Meet Your Judges (2021)

Region 1 – South Carolina – Michelle Love Replacement Judge

Region 2 – Tennessee – Tracy Hughes Replacement Judge

Region 1 – North Carolina – Robby Griffin – Replacement Judge

Region 1 – Maryland

Christian Ricker

First and foremost, I’d like to say thank you. It truly is an honor, a privilege and humbling to be selected as one of the 2021 Master National Hunt Test judges.

A lot of hard work, long days, sweat and tears go into qualifying for this event. So, congratulations, to all that have made it here. I am looking forward to the responsibilities of judging a well thought out, challenging test and being fair to the handlers and their retrievers. A special shout out to the Region 1 Clubs, thank you for the vote of confidence in allowing me to represent all of you!

A little bit about me, I am blessed to have a beautiful bride of 27 years, two wonderful daughters (one serving in the United States Navy), two beautiful granddaughters (that have me wrapped around their little fingers) and 7 Labrador Retrievers!

I’ve been an avid waterfowl hunter, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, my entire life. Introduced to the sport by my father and older brother at 9 yrs old. Although I enjoy other types of hunting, waterfowl is my first love. A well behaved, trained retriever by my side along with family and friends is a tradition that runs deep in my heart.

As with many of you, I fell into this game by accident. My brother-in-law purchased a retriever and sent his pup to a very good trainer. His dog was so impressive, that after one hunting season with him I had to have my own. His was nothing like the untrained retrievers’ clients brought along when I was guiding for outfitters. I was unaware of how talented they can be and had no idea of retriever games, hunt tests, etc… I was as green as one could be. I have learned from some of the best in the game and have come a long way since I entered my first Junior Hunt Test back in 2009.

It took one AKC event in April of 2009 and I was hooked! I soaked up everything I could. With four Master Hunter Titles under my belt, with my first four retrievers, I was regularly encouraged to become a Hunt Test Judge. Thanks to a final push, by a very good friend and judge Joe Eschert, I started judging in April of 2014. It’s been a fantastic journey since my first assignment with the lovely Carol Lewis at Rappahannock River Retriever Club.

Although, none of this would have been possible without Ms. Trish Jagoda. As the trainer of my first retriever, she allowed me to sit and watch her train. Pad and pencil in hand, she was patient and thorough, while I asked question after question. Thank you, Trish, for being such a great mentor and friend!!

Immersing myself in the game, I joined several Retriever Clubs, held multiple positions, from the Board of Directors to Hunt Test Chairman. Currently, I am the President of the Susquehanna Retriever Club.

I have met and become life-long friends, with so many wonderful people through our four-legged friends (too many names to list) None the less, I have learned so much from all of them and have truly been blessed with where I am and what I have accomplished in such a short amount of time.

I’d like to say congratulations to all that have earned their Invitation to the 2021 Master National Hunt Test in Idaho. Good training and good luck to each of you.

Region 1 – Virginia

Robert C. Johnson

I am privileged to represent Region 1 again, this year, and grateful to be a part of this event. As always, our events would not be possible without your participation, support and love for the game.

The Master National is the ultimate test, as each series finds new ways to challenge both dog and handler. This event continues my education of hunt tests, as the first week of prep provides learning and consistency amongst the judges.  

The real heroes are the clubs and volunteers, who work diligently behind the scenes to make each event more successful than the last. As a supporter of Tidewater Retriever Club, I realize that, without the hard work of the people with a common goal, you would not have a Master National event. Many thanks to the retriever clubs, professional or amateur handlers/trainers for supporting weekend events.

Waterfowl hunting became an integral facet of my life after college, as I continued to travel from Louisiana to Canada each year. I spend copious hours preparing for hunting season at a local level, while training our six retrievers. A well-trained retriever is a reward in and of itself, as you make hunting and AKC memories with current and new friends.

I would like to thank my family, who has supported my retriever efforts throughout the years. With my recent retirement, I feel blessed to be spending more quality time with my family and friends creating memories.

