Schunikka Blog

Schunikka Blog

Follow the exploits of Team Schunikka and find out more about what we get up to.

The 4th search of the Faraway Tree

SchunikkasPosted by John Sun, April 12, 2015 22:38:40

It was Kiki’s turn to lead out the latest expedition into the enchanted Flaxley Wood in search of the Faraway Tree.

Mikey & Aimee had been enjoying their Easter Holidays and decided to come visit the Schunikkas. Although the hidden valley in Forest of Dean has seen its fair share of April showers this year, the weather was bright and sunny so we all set off up through the cow field and into the forest.

We turned left again but this time we headed straight up the Greenway and soon came to the spot where we emerged from our epic climb through the scene of the Earth Eater’s battles on our last search. We could still see the trees that had been pushed down but today we were going to carry on up the track into new uncharted territory.

We didn’t get far!

A short way up the Greenway the track was completely blocked by a massive tree which had fallen right across the gravel.

There was no way around it on either side so everyone had to clamber over its huge trunk. Aimee came rushing to rescue dad who was really struggling (very helpful, well done Aimee).

While Mikey climbed right through all of the branches to jump down on the other side.

As we carried on up the track we saw scenes of devastation on both sides as huge areas of the woodland had been cleared by the Forest Rangers. Mikey and Aimee were sure that this must be the territory of the Ghost Armies because it was so eerily quiet.

In one of these clearings however, we found that a single tree had been left standing on it’s own.

This was obviously a Fairy Tree. There were 3 or 4 small doorways at its base, it split into a hundred branches which each had its own little forest growing on it, it was covered in sweeping vines that dangled right down to the ground so that fairies and their visitors can pop up and down to just the right branch and the ground around it was covered with bluebells which the fairies use for their hats.

Mikey had a go at climbing one of the vines and it was easily strong enough to take his weight.

We carried on, reached a fork in the track and took the right hand path down the hill along Snake Pass.

This winding track crosses from one side of a huge gulley to the other and, as we crossed over a culvert, we saw that a stream came running down the hill, disappeared under the track and re-emerged again on the other side to carry on downhill.

At the bottom of the Pass, we turned right again onto Boar Path. In our very first search for the Faraway Tree last Autumn, we had walked some way up Boar Path but we were now coming down it from the other end and this was new ground.

The name of this Path is not to taken lightly! Just three days earlier Gramma Josi and Grumpa John had watched a family of Wild Boar - with 8 little squeakers crossing the lower pasture and entering the woods.

So we all proceeded with caution.

We had to navigate thick sections of gloopy mud all churned up by the Boar and the horses. We waded though a sticky swamp with tall clinging grass and we had to scramble under and around two fallen trees.

It was worth it though, because halfway down the Path we found a cleverly hidden and well camouflaged hide. It had a comfy chair and great view across the valley and you had to climb up a steep ladder to get into it.

With Kiki leading the way and scouting ahead of us we carried on down Boar Path and eventually came to the Enchanted Chair that we had found on our first search all those months ago.

Last time Mikey had clambered up into the chair Hope had tried to follow him up the ladder but Kiki was much more sensible and sat at the bottom waiting patiently for him to climb back down.

We carried on to the end of Boar Path, through the gate and into the cow field. In no time at all we were back at the cottage.

Although we had found a lovely Fairy Tree on this search it was much too small to be the Faraway Tree and so the search must go on. However, we had ventured deep into Flaxley Wood on our longest expedition yet.

Kiki had done a wonderful job of finding the best path for us and protecting us from Earth Eaters, Ghost Armies, strangers on Snake Pass and Wild Boar – well done Kiki.

Having now covered most of the southern woods, we are going to have to tackle another section altogether next time.

This search was filled with so many wonderful adventures that it deserved a photo album all of its own - go to http://gallery.schunikka.co.uk to see all the pictures we took on our travels.



The 3rd search for the Faraway Tree

SchunikkasPosted by John Sun, February 22, 2015 19:41:09

It’s half term and the sun is shining (despite weather forecasts for torrential rain) so Mikey and Aimee decided to come for a surprise visit to the Schunikkas.

