I Almost Quit
A few years ago I was looking towards the end of the career of my old stand by Sweep. I looked at him and the time and effort put into him and I thought to myself, I'll stop after him. The thing was I didn't see how I could afford to replace him. I don't mean that in some kind of existential way, I meant that literally. See, I got him already trained and as a gift from my dad. But he was a far better dog than I deserved and I certainly wouldn't have been able to pay for him myself. I knew if I was to have that calibre again, I would have to pay accordingly. The other option was to buy a well bred (and expensive) pup and invest two years of my life to get it to the Open. Neither seemed feasible. It was at about that time when I was approached to host lessons and my little business was born. Thanks to this business I had the financial means and the time to put towards replacing Sweep. But I was lucky. The reality is, not many people can say that their dog hobby is a net gain to their bank account. Sure, the farmers can make the claim that the dogs pay for themselves at home. But I have talked to those same farmers and I've heard the line "I've got this great pup but I don't have the time to train it properly" numerous times. Even when they do find the time, that dog is increasingly hard to pay for when you consider it's a gamble whether it ever truly turns out. Which brings me to the point I want to make here. Young people are not involved in this sport. I mean there are some but not at the numbers this sport really needs. And considering that I'm one of those young people, I can tell you why. It most certainly isn't because it's not fun. It's because it is largely a very expensive hobby. So far I talked about almost quiting because of the cost of dogs. What I haven't even touched on is the cost of competing. The average trial will cost me hundreds in entry fees, hundreds in hotel accommodations, hundreds in fuel and hundreds in lost income from time off work. Assuming I win, I may not even pay for the weekend. I know, this sounds very pessimistic but I'm not trying to be. Throughout my career as a dog handler I have aimed to be a promoter for the sport I love. But it is hard to draw people in considering the very real costs involved. Now I don't believe in presenting problems without solutions so here's mine. It certainly isn't perfect but I hope it can at least start the conversation. This sport needs to attract more money and it can't be from the wallets of the handlers. Let's put it this way, rodeos aren't paid for by the competitor entry fees. I'm not saying we should have grand events at every trial. But I certainly think we can do more to increase public ticket sales and corporate sponsorship. Decreasing the cost of trialing and increasing the rewards of success would bring a landslide of handlers that are currently forced to watch from the sidelines. And an increase in handlers means an increase in competition, quality, and best of all an increase in trials. An increase in trials can only mean that people like me can find local trials to attend on any given weekend. I wouldn't have to drive hours and book hotels or book time off work. I could attend trials locally and reserve travelling for the big events. I love this sport and I think many more would love it to. I know there are several other reasons why we don't have an abundance of young people. But this can at least be a start.