Congratulations to everyone that qualified for the 2020 Master National. You should be proud of your accomplishments.  I am excited about witnessing teamwork between the dog and handler from start to finish. However, plate or no plate, you still have an exceptional dog, and partner, to compete in the Master National. Again, thank you to Region 1, and best of luck in this year’s event!

Region 2 – Tennessee

Alan Bruhin

I would like to start by expressing my appreciation to all of those in Region 2 who voted for me to represent them as judge for the 2021 Master National.  I am honored to have this opportunity and look forward to seeing some of the very best hunting dogs in America show off their skills. 

I first started into the world of retrievers 30 years ago when I got my very first lab named Doc.  As you can imagine, he taught me more about training retrievers than any book I could find to read.  I remember like it was yesterday when Doc made that very first junior hunter retrieve and returned to the line dragging a 10 foot tree limb along with the duck.  The judges commented on what a great job I had done force fetching him.  I still remember thinking, what the heck is force fetch.  

I have come a long ways from the days of Doc, and I still am learning each and every time I work with my dogs.  (By the way, I did finally figure out what force fetch is.) Today, I still enjoy training my labs and hunting with them every chance I get.  I am currently training two labs. A 20-month old lab named Cin that has just started competing at the Master level, and her dam, 6-year-old Shine. 

I am currently a member of the East Tennessee Retriever Club where I am serving as president and as always, I am enjoying judging those weekend tests. My other hobbies aside from dogs and hunting, include fishing and traveling.  

I recently retired from the University of Tennessee Extension in Sevierville, TN where I worked for the past 41 years. This will be my 7th Master National event either running my dogs or judging.  I know the work and training that goes into getting a dog qualified and I want to do my part to see that every handler attending the event in Minnesota has an enjoyable time.  

I look forward to seeing old friends as well as making new ones.  As a judge, I will be looking for great team work between handler and dog.  Well placed marks with challenging blinds will be my goal for the week.  I don’t like to use “tricks” to get answers.  I thoroughly enjoy watching dog and handler working in tandem to accomplish their goal of “bringing home the bird.” 

I want to wish all of the 2021 handlers a very successful Master National. I know everyone’s goal is to take home a plate, but let’s remember to have some fun along the way.  Good luck, great marks and one whistle blinds are my wish for you!

Region 2 – Michigan

John Cottenham

I must thank the MNRC Board for asking me to judge the 2021 MNRC HT in Idaho. It is an honor and pleasure to be able to watch the finest retrievers in the world be in tune with their partners and give us all a display of athletic ability and field smarts that rivals any sport played with a ball anywhere IMHO!

I am currently training my 19th Labrador in my hunting/HT career which has gone on for 72 years. Before getting buried in Hunt Tests my focus in sporting life was water fowling and all the things that surround that endeavor. I have carved decoys, planted wood duck nest boxes and served on the Citizens Waterfowl Advisory Committee here in MI.

Once I started testing my dogs a big change began in my focus. I began thinking less of the dog work I always cherished while hunting and more about the advances my Labs made in the process. Two Master Hunters later with a pup that is entered in her 1st MH next week I dare not show my wife Carol how much entry fees we have added up on Entry Express. I looked it up and EE now totals more than my tuition for college. I am sure I am not alone in our community when dedication overcomes sense.

Carol has been a partner in my addiction that has carried us from the north border of our country to the south border and Atlantic seaboard to western TX and MT and everywhere in-between both running and judging. Our education in HT has been increased by three MNRC HTs and two MARC HTs. I can appreciate behind the line what goes on at the line and all that goes into be qualified for the 2021 MASTER NATIONAL.

We are grateful for having made many friends in the Hunt Test community and hope to see many of them in Idaho. Maybe even lifesavers in the 1st series.

Region 3 – Texas

Doug McGuire

First let me offer my congratulations to everyone who has qualified for the 2021 Master National. I feel deeply honored to have been asked to step in to judge this event, and I am looking forward to having the opportunity to see great dog/handler teams run.

My wife Anne and I got our first golden retriever in 1990, and our lives were forever changed. After getting involved with the local golden club, we discovered the joys and challenges of training and competing with our dogs. We quickly learned that the word “retriever” has deep implications for understanding the breed.