Staying indoors on such a lovely day was not an option especially when Mikey was itching to go on another hunt for the Faraway Tree in Hope Woods. He was adamant that today’s expedition leader should be Celsie, so we put our wellies on and set off.

After a brief scramble up through the woods from the corner of the field, we emerged onto a gloriously sunny greenway and set off in the opposite direction to our previous searches.

We circled around the South West corner of the woods and then turned into the trees and started hacking uphill. It was hard going, stomping down brambles and crossing a steep slippery-banked stream as we climbed further up the rugged hillside.

Then suddenly, Mikey spotted evidence of a mighty upheaval. A number of the huge trees seemed to have been pushed over.

They were right in the middle of the tightly packed forest, so the wind would not have been able to get at them to blow them over. They had fallen uphill, so it was not a landslip or gravity and there was no evidence of them being cut down by people.

It was a real mystery and even Aimee and Celsie clambering over the tree trunk couldn’t find any more clues. Then Mikey came up with a theory…

It must have been the Earth-Eaters who had chewed away the soil around the roots to weaken the trees and then a raging battle with Trolls or Ogres took place, which resulted in the trees being knocked over.

It was a good theory and everyone was much happier for knowing what probably happened on this strange hillside.

Then Mikey and Aimee found the evidence that proved the theory – huge footprints all around the trees.

By the size of these footprints, it must have been Ogres ranging around from Ogre Valley to battle the Earth-Eaters before they could do too much damage to the forest.

Celsie took the lead again and guided us on up the hill until we arrived at the central greenway track which we followed back down to where we had started.

Unfortunately, there was no sign of the Faraway Tree anywhere in this part of the forest but that is not surprising if there have been Earth-Eaters here.

As we wended our weary way back around to the gate at the top of the field we stumbled upon the work of the Forestry Commission. Mikey and Aimee were amazed by the huge tractor, which had no wheels but instead had massive tank tracks.

They have been beavering away for the last couple of weeks coppicing the woods and just across the junction with Boar Path, we saw the results of their labours. It is simply not possible to see a pile of neatly stacked logs and not climb on them so we scrambled up.

We emerged out of the forest just as it started to get a bit cloudy and Celsie, who had been a great scout and expedition leader, herded us back down through the field to the cottage.

This was our third excursion into the forest and we covered completely new ground. When we look back at the routes we have taken so far we have searched most of the Southern end of the woods.

Next time, it looks like we may have to venture deeper into the heart of the forest – further up Boar Path and maybe even as far as Snake Pass – can’t wait!



The 2nd search for the Faraway Tree

SchunikkasPosted by John Wed, December 31, 2014 00:43:51

It’s Christmas time and Mikey & Aimee came to Flaxley again. Once pressies had been opened and we’d all had a catch up the conversation turned once again to the search for the Faraway Tree.

Although it was a tough decision, Aimee opted to stay behind with Mummy and Grandma Josi to bake some crispy cornflake cakes.

This time, Sandy was selected to lead the expedition and we set off straight up through the field, which was full of sheep (it had cows in it last time). After entering the woods, we turned right to search the eastern side and we’d only been walking a short way when we found evidence of an Ogre – a really big one!

In addition to some massive footprints, we found a sizable tree that had obviously been ripped up out of the ground and cast aside.

Now that we knew what we were looking for, there were signs of Ogres everywhere and, as we headed steadily down the side of a steep hill, it became clear that we were in Ogre Valley.

Once we got to the bottom, brave Sandy guided us up a very muddy path and we hurried up the other side of the valley. Mikey set a fast pace finding us the best route through mud, past Orge damage and over fallen trees.

Once we’d got up the other side, we were able to look back across the valley at the path we’d just walked down.

We’d looped back towards the edge of the woods and as we headed through the trees, Sandy suddenly stopped and stared – we had found a Faraway Tree!

There were lots of twisty turny branches covered in vines and holly just like the pictures of the Faraway Tree in the book. It was pretty small though and there were no signs of the fairy folk. We discussed it and decided that no fairy in their right mind would live in a tree that was so close to Ogre Valley so it was really no surprise to find it deserted.

We came out of the woods at the top of the hill and looked down at the magical River Severn and by the time we got back to the cottage it was starting to get dark.

