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Kids, Quail, Dogs & Horses

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

At 8 a.m. they converged on Trails End Ranch near Steelville. It was only mid September, but the temperature was in the low 40s, and their breaths created foggy exclamation points as they emerged from buses, kennels and trailers.

White-and-liver colored pointers whined and shivered with excitement. A wire-haired pointing Griffon puppy barked joyously and strained at his lead, and regal Gordon setters drew great, thoughtful draughts of air into their lungs as if planning strategy for the day's challenge. Horses whinnied and pawed the ground expectantly.

People gathered in clusters nearby, mirroring their dogs' moods and movements, looking excitedly about, awaiting the order to mount up and ride.

A bird dog field trial is as much about excitement and anticipation as it is about quail... maybe more so. It's also a source of excitement most people don't have a chance to experience. Until 1995, a youngster living at Boys and Girls Town of Missouri in St. James had almost no chance to witness the excitement that ripples through a gallery of mounted hunters when bird dogs lock down on point.

Then, in 1995, civic-minded Missouri field trial groups held the first Boys and Girls Town of Missouri Educational Field Trial. It has served kids ever since.

Following the example of the businessmen who founded Boys and Girls Town, St. Louis area field trialers decided to combine the things they were most passionate about. They wanted to involve residents of the Boys and Girls Town campus in a real field trial, reasoning that such an event would serve several purposes. First, it would expose Boys and Girls Town residents, most of whom end up in the residential program after brushes with the law, to an exciting pastime that emphasizes ethics.

Second, it would show young participants the importance of trust and cooperation in the context of friendly competition. Conservation principles are part of the experience, too.

Finally, the event increases the awareness of field trialing, and will, perhaps, increase participation and understanding of this traditional sport. Youths who had no previous experience gain a better understanding of bird hunting. That increases acceptance, even among those who may have had strong anti hunting attitudes before the Educational Field Trial.

Field trialing is a natural fit for Boys and Girls Town, which uses horseback riding as an incentive. The organization's 127-acre campus at St. James has stables with 300 horses. Good behavior and

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