Their pure joy when working with birds was what drew me inexorably into the world of hunt tests and waterfowling with our dogs. I’ve hunted birds on the prairie west of Houston with a dozen dogs of our breeding over more than 25 years. Over that time, I’ve judged more than 100 AKC hunt tests at all levels, in eight states, and worked at least a couple hundred events.

My philosophy of judging is pretty simple: I set up tests that allow me to evaluate the natural and trained abilities of retrievers to the standards set out in the AKC rules while (hopefully) allowing the handlers running the tests to have fun. I try to bring my hunting experience to bear in every test setup I put together. I don’t do “tricks” and I avoid needlessly complicated scenarios and logistics.

Once my co-judge and I decide on the series that will make up our test, I ask myself two questions: Do these series meet the AKC requirements for a Master test, and would I enjoy running this test with one of my own dogs? If I can answer ‘Yes’ to both questions, I’m happy. Fairness and consistency in all particulars are of critical importance to me when I’m judging, as is the safety of every dog and every person on the test grounds.

I have had the privilege to work with many excellent judges over the years, and have learned from every one of them. In fact, I’ve learned something new at every event in which I’ve participated. I’m really looking forward to seeing old friends, making new friends, and learning new things…all with the spectacular backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. Best of luck to you all!

Region 3 – Idaho

Dale Langhorne

Being selected to represent Region 3 and Judge the Having previously judged the 2015 and 2017 Master National events, it is truly an honor and privilege to represent Region 3 again. I am deeply humbled by your confidence in me. I also congratulate my co-judges and look forward to a fun 2021 Master National.

I have been involved in the AKC hunt test program since 1992 when my wife Maggie and I got our first Chesapeake puppy “Fremont’s Jumpin Jake Flash CDX MH. I am blessed that my wife Maggie shares my passion for retrievers and hunting. Together we have raised, trained (with lots of help), hunted, competed, titled and judged retrievers in field events for some 25 + years. Our kennel Deepwater Chesapeake’s has produced some outstanding hunt test, field trial and just plain good hunting companions over the years.

I have competed in the 2006 and 2014 Master National’s and as stated judged the 2015 and 2017 events in South Carolina and Texas. Maggie and I continue to raise, train and compete Chesapeake’s from our lovely Indian Valley, Idaho property.

I have served over the years in many capacities for many clubs and know the efforts required to put on a successful event. Many thanks to the Master National Officers and Board Members for their hard work putting on this year’s event. When I was previously asked if I would want to judge another Master National I said “heck yes”, I had a great time in 2015 in S.C. and in 2017 in Texas. Meeting new people and their dogs was loads of fun. I sincerely hope the contestants that ran under me enjoyed their experience.

As a judge I believe in challenging and innovative marking situations, blinds that require good handler/dog teamwork and training and line manners representative of an obedient dog. I love to watch how the handler/dog teams work together and I learn much from these experiences. I love to see talented dogs drive to the mark or hold that line to the blind. I love to see handlers that put as much into the effort as their four legged partners. The MH dogs I have owned and the MH dogs I have judged demonstrate traits and abilities that would make any hunter proud. Isn’t that the purpose of all this.

To all the competitors I well know the challenges and sacrifices you have faced to get here. You should all be very proud of yourselves and your dogs. Congratulations and the very best of luck. And once again remember to have fun!

Region 4 – Washington

Susan Bell

I have had dogs all my life. Performance dogs came in1986 when I got my first Golden Retriever boy for hunting. And then I stumbled onto dog trials and the addiction began. After moving to Portland OR in 1990; getting involved at the club level became a priority. Starting with the Oregon Retriever Trial Club as a board member for several years and then President for 3. We put on 2 Field Trials, 1 Hunt test and assorted picnic and non AKC events: i.e., the Ten Series per year. This gave me an appreciation of what went on behind the scenes.

Judging started in 1998. My first AKC Hunt test assignment was in 2001 and continues today. I judge at all levels and working with up and coming judges is my “thing”.

Landing in the Seattle suburbs where clubs to join and work with were abundant: my two are the Rainier Hunting Retriever Club and the Evergreen Golden Retriever Club. Board member, Officer, Hunt Test Secretary, Test Chair are some of the many positions held.