We plotted the route we’d taken to see how much of the Woods we had managed to search.

Sandy had done a wonderful job of guiding us round this section of the woods and keeping us safe from the Ogres in the valley.

We had found a Faraway Tree, even though it wasn’t the Faraway Tree, which gave us extra faith in our ability to eventually find it – perhaps next time!



The 1st search for the Faraway Tree

SchunikkasPosted by John Tue, December 30, 2014 23:27:02

When Mikey and Aimee found out that the Schunikkas had moved to a Forest, with Grandma Josi and Grumpa John, their immediate reaction was that it might be the Enchanted Wood where the trees are “a darker green than usual”. If so, then in the woods is the Faraway Tree - a huge tree inhabited by fairy-folk and laden with fruit of all kinds from acorns to lemons and its topmost branches lead to ever-changing magical lands above the swirling clouds.

They came to visit at the end of October, intent on searching for the Faraway Tree and, of course, the Schunikkas were all happy to help.

Could this be the Enchanted Wood?

The southern part of the woods is called Flaxley Wood because it nestles above Flaxley Abbey but the northern part sits underneath a village called Longhope and it is called “Hope Wood”. So everyone agreed it was only fair that Hope should lead the first expedition.

Coats and wellies on, the gang scrambled up into the woods.

Mikey and Hope, following the sunlight through the trees, led us all straight up a track that we’ve named Boar Path (because there were wild boar on that path when we first moved in).

After a while we came across a mysterious seat – propped halfway up a tree – and Mikey climbed up to see if he see the Faraway Tree.

Aimee watched in awe of her big brother…

…then insisted on having a go as well.

Hope tried to follow us up the ladder but gave up and dashed off to catch up with Mikey who had gone to the next bend in the path.

There was still no sign up the track though and we decided to head back. We ambled back through the cow field to the cottage then looked at where we’d been on the map.

Although we didn’t find it up Boar Path, Hope had done a great job of leading this first search. Eeveryone had a wonderful time and we are already planning the next search for the Faraway Tree in the Flaxley “Enchanted” Wood.



16-03-14 Nottinghamshire County Top(s)

SchunikkasPosted by John Tue, March 18, 2014 11:25:42

A huge amount of time has passed, and an awful lot has happened, since our last County Top!

Our last jaunt was way back in June last year and, in the intervening months, we have mated Kiki to Sandy, had a litter of puppies, raised them until we found new loving homes for some of them, put the two we have kept (Hope and Lemmie) through puppy training and trained Hope to take part in her first dog show – oh, and we’ve moved house.

So much time passed in fact that Kiki also came into season again having fully recovered from being such a wonderful mother.

We believed that having one of the girls in season was always quite hard on poor old Sandy but we didn’t know the half of it!

Having finally been allowed to be amorous with Kiki, he now knows exactly what he’s been missing and exactly what it is he wants to do again now that she’s in season again – what a nightmare!

Today was the first free day we’ve had in a long, long time and the weather is finally starting to brighten up and, in a moment of inspiration, Josi suggested I take Sandy out of the house to get him away from Kiki for a while and go and do a County Top.

Great idea! I bundled Sandy and Celsie in the car, picked up Dale who was also chilling and well up for a day out, and we headed North.

The next County Top on my list was Nottinghamshire.

There is a lot of contention surrounding this particular County Top.

For many years there has been a battle raging between the residents of the Strawberry Bank housing estate in Huthwaite - who were so firm in their belief that they have put a brass plaque on a bench stating that the spot is the County Top - and those people who thought the high point of Newtonwood Lane on the Nottinghamshire Derbyshire border was higher.

This battle was trumped in 2005 when the local council quite deliberately added a mound about 5m high to the top of the man-made Silverhill Colliery site. This hill was created from one of the spoil tips from local coal mines. It was planted with young trees and grasses and criss-crossed with footpaths to form a new recreation site. The addition of the 5m mound, which was topped with 8 standing stones (representing the points of the compass) and a statue of a coal miner on a large rock plinth, made the hill higher than either Strawberry Bank or Newtonwood Lane according to the Council Surveyors and official notice boards were erected at the foot of the hill pointing this out.

