Meadow Thornton ~ 2023 – 2024 NBHA Youth Handler of the Year

Meadow Thornton ~ 2023 – 2024 NBHA Youth Handler of the Year

Jun 12th, 2024 | Awards and Scholarships, NBHA

By Tim Thornton

Meadow won the 2023 – 2024 NBHA Youth Handler of the Year with the following placements:  

NBHA National Free for All – Open Puppy (Cactus Jack) 1st place
Indian Territory Bird Hunters Club – Open Puppy (Cactus Jack) 2nd place
Indian Territory Bird Hunters Club – Amateur Puppy (Tiny) 3rd place
Indian Territory Bird Hunters Club – Youth Stake (Sugar) 3rd place
Fair Play Field Trial Club – Open Puppy (Cactus Jack) 3rd place

We hadn’t planned on field trialing this Spring, but Meadow’s puppies were starting to train really well. Cactus is a legit All-Age style dog. His sire is Miller’s Blindsider and his Dam is Raymonds Daisy. In a bit of a side plot, we actually whelped Raymonds Daisy for Chris Livingston when Meadow was about 1.5 yrs. old. She watched Cactus’s mom come into this world and they were best buddies.  When it was time for the puppies to go to their new homes, it was difficult, but Daisy left and life moved on. Last summer, my good friend Dave Uphoff called and said he raised some Blindsider pups out of this Chris Livingston Rebel bred bitch. When he told me the bitches breeding (Frontline Rebelator x Frontline Dolpha Mae). I said, “we raised that litter! Send me a picture of the bitch!”  sure enough, it was the same dog that, as a puppy, had been Meadow’s pick of the litter. I ended up picking up 2 of the pups from Dave and one of them was the biggest pup I’d ever seen, we named him Tiny. The other pup Meadow named Cactus Jack. Meadow spent all Summer and Fall playing with the pups in a big goat roping pen that we’ve converted into a puppy pen. By the time I started running them from horseback or foot last fall, they were basically just running off every time I turned them loose.

I was especially having trouble losing Cactus Jack when I was running him off of horseback. In February, I took him out on the 4-wheeler and though he was running foreword and looking good, he absolutely would not come to me, so I just ran him all the way back to the house. When I got home I went in and asked Meadow if she could try to get Cactus to come to her. She went out in the yard and called, and like he was on a rope, Cactus came to her lap.  Meadow looked at me, shrugged and said “What?  He loves me”. Then she asked “does this mean I get to run him in a field trial?” How could I turn that down?  So, the plan was to run him at the NBHA Free-For-All since it was at Croton Creek Ranch this year. She had 2 weeks to get ready so what could possibly go wrong, right?

Meadow works dogs with me pretty much every day, but I wasn’t sure how she would do handling because she is extremely shy. Meadow had never been to a walking trial before this spring, so we worked on handling from foot as opposed to off of horseback. She’s also pretty sensitive to loud noises, so I walked with her to shoot the gun.  The thing that we decided from the start was that she was handling and I was just there to help her cross creeks and shoot the gun, I wasn’t going to say anything to the dog.

The Free For-All went about as good as we could have hoped, Cactus ran a big forward race, went to all the spots that you could hope any age dog would go, and had 1 find. Meadow was a little shy about pointing him out, but she walked and sang and he handled on a dime for her. It was so much fun to watch. At one time, Cactus was starting to really get warmed up and he disappeared into a Creek bottom several hundred yards straight to the front. Meadow walked and sang and called, but no Cactus. Camp was several hundred yards past where he disappeared, so I started to worry that he might have gone back to camp.  About the time I was getting nervous that we might have lost him, Cactus showed up at the top of a big hill to our left. He was looking for Meadow. When he heard her and then saw her, he came like he was on a rope straight to her lap and they had a great little moment.  I was a proud poppa and had to fight back the tears a bit. I knew the performance was going to be tough to beat and when the winners were announced Cactus and Meadow came out on top.  She was braced with Zach Erne and there aren’t enough kind words in my vocabulary for Zach and his brother Andy. They were fantastic all the way through the entire brace and treated Meadow so well during and after her brace. I was happy for them when they went on to win the Free-For-All Championship the following day.

We had so much fun at the Free-For-All, we decided to go to the next trial in Northeastern Oklahoma. The grounds were totally different, which was great for Meadow and her pups. It was a steep learning curve handling on a tight course. Meadow has grown up on the prairie and is used to wide open spaces. She was able to take 2nd place in the Open Puppy on a 2 find and big race performance from Cactus Jack. In the Amateur Puppy, she placed Cactus’s Brother, Tiny, 3rd. Then in the youth trial, she placed our dog, Sugar, 3rd.

The last trial of the year, we left the house about 3 in the morning, and got to the trial grounds, which were extremely muddy.  Tiny ran a really nice race but didn’t come up with a bird. Cactus ran a huge race, but lost us as we went down into a low spot on the course. He got frantic and went looking for Meadow. He ended up back in camp and I wasn’t sure we would get him back as I didn’t know if he would be able to hear her voice, He finally either heard her or saw us and came from clear across the course to get back to the front. He had a find shortly after hooking back up with us and Meadow was able to flush her first bird in front of him at a field trial. In spite of his handling bobble, he did well enough to earn a 3rd place. The Judges said he knocked his brother Tiny out of third place.

The best thing about the entire 6 week season for me was getting to spend time with Meadow and watching the bond that she has with the dogs. The drives home were spent game planning what we needed to do next. I’m blessed that I get to see and hear the chatty side of Meadow.  She’s an extremely smart and determined little girl and she analyzes everything. These are hard running, big, powerful all-age prospect pups, but they handle for her. They always come around to look her up. Meadow is a very shy, little 8 year old. But she LOVES her animals and I’ve learned a lot watching her interact with all of our animals.  She’s quite the hand when we are training and she has some pretty strong opinions about whether a dog is “doing it right” or not.

In spite of the worry of the future of field trialing, I feel like the NBHA (National Bird Hunters Association) is doing a lot of things right and it shows. The judges and fellow handlers were so supportive and accommodating to Meadow. In our region, we don’t yet have a youth stake at every trial for our kids to compete in, so she was competing against grown men and often times pros and to a man, they were fantastic.  She learned a lot of lessons including how to handle losing, which is an important lesson to learn quickly in this game that can be brutal at times.  Whenever one of her dogs didn’t place, she didn’t blame her scout or the judges, she would say “Well, if that dog would have done this better then they would have probably placed…I guess we will have to work on it”. Isn’t that a lesson for all of us to remember!?

I didn’t start out to write this much, and I could have written twice this much, but getting to watch the kids run dogs really does bring this sport back to its purest form for me. A human, a dog and their mutual love and respect for each other making the necessary sacrifices in pursuit of game.

Tim Thornton