A junior driving champion who discovered a love for gundogs, Lucinda Southern founded Gundog Girls to help ladies wishing to compete
Previously a junior driving champion, it was a chance encounter at The Game Fair that introduced Lucinda Southern to the world of gundogs. And after a rather less than warm welcome at training class, she founded Gundog Girls to help ladies wishing to compete.
Our Sporting Dianas column celebrates seriously sporting ladies and offers advice and encouragement. For more, Lucie Boedts-Kuehnle founded the Ladies Macnab Club after being inspired by The Field to take on the challenge. And Philippa Holland founded a side-saddle race after discovering you can only ride astride in point-to-points.
I was brought up surrounded by my family’s horses, so being put on a pony before I could walk was only natural. Apparently, it was the only way to keep me quiet and I have fond memories of riding out accompanied by our two faithful labradors. I had been riding successfully in the show ring for some years when Ann Varley asked if I would groom for her private driving turnout at Burghley Horse Trials. Ann taught me all about driving trials and even gave me a demo near the cross-country course. I thought that it was brilliant.
I persuaded my mother to let me have driving lessons and the following year I was Junior Champion at the Ponies UK Summer Championship. The year after I got to the national finals and might have been Junior Champion but for my problems with the alphabet – I took the wrong course. Just a few months later, after winning at an outdoor event, disaster struck. My pony collapsed and had to be put down.
The hunt was on for a replacement, which came in the form of a sports pony from Holland called Dutch Courage. After a summer of training, we took the indoor circuit by storm and my pony of a lifetime racked up numerous consecutive wins and unbelievable scores, all over the UK.
A chance encounter got me into the world of gundogs. I was helping a friend at the Game Fair who was clay shooting and found myself drawn to the gundog displays and competitions. I was hooked and took it upon myself to have a go at gundog training with my existing dog, a Brittany, even though I’d been using the spaniel as a carriage dog. I soon realised that it was going to be harder than I thought, so I enrolled at my local gundog club. At my first training class I found the reception to be less than welcoming. I suspect I was disapproved of for being young and female, and it didn’t help that I had a Brittany. I decided the way forward was to obtain a springer spaniel and after looking at several young dogs I came upon a liver and white bitch. She wasn’t actually for sale at the time but it was love at first sight. Training a spaniel brought with it new challenges and openings and together we gained an array of awards.
Having always said that I didn’t want a labrador I acquired a delinquent former pet – but there was something special about her. It took time and patience but we formed a winning partnership and have gone from strength to strength. Macy is a prolific winner on the scurry circuit but can also put her best paw forward – she has won Best Bitch in the Gamekeepers classes at Crufts for two years running.
My own collection of dogs keeps growing and I am fortunate enough to have been asked to train and handle other people’s dogs for them, so the kennels are always full.
After competing with my dogs around the country and speaking to other lady dog handlers, I found that I wasn’t alone in feeling unwelcome at gundog clubs and events. Clearly there was a need for a friendly environment in which ladies could come together, learn and enjoy their gundogs. After much thought, I came up with the concept of Gundog Girls, ladies-only training days with different guest trainers, from well-respected judges to the local gamekeeper. It was an instant hit. We started organising novice handler working tests and fun competitions, and every year our followers continue to grow. We now offer a wide variety of events for dogs and handlers at different levels, including a Shooting Dog Challenge and Dog and Gun, as well as online competitions. Our shoot days and field trial experiences always prove popular.
Gundog Girls also runs events at local country fairs for everyone to enter with their dogs. The judges occasionally have their boots sprinkled on by a dog but it’s all taken in good humour.
From my interests in fieldsports, the opportunity of a career change soon followed and I have been employed at a sporting agency for nine years. Here the main sales are sport in Spain and Portugal after a decline in interest for big-game hunting. My job has been a true eye-opener, as I often deal with all manner of high-profile sporting divas. Believe me, it is quite the norm to request specialist toilet tissue for your next stalking trip.
TOP TIP: After a cold, wet day I like to towel off the dogs and put coats on them before loading them into a vehicle. This allows them to be completely dry upon arrival home, ready to go back into their kennels.