As you can imagine, many stalwart hill-baggers as well as many locals have argued that a man-made hill shouldn’t qualify as a County Top and so this third contender for the title actually caused even more friction.

The matter was actually resolved in October 2011.

Surveyors John Barnard, Graham Jackson and Myrddyn Phillips conducted a comprehensive survey of all three locations using state of the art GPS equipment and line-of-sight level and staff. They measured Strawberry Bank at 202.33m, Silverhill at 204.26m and Newtonwood Lane at 204.77m – declaring that Newtonwood Lane was the highest point by half a meter.

We decided to visit both Newtonwood Lane and Silverhill so that Celsie and Sandy got more of a walk.




We pulled off the M1 at Junction 28 and within minutes we were pulling into a small layby opposite a Severn Trent Water Treatment Plant called Whiteborough.

This site pretty much covers the whole of the crown of this hill with 4 man-made little reservoirs and some outbuildings. There is also the almost mandatory telecommunications antenna to one side of the site.

We skirted around the outside of the fence until we found what looked to us to be the highest point and posed for our photos.

Once the dogs had had a blast around the field we were in, there was nothing else to do but head back to the car.

We drove a few miles up the road and approached Silverhill.

There is a car park but there is also a caravan park and couple of laybys all along a short stretch of road so finding somewhere to park was no problem.

This is obviously a very popular dog walking location – we could see about a dozen dogs of all shapes and sizes either on the gravel pathways or in the car park itself, some on leads and some not.




There seemed to be a very wide gravel roadway that leads directly to the top but we decided against that route because of the number of dogs and bicycles on it and instead headed left on a path that looked as if it skirted around the bottom of the hill.

The path went half way around the hill before it eventually bore right and started upwards and it brought the massive facade of Hardwick Hall into view on the next hill over as we walked around.

After a short sharp climb, the top was pretty obvious - the 5 meter high mound had paths and steps up to the larger than life statue of a coal miner on a large plinth.

A family had arrived just before us and we waiting for them to finish taking photographs before posing for our own.

We angled these photographs to show the telecommunications antenna that we had just visited at Newtonwood Lane in the distance.

We took the direct path back down and were back at the car in no time.

This would have been a long drive and short walk for Celsie and Sandy if we hadn’t opted to take the more circuitous path.

It was a nice site though, well laid out with benches every so often to enjoy the views and despite the number of other people and dogs there, we had a great time.

However well constructed this hill is, with it’s new trees, pathways and statue, it is still a constructed hill and I personally find it difficult to think of it as a County Top at all. So, I'm pleased that the entirely natural hill at Newtonwood Lane has been proved to be the true County Top of Nottinghamshire (even if it is a more boring site).





Schunikka Puppies Arrive

SchunikkasPosted by Josi Sun, December 01, 2013 20:06:31

At 3am on the morning of Saturday 14th September I was awoken by a cold wet nose and slobbery kisses – Kiki was telling me something.

She had clambered up onto the bed and was panting heavily. Even without having done this before, it was obvious that the whelping process had begun and I was wide awake in seconds. I woke John and we calmly laid out everything we had prepared while making soothing noises to Kiki.

After 30 minutes however, we noticed that the discharge that Kiki was doing her best to lick clean had a greenish tinge to it and warning bells started to go off. We rang the vet and she advised us to bring her in to the surgery so she could have a look at her.

Our vet is only 4 miles away but it seemed to take forever to get there driving as carefully as we could while Kiki continued to strain and pant. A very quick inspection when we arrived and the vet confirmed that, although the birthing had begun, the first puppy appeared to be breech. We looked at each other, thinking the same thing – if we had left Kiki to carry on rather than ringing the vet when we did, there could have been a disaster!

The vet was marvelous, having felt that the breech puppy was still alive, she worked gently but firmly, to reposition the puppy and help Kiki to push the little one out despite being the wrong way around.

It seemed to take forever, but then suddenly, at around 5am, the first puppy popped out. This was an obvious release for Kiki and it opened the floodgates of emotion for us as well – what an incredible thing to witness!

