The Master Thief

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Fred Freeze was a genius at training pointing dogs, of a certain sort. Very smart ones, the ones who understood what field trials were all about. Not necessarily the most athletic or naturally talented, but those that could be taught to leverage the talents of a brace mate. And none had been so well suited to Fred Freeze’s methods as Candice, a pointer female who learned tricks from Fred like a circus performer.

Fred had discovered in her derby year that she used horse tracks to know every course she was released on. She seemed to know the front always, unless she was drawn to run on a course that had not been used yet in the trial, in other words had no recent horse tracks on it. Then she seemed lost and Fred often lifted her.

She found birds frequently, or so it seemed. But always when judges arrived to observe the flush the brace mate was there backing. Sometimes she would be backing the brace mate, maybe one time in three. She almost never had a find alone, nor did her brace mates.

In her second All-Age year she was on a hot streak, winning almost everywhere she was put on the ground. Art Coin had followed her career closely. He judged frequently, so got to watch her more than most. At the end of her first all-age year, he had his suspicions. With the advent of her second, he set out to confirm or disprove them.

Fred Freeze was happiest when Candice drew a really good dog as a brace mate. Art Coin sensed this from his attitude. That was just one of the clues that had increased his suspicions.

It was at the Invitational at Paducah that Art got his chance to test his suspicions. And his fellow judge (there were just two that year because the third failed to show) had bred Candice and asked Art to watch her full time rather than half to avoid claims of politics. So Art set out to test the truth (or falsity) of his premise on Candice’s remarkable success.

Since on the first day there would be no horse tracks to show Candice where the front was (there would be six braces on six different courses) Art wondered how Candice would cope. She was lucky-her first day brace mate was a natural front runner and she head trailed him, Art detected despite her skill. And on her two finds the brace mate was found backing and not from far away. Almost clear proof to Art that Candice had stolen the points.

She had gone in the morning the first day so went in the afternoon the second. She had one find, brace mate backing, and he had a find later where Candice backed. On the first Candace’s handler had been first to arrive at the point, on the second the opposite was true, reinforcing Art’s suspicion that Fred signaled Candice when to steal a point. Then he noticed Fred had on his lanyard a small silent whistle used by some stock dog handlers in addition to the traditional pea whistle.

Candace was called to go the two hours on Monday in the first brace. It had rained hard Sunday night so Candice would have to head trail to know where the front lay, or so Art thought. He was right. And when in thirty minutes Fred Freeze called point ( the brace mate’s handler was off looking elsewhere) Candice was pointing and the brace mate backing, eight feet behind her.

Thirty minutes later the brace mate’s handler called point. His dog had the birds and Candice was backing from a good distance. Art and Fred Freeze arrived at the find together. Then Art pulled from his pocket a silent dog whistle like Fred had on his lanyard and blew it. Candice sprinted to steal the point, and Art’s fellow judge ordered her up.

Fred Freeze had seen Art take the silent whistle from his pocket and blow it, but no one else had noticed. They were looking at the dogs. On the ride in, Fred rode to Art and with his eyes asked Art if he was going to announce his detection of the silent whistle trick to get Candice to steal a point.

Art smiled at Fred, then when he was sure no one else could hear him said,

“ Don’t worry Fred, your secret is safe with me, unless I am judging. I recommend you not enter Candice if I am judging. I admire her intelligence and what you have taught her. But as a judge I cannot condone a theft of a point. Her head trailing and horse-track following is just brains on her part, making up for skills she does not have naturally. Good luck to you both.”

With that Art cantered away to join his fellow judge for the next brace that would likely decide the Champion and Runner-Up.


About the Author

Tom Word
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Tom Word is a lawyer who represents individuals about managing their assets and for amusement writes fiction and non-fiction about bird dogs and humans obsessed with them.


About the Artist

Leah Brigham
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After graduating from Millersville University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelors of Science in Art Education, Leah began teaching Art to inner city Middle School students in Houston and later Dallas, TX. Leah has shared with her students her passion for art and nature. This passion has sustained her and continued throughout her life in the form of painting and drawing.

Leah was introduced to American Field Horseback Field Trails and has been able to experience the excitement of seeing her own dog, competing for the National Championship at Ames Plantation in Grand Junction, TN ...standing on point, head and tail held high. This has inspired her to create works of art depicting dogs and the wildlife associated with the sport and hunting.

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