SC’s Hunt’em Up Ryder along with his hunting partner, SC’s Hunt’em Up Bella, joined me at a time in my life when I really needed a change. I was working 60+ hours a week as an IT Manager and quickly approaching burnout.
Little did I know how much Ryder would teach me about life, love, and patience. He was a quick study, and one of the calmest dogs I’ve ever known. Bella has always been wired 440, but you had to look really close to make sure Ryder was even breathing. He was a methodical dog when it came to training or hunting, but he had a memory like a steel trap. If there was a pile of retrieving dummies at 400 yards, you only had to handle him to it the first time, and after that, he remembered exactly where to run the next time. His memory was extraordinary.
In October 2005, Dad, Ryder, and I re-discovered upland bird hunting, and I was amazed that Labrador Retrievers could be used to hunt quail, pheasants, or chukar. I always thought that upland hunting was for the pointing breeds. After learning what training Ryder required, we got to work.
Ryder took to it and quickly outpaced his owner in hunting prowess. I missed shots quite often which earned me those looks that only a disgusted dog can give when you cheat them out of a retrieve. Well, instead of allowing me to continue to miss his birds, he worked on his technique and started trapping the birds with his massive paws. That worked very well on the pen-raised birds of the hunting preserve and made for some fascinating looks from other hunters.
In December 2005, Ryder, Bella, Dad, and I found Rimrock Hunting Preserve in Statesville, North Carolina. Most weekends would see us in Statesville hunting with Ryder and Bella, but one weekend, Ed Elam had an upland hunting competition, and I decided to enter Ryder. At the time, I did not realize what I was getting myself into, but it came as no surprise that Ryder enjoyed the competition as much as I did. Well, our first year was not that successful although we did qualify for the National Upland Classic Series National Championships in 2007. Ryder was an amateur flushing dog that season. As a team, I was the weak link because it is a timed event where the dog must find three birds, flush three birds, and the handler must bag the birds; my shooting let us down quite often.
But, in late 2007, I was unable to attend the Quail Unlimited Dog of the Year trials due to work obligations, and a match was made in heaven between Ryder, Bella, and Jeff Motley. At that trial, Jeff handled Ryder and Bella with Bella earning the Quail Unlimited Flushing Dog of the Year while Ryder finished third. The tandem of Ryder and Jeff would go on to capture other events, and when we got to the 2007 Upland Classic Series National Championships in March of 2008, Ryder took first and earned his National Championship while Bella finished third. It was a beautiful moment in time for me as a dog owner, and I was happy that Jeff Motley had agreed to handle Ryder and Bella for me. They reached their full potential and proved they were two of the best dogs in the country at that time.
In October 2008, Ryder, Jeff, and I would team up to finish second in the Bird Dog Challenge World Championship Flushing Doubles competition. We lost by a total of 30 seconds to a great Jeff Lecher dog and team. This would mark the high point of our work together.
As we continued to train, Ryder and Bella traveled over 250,000 miles during the 5 years we competed, and they can boast having been to 27 states.
Besides hunting, Ryder was the mascot of Marley Sporting Dog Supplies and an avid mentor when it came to training other dogs to do such things as swim. A fond memory I have is Ryder working with Suzanne Fairbairn’s poodle puppy, Zip. Zip needed to learn how to swim, and Ryder was a calm and compassionate teacher. He showed Zip precisely what he needed to do to retrieve the duck on the water. With this training, Zip would go on to earn his Hunting Retriever Club Seasoned Hunter.
Ryder was a dog that would take others hunting and make sure they had a great time finding birds. In Virginia, Ryder helped a friend win the women’s title at an Upland Classic Series event. Ryder and Ben, 12 years old at the time, made a great team at an event in Statesville where they placed in the top five.
But, for me, Ryder has been a companion and a friend when I needed one. Through three makeovers, one failed business, and the roller coaster of my life for the past fourteen years, two yellow dogs were a constant for me. Ryder kept me grounded and gave me fourteen years of love and understanding. Whether I missed the bird or not, or became ‘nervous wreck’ or not in competition, he was always faithful. His love knew no bounds.
Mom and Dad have called both dogs, ‘Granddogs,’ and they have been that for sure. With my new job, Mom became their caregiver and recently I have found they listen better to her than me. Well, that’s just fine. Ryder and Bella always knew which side their bread was buttered whether with Jeff handling them or Mom feeding them.
Management, aka Mom, would give them leftovers always and that endeared them to her very quickly. They knew it was something special to get the trimmings from a London broil or leftover fightover meat (fried cube steak). But, I think their favorite had to be bacon grease because they wouldn’t leave their kennels if they smelled it until they ate. Ryder and Bella always had voracious appetites.
No matter what, Ryder and Bella always gave 100%.
The time has come to tell Ryder goodbye. Arthritic hips and fourteen years have taken their toll, but the memories he leaves will last far beyond his lifetime. I will always savor that first flush, first retrieve, first win, and all the quiet days spent lounging in the office. You had a funny way of crossing your paws when lying down. That pose gave you the appearance that you were deep in thought. You were probably thinking about all the birds you chased and the good times you had. I know I enjoyed every minute of the time we had together.
Ryder, you, along with Bella, were never just dogs. You were my rocks, my companions, my hunting buddies, but most of all, you were there to help me through some of the darkest patches of my life. Thank you, Ryder, for lighting my life with your presence. I will miss you.