The tiny little white baby with a head that looked too big for it’s body started moving and mewling like a kitten as Kiki licked it clean and carried on licking to stimulate it. It was a little girl with an adorable black patch over her right eye. We remembered the sounds that Kiki’s breeder, Brenda Rance, had used when soothing her puppies “dee dee dee dee dee” a sound that will calm Kiki down even now that she has grown up and we started making this sound and ended up calling this special little one Dee Dee.

On the vet’s advice we stayed there with Kiki on a vet bed, with us sitting on blankets and towels around her, until the second puppy arrived. This was a completely white little boy who started squeaking from the moment he cleared his lungs. We called him Squeaker.

As the second birth had happening naturally, the vet declared that the rest should go smoothly. We decided to take kiki back home so she could have the rest of her litter in the comfort of her own home. We bundled her into the car and drove home as quickly as possible whilst trying not to throw her around too much for fear that she would have the next puppy right there in the back of the car.

Back in her whelping box, Kiki took some time out to relax and recover some of her strength. The car trip, the breech and the manipulations by the vet had all taken a toll on her and she seemed content to just lie still and clean her two new puppies for a while before there were any more signs of activity.

Another puppy came along and, having seen what the vet did for the first two, we did our best to help Kiki bring another little boy into the world. His nose seemed to be much darker than the other two with a strong black colour so we called him Big Nose.

A fourth puppy also turned out to be a little boy and, having been up most of the night, Kiki took another break at this point. She didn’t seem to want to eat but she had a long drink of water and was relaxed enough to nod off for a short nap while the four little puppies squirmed and tumbled over each other.

It was while we were coo’ing over these four gorgeous little bundles that we spotted a very small patch of colour on the left cheek of this fourth boy.

It was a very pale brown so we assumed it must be a liver patch that would darken as he got older but, being more like the colour of a piece of fudge, we laughed about the odds of us having a lemon coloured Dalmatian and we started calling him Lemmie as a joke.

After her rest, Kiki had another little boy with prominent pigmentation on his nose but not as much as Big Nose so we took to calling him Little Nose.

The next puppy, also a little boy, quite literally clambered his way into the world. Whilst each of the others had been born in their sack and Kiki’s ministrations had released them, this determined little fellow had been clawing his way out of the sack even as he was emerging. He seemed to be smaller than the others so we took to calling him Dinky.

The was another long pause and Kiki had something to eat, a nap and seemed perfectly happy to play with her new puppies. We began to suspect that it was all over.

Our objective with this litter however was to have a little girl who we might be able to breed from in the future and, so far, all of the puppies had been boys, except the first little girl who had a patch.

We began to lose hope that we would get the little girl we wanted and Josi searched with her stethoscope for another little heart beat.

Kiki must have heard our wishes and realized that this would be our last hope. She gave one last effort and out popped a lovely little girl.

There was no patch and she was a lively little thing. As she was an answer to our wishes we started calling her Hope.

So, by 5pm – a full 12 hours after the first puppy Dee Dee appeared in the vet’s surgery - we had a full compliment of 7 puppies lounging around on the heat pad.

Although the puppies seemed to settle well, we started to be a little concerned about the first little boy, the "Squeaker", who became very listless and seemed to separate himself out from the rest of the litter. He continued to fade and, despite all of our efforts to revive him repeatedly, this little angel fell asleep for the last time less than 18 hours after being born - we were heartbroken!

The whole experience had been an emotional rollercoaster and we were absolutely shattered. Ecstatic at these little gifts and devastated by the loss. It was very hard to stand still and dwell on anything that had happened however because the puppies were constantly moving around and being cute. We quickly settled into our new found hobby – puppy watching.

At the start of this adventure, we had thought of Kiki as our little puppy. Although she was three and a half years old, we still considered her to be our baby. Throughout the whole experience however, she was a proper little mummy. She had weathered the initial stress and strain of Dee Dee’s breech birth and from then on she seemed to know exactly what needed to be done and just got on with it.

Our little girl is so grown up and now has little girls and boys of her own to look after. We are so proud of her – well done Kiki.



Dally Rally on 31st August

SchunikkasPosted by Josi Fri, August 23, 2013 09:36:49
Dont dilly dally, do a 'Dally Rally' - Carriage dog training with ride and drive.

