An American in France.

Bill Kelley is a man on a mission. The goal of his Cache d'Or Bretons kennel is to produce Epagneul Bretons (French Brittanies) in the United States equal to the finest found in France. So, every year he travels from his home in Maryland to France to learn about the breed, run his dogs in typical French terrain, walk with judges at field trials and learn about the finer points of conformation from the best show judges in the country. 

As a fellow francophile, I have much in common with Bill. I've spent a lot of time in France watching French dogs do their thing. But I've never actually met an American there or spoken to one that has dedicated so much time learning about the French system. So I was interested to hear Bill's thoughts about the French field trial scene and the dogs they produce and asked him a few questions.

Can you tell me how an American such as yourself got involved with field trials all they way across the ocean? After forty years of pointing dogs, I decided to get my first Epagneul Breton.  At that time, I didn't even know that a French Brittany was an Epagneul Breton! Like a lot of people, I was attracted to the "close-working" gun dog- and the tri-color coat. I wanted an orange/white female and the breeder (Kevin Pack at Carolina Brittanies) only had a black/white male. I took him.  So glad I did. When I looked at Cache's (Vulcan du Talon de Gourdon) pedigree, I noticed their were lots of red letters for champions. Having started my bird dog life in AF horseback trials with an English Setter, I knew what our field champions did, but had no clue as to what champions in France were required to do. The more I researched, the more I realized the only way to understand was to go to France and see for myself.

I have been fortunate since my time in the breed to have some very fine mentors, chief among them is Pierre Willems, former member of the CEB France committee and owner of the world-famous Hameau de Sorny kennel. Through Pierre, I made my first trip to France more than a decade ago. I was permitted to walk the trial with Judge Jean Moussour.  Understand, in French trials, there is no gallery as one would see in the US. Only the judge, landowner's guide, and handler are typically in the field.

Several days in the winter wheat of Vimpelles showed me I knew very little of what an EB was made to do- BUT I was anxious to learn! I did not know it then, but I was watching some of the finest EBs ever to hit the ground in France. The hunting and pointing was intense.  The rules were formidable and unforgiving. It was a real challenge- and one that I believe has helped form the EB into the breed it is today.

Tell me about your first experience(s) there, what was it like to compete in such a different scene and how steep was the learning curve? My experience in French FTs has been limited to walking with judges. I have entered one of my dogs in a TAN in France (which in my observation is significantly different than those run in the US.  see below.) We did well, passing the TAN and being recognized by the judge, a top French trainer/handler, as "the best dog I've seen today." In the French system, part of a judge's training is to work side-by-side with a judge. In terms of learning, this is far better than running a dog.

A handler get to only see their dog. When one is with the judge through the day, you have the opportunity to learn the intricacies of the rues and what a judge wants to see. Through the years I have had the privilege of walking field trials with several of the top judges in France. Each time is a wonderful experience. These judges are real dog men. They understand the demands of a working breed and the needs of the hunter who walks behind the dog.

Dog people are dog people, no matter the language or culture. I am fortunate to have some fluency in French, so that has been helpful. However, the common bond of loving good dogs and good dog work transcends any possible divide. The learning curve was steep at first, has smoothed out a bit, but I am still learning. What I have found is summer up in a saying one of my mentors has used- "When the student is ready, a teacher will be found." What wisdom. It's all about our willingness to learn. EVERY person I have met in the French dog world has been exceptionally welcoming and willing to share. It has been an amazing relationship.

What are some of the most important (or interesting or both) things you've learnt about field trials in Europe? The most interesting thing I've learned is that just as in the US, there is no such thing as "a field trial." While all the French/FCI trials are on foot, the game and terrain are as varied as Europe itself.  While the typical trial in France is the spring trial in winter wheat on wild partridge, there are equally popular autumn, shoot to retrieve, trials on released pheasants. There are also niche trials on wild snipe, woodcock, and mountain birds. Each has its unique requirements of both dog and handler. FT in France are serious business. Most dogs are handled by professionals whose livelihood depends in the success of their dogs. In addition, there is a circuit of trials held several days each week, not just on weekends. Dogs that come through this process successfully certainly have proven their merit for future breeding.

What do your American colleagues think about your competing over there? As for my American colleagues, I hope things are changing. As far as I know, there are only a handful of Americans who have run trials in Europe. Typically, they go to France with dogs they purchased and were trained on the Continent. In addition, the demands of "the game" make it difficult for US dogs to be successful on new game, new terrain, and new rules. The limited success US folks have found has been in autumn trials on released pheasants- something that more approaches our conditions.

Overall, I find that the American EB community's attitude can be summed-up in a quote from one of their club officer's at the CEB France National show several years ago- "I came all the way to France and I didn't learn anything." See the quote above about a "ready student." Within the past month, two officers of the US club have gone to France and run one of their dogs. Hopefully, they were "ready students." I often hear people talk about how much they love the EB. I wonder if they understand the process (the French process) that created the breed they love. I fear that like many other things, the realities of time and distance lead to changes and alterations from the original . The expectations are different here - lower, in my opinion. I have seen US EB TANs and trials. What goes here would never go in France. For example, I saw an EB run a TAN here. After two attempts to find scent, the dog was put on a check-cord and handled onto the bird. It flash-pointed for a moment and moved on.  It passed. This would never go in France.