One of my favorite accomplishments was organizing and running an AKC Advanced Judging seminar in March of 2020 for the Rainier Club.

Something that made a deep impression on me was the pre-Master National work for Roseburg in 2018. That was an incredible education. Experiencing what it takes to put these events on is an amazing experience.

The dogs and I have been attending the Master National since 2014. We have been in many of the same flights with you.

Thank you for the invitation to judge here at the Master National. I am looking forward to seeing all of you again in McCall.

Region 4 – Alaska

Mike Black

Congratulations to all the qualifiers at the 2021 Master National. I understand how difficult and challenging it is to qualify for this prestigious event.

I started my journey, like many of you, by buying a Labrador retriever for hunting. I was living in a small fishing village in Alaska and I also wanted him to keep my wife company while I traveled around the Alaskan bush on business. After returning from a trip, I was amazed when my wife had him retrieving balls and bumpers. “How did she do that?”, I wondered. At the time I am sure she never envisioned how she had inspired me for the decades to come.      

Alaska is a great place to hunt and train retrievers, but it has some unique challenges. You learn how to keep your dog sharp during the long dark season by running through snowbanks and across frozen fields and when the snow is deep, parking lots. For those of you that have faced those kinds of challenges, I salute you. It is truly amazing how we can become inspired, some would say obsessed, and after work or on weekends go out and throw bumpers in the cold winter. 

Since beginning my journey in 1986, I have had over 20 Labrador retrievers and most f them achieved Master Hunter titles.  I have enjoyed every dog as an individual. Each of them has taught me something.  I have shared many of them with my good friend, Woody Thurman, at Twin Lakes Kennel in Laurel Hill, North Carolina.

I believe that hunt tests should be examples of what we see in the field while hunting.  Within the regulations of our AKC Hunt Test regulations, there remains a lot of flexibility to present realistic and challenging scenarios.  The tests I like are the ones that everyone can visualize how that situation could occur from their hunting experience.  The number of people and dogs participating in the Master National reflects how successful the retriever community has become in improving the training and breeding of hunting retrievers  You are a part of a movement that would have been unimaginable when I got started. Congratulations and let’s have some fun..  

Region 4 – Washington

John Kinnard

I have enjoyed hunting and working with dogs since the early 70s.   Over the years I ran both AKC and NAHRA hunt tests and also derby and qualifying stakes in the field trial game.

In 2006 I was able to go and qualify at the Master National which was a very exciting experience.   I think tests should be fair with no tricks.  And handlers should be aware of what is expected of them to complete the task at hand.

I have judged in Washington,  Idaho,  Montana and Oregon and have judged two Master national events. I know all the hard work and commitment it takes to develop a master dog.  

I wish all the handlers and dogs the best of luck and hope they all have fun and a safe experience at the 2021 nationals.

Let me close by saying thank you to all who gave me the opportunity to judge this year‘s events see you there.

Region 4 – Oregon

Mark Schlender

First I would like to thanks the clubs in Region 4 for giving me this great opportunity to judge the best master dogs and handlers in the country.  I consider it a great honor to be here.

Here’s a little history of my start in the retriever hunt test world: Back in the late ’90s, I got a chocolate lab, Tuko, from a friend.  My only intention was to hunt with him, but one weekend we heard about an event called a hunt test. We went to it and could not believe what we saw.  One thing led to another, and pretty soon, I was hooked. 

I joined the Green Valley Retriever Club in Eugene, OR and Umpqua Retrievers Club in Roseburg, OR.

I became more involved and started helping to organize and put on hunt tests. I was eventually elected Vice President and then President of the UVRC  for a couple of years. Over time, I was fortunate to run in 3 Master National Tests, receiving that beautiful plant in two of them.  While being involved in this sport over the years, I felt the need to give back, and I thought judging was a good way to do that. 

First I do my best to help set up fair and challenging tests, and I truly understand the hard work that people put into getting to this event.  So Good Luck to all, but most of all, have fun. See you in St. Cloud!

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