This is a great opportunity to find out more about Dalmatians and their innate affinity with horses.

Come and join in the Dally Rally in one of the forests in Mid Wales on Saturday 31st August. This is a training day for Dalmatian carriage dogs and ridden or driven turnouts. All are welcome for a unique and fascinating day. £15 per person via booking form.

There is also a British Driving Society (BDS) carriage rally at the same location the next day, so a great weekend of carriage driving in the Welsh forests.

Specialist Dalmatian training advice will be offered from Dalmatian experts John Wilmot and Alison Burgess.

This event in sponsored by the British Carriage Dog Society, visit their website for more information or to become a member

Contact Lester Dagge for a booking form on
Tel: 01944 484766
Email: info@daggedesign.com






7-7-13 British Carriage Dog National Trials

SchunikkasPosted by Josi Sun, July 28, 2013 18:55:10

The British Carriage Dog Society (BCDS) ran their annual National Trials on Saturday 6th July at Lincomb Farm, set in the rolling Herefordshire countryside, near Stourport-on-Severn.

The event was an outstanding success and congratulations need to go to everyone involved in its organisation. The relaxed format also encouraged a wonderful atmosphere enjoyed by the handlers with their horses, drivers or grooms where needed and of course the all important Dalmatians.

The Trial consisted of three elements. First was the obedience test and this was followed by the endurance test over a lovely cross-country course. In addition, all Dalmatians went through vet checks, both before they started and again when they finished. A pass was needed in all three of these elements in order for the Dalmatian to achieve an overall pass for the classes in which it had been entered.

There are two disciplines in this growing sport – Road Dog and Carriage Dog.

For the Road Dog discipline, a handler rides a horse and the Dalmatian runs along with them.

[Vicky Brennan riding her Fell Pony Elma with Gemma running obediently alongside]

For the Carriage Dog discipline, the handler is either the whip (driver) or groom (assistant) on a carriage.

There were three classes available to enter at these Trials - Bronze, Silver & Gold - with higher scores and feats of endurance required to achieve each. All parts of the Trial were completed with the Dalmatian working off lead.

The purpose of the Trials was to demonstrate the ability of the Dalmatian to fulfill the role it was originally bred to fulfill, which is that of working alongside horses. A major factor for the judges therefore was that the Dalmatian showed willingness and enjoyment of its work throughout the Trial.

In 2012 the endurance element of the Trials had to be cancelled due to unsafe wet weather conditions (see our Blog 18-8-12) but this year was the exact opposite with blazing sunshine and searing heat. Extra vet checks were added for the longer distances to ensure that both Dalmatians and horses were coping with the extreme heat.

It takes time, effort and training to prepare for these Trials, so it was gratifying to see people turning up to watch the proceedings and the glorious weather provided the perfect conditions for the spectators.

The Road Dogs’ judge was Ali Rummey and the Carriage Dogs’ judge was Tim Stafford. Both judges carried out their duties from horseback. The obedience tests took place on a flat field enclosed with a fence. The aim of the obedience test was to replicate, as far as possible, the scenarios encountered in modern horse and carriage working environments, where the dog must be under the handler's control at all times. The dog started with 100% and marks were deducted during the test for a wide range of reasons, some serious and some minor. The pass mark for Bronze competitors was 50%, Silver competitors needed 60% and Gold needed a pass of 70%. This was no mean feat when off lead and coping with distractions such as the spectators seated around the fence, a deliberate distraction dog walking on lead inside the perimeter fence, the atmosphere on the day and the added diversion of swooping swallows skimming across the grass as if taunting the dogs. The judging was firm but fair and a pass was needed in order to move to the next element – the endurance test.

The endurance element tested each competing Dalmatian's stamina and capacity for work and covered a 10km (6 mile) cross country course skirting the fields surrounding Lincomb Equestrian Centre.

[Endurance route]

The course included some very sharp hills, rugged ground and a water obstacle. The Bronze competitors had to complete a single circuit of 10km, the Silver competitors completed two circuits at 20km and the Gold competitors went round a staggering four times to complete 40km. The task was made even more challenging because there were also set time limits that the distance had to be completed within.

