chickens, prairie dogs, wild horses, birds of all kinds and more. It was an experience that no photo or story can even begin to explain.
It was finally time to venture back home. I began the long trek from Medora through North Dakota to my next destination in Wisconsin. For entertainment I bought 2 audio books about Theodore Roosevelt and these educational and interesting stories helped the miles fly by. Another long drive and I made it into MN into the wee hours of Monday night. More snoozing in my truck! Why do I do that? My truck is roomy enough, I have my dogs for protection and I am more interested in about 5 hours of rest in my own space than getting a crappy hotel room and no sleep…or too nice of a hotel room and sleep too much!) I arrived in Gillman WI at my friend, fellow dog trainer and mentor Sonny Piekarz’s kennel by 11am. I jumped right into training with him and helped him work his string of 20+ dogs. As always, I picked up lots of great information, coaching, advice and tips. Sonny helped me problem solve some with my own GSP pups and I learned a lot. After a wonderful meal with Sonny and his wife Shannon I got a great night sleep in their guest room and woke up bright and early for my next adventure. I took my pups out into the WI woods to run them on grouse and woodcock. We spent the day in the woods pointing and locating wild birds and the dogs had a blast. Treat and Elsie even got in on the fun!
Tuesday late afternoon I departed Hay Creek Kennels and set out for my journey home. Yup, another last few hours of snoozing in my truck, lots of learning about Teddy Roosevelt, and breaks for me and the dogs. I arrived home sweet home to my husband Jason at 9pm Wednesday night. My own bed never felt so good! What a trip, what an adventure and experience! I would do it again in a heartbeat.