At the start and finish of the endurance test there was a vet check. This was not only for the safety and wellbeing of the Dalmatians (and the horses which were also checked) it also contributed to the Dalmatian’s scoring and for this reason the vet is an official judge in the competition. Dogs needed to pass the vet check at the start in order to be allowed to compete and also pass the vet check at the end (with Silver and Gold dogs also checked at mid-point). Each Dalmatian was awarded up to 200 marks for their fitness levels, based on their heart rate, temperature, mobility and condition and these marks contributed to their overall scores.

The day commenced with staggered start times with those entered in the Gold classes going first, followed by the Silver entries and finally those in the Bronze. Vicky Brennan was first in the obedience field, competing for the Road Dog Bronze with her Dalmatian Gemma. Vicky was also driving her 13.3hh Fell, Elma, for my Dalmatian Celsie and me as I was competing as groom handler later in the day.

The first whip handler competitor was Miranda Purves who worked her Dalmatian Splash and her Fell Harry with Laura Fraser as groom. After completing and passing all of the obedience exercises, they were the first carriage out onto the cross country course, which Splash completed within the allotted six hours to achieve an overall pass at Carriage Dog Gold. Splash was one of the few Dalmatians to go through the water obstacle, not sure if that was because of the heat or if she was living up to her name

Julie Swindells was the next whip handler entry, she drove Emmy, a 14.0hh Fell x Thoroughbred with Phil Swindells as groom. Julie was the only handler working a two Dalmatian team, consisting of littermates Rolex & Clover.

Clover received the “Judges Special” for passing the obedience test with an outstanding score of 100%. Unfortunately, during the endurance test, before Clover could complete the distance, she scuffed a pad while out on the course. Although it was not causing Clover a problem, Julie agreed with the vet judge to withdraw her immediately to avoid any further damage. Julie continued the Trial with Rolex and he completed the full 40km distance that is required to pass the Gold Class.

Then it was the turn of the Silver Carriage Dog entry, Chris Cleland who competed with her Dalmatian Ozzy. As Chris was competing as a groom handler she took to the back step behind whip Mandy Hawley who drove Simon, a 15.2hh KWPN to a Fenix Flyer. Chris and Mandy were dressed to impress in their white silks with black spots and looked a perfect match for black spotted Ozzy. After successfully completing all the obedience exercises, they set off around the cross country course to complete the 20km required to pass Silver.

My Dalmatian, Celsie and I had entered the Bronze Carriage Dog. We had to wait until our whip returned from completing her Road Dog Trial before we could set out, because I was a groom handler. It was late morning when we were finally able to set out behind whip Vicky Brennan who drove Elma, a 13.3hh Fell pony also to a Fenix Flyer carriage.

We were the last ones onto the obedience field and completed all of the exercises to gain a pass, then it was off to the marathon course. We stopped en-route to put some fly spray on Elma, as by now the sun was reaching its midday climax and the temperature was rising. As Vicky had already ridden the course on Elma she knew that parts of it went past water and there was one particular bit where flies were rife.

Elma is a pony whose happy pace is a steady trot, so we made good time on the first part of the course that enabled us to walk some of the last sections, as by then the sun was beating down unmercifully and there was little shade to be had.

The highlight of the course for me was the water obstacle. It was the first time I had come across one as a groom, so was thrilled that Vicky agreed to take us all through, not once but three times.

Celsie was not tempted to follow, preferring to keep her feet dry and skirt the edge of the water obstacle each time. Out on the course the views were amazing and we completed the required 10km within the allotted time.

Celsie, tired and very hot, passed her Vet Check and enjoyed a long sponge down with cold water. When all of the timings and scores were collated, I was delighted to discover that she had passed her Bronze Award and is now officially a Carriage Dog - Fit for purpose - fit to do what she was bred to do.

[Celsie with her rosettes]

It was the first time I had worked my Dalmatian behind a carriage at a Trials and it was both a privilege and pleasure to do so. I had such fun as a groom at the Trials that I was left wanting more. If anyone in the Midlands region needs a groom, I’d love to come out on a regular basis.

For more information on the British Carriage Dog Society and to become a member please visit the website carriagedog.org

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