As for myself or others competing in France, I think most Americans are simply uninterested. We tend to be be quite provincial and think that our styles, systems, and ways are superior to others around the world. Unfortunately, I am afraid this attitude will lead to the diminution of the breed. I am convinced that if we want to maintain and improve the quality of the EB in the US, we MUST have a stronger relationship with our firends in France.  After all, they are the creators and guardians of the breed.

What are some myths about the european field trial and hunting scene that you've had to dispell? The best way I can sum up the"myths" of the French hunting scene is to recount my landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport on my first trip to France.  As we descended, all I could see were fields and woods. Little villages and towns, here and there, but mostly green. Where did Paris go? What happened to the Eiffel Tower? Like most folks, I think, my perception of France was a busy, urban, cosmopolitain place. It is that, of course, but so much more.

The landscape of France is vast and agrarian. The land is much more covered with field and woods. Spawling development in contained. Places to hunt, while typically organized for hunting clubs abound. Wild game, at least as compared to Eastern US, is abundant. Many French people hunt - and it is an important part of their culture. It is important to remember that for centuries hunting was the privilege of the ruling class. Poaching was a possible death sentence. Somehow, it appears that the French still understand these roots of our sport and strongly resist efforts to change the traditions they've developed. Mind you, neckties are not required when hunting in France as in the UK, but the French hunting traditions are strong. Frenchmen are proud to show you their Darnes and take you to the sporting goods stores. As you can tell, my appreciation for and affinity with the French culture is strong. I've learned a lot from my French friends and my life is richer for the experiences and relationships.

My best advice for any American who loves their EB and wants the breed to prosper is to get over their fears and insecurities about the langauge barrier and visit France, see their trials, and shows, and get to know the wonderful people responsible for giving us the dogs we love so much.

Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals


  1. As an owner of an Epagneul Breton, and with all due respect, I would have to take exception to any implication or assertion that Mr. Kelley is an authority on the stewardship of our breed in the United States.

    Furthermore, I would extend a warm invitation to you to continue your research by talking with one or more of the members/officers of the CEB-US (the parent club of the breed in the United States) to find out exactly what we do and have done to preserve the standard and promote this wonderful dog in our country - especially in the last ten or so years since Mr. Kelley was an associate.

  2. Thank you for your comment Anonymous. My goal for the article was not to examine the current situation or stewardship of any particular breed in the US. I simply wanted to offer my readers some insights into how the French system of field trials and shows is viewed by outsiders, in this case, by an American. Since Bill Kelley is one of the very few Americans to make regular trips to France, asking him to share what he's learned over the years and the experiences he's had in that country was a no-brainer. The fact that he breeds Bretons is actually beside the point. I would have asked the same questions of any American breeder of any French breed if he/she had a similar level of experience with the French system as Bill. I just don't know any others.

    And thank you for your invitation to contact members/officers of the CEB-US. I may take you up on it one day. For now though, I am working on Volume Two of my book and most days, I am knee-deep in research into the British and Irish pointing breeds.

  3. You're quite welcome, Mr. Koshyk. I appreciate your stated goal, and such insights are indeed valuable, especially for those of us who are unable to travel to France or participate in their trialing system. Mr. Kelley did offer some observations of interest. However, a large portion of the article contained what seemed to be a very thinly veiled attitude of condescension with a hefty dose of broad-brushing the growing number of breed enthusiasts in this country as "uninterested," not "ready students," and "summed up" by the words of one individual. So you will please forgive me if I think Mr. Kelley sounds a bit self-serving in his assessment. If the man's mission is "to produce the finest Epagneul Breton in the United States, equal to the finest found in France," why is he:

    a) not trialing his dogs in France?
    b) not trialing his dogs in the United States?

    I respect the time he has invested as well as the experiences he shares, but to be honest, I've been involved with the breed in the US for quite some time and I've yet to lay eyes on the man. While I agree that we need to build strong relationships with the custodians of the breed (which we are), we also need to build strong relationships between the Epagneul Breton enthusiasts in this country. Those of us who are fortunate enough to bridge the gap of access and distance by traveling to the cradle of the breed (like Mr. Kelley) should be ready and willing to share the knowledge gained in positive and constructive ways instead of dismissing Americans as being "quite provincial... [thinking] that our styles, systems, and ways are superior to others around the world" (again, that broad brush).

    There might be one or two less than stellar EBs, Judges, or breeders in France - Conversely, there might be some pretty good ones here. Mr. Kelley's interview might leave some wondering.

    Thanks for letting me comment. I own and absolutely love Volume One of your book. I will eagerly await Volume Two.

  4. Again, the goal of the article was to offer the insights of someone with a unique perspective. If you found some of Bill's insights to be of interest, great! If you disagree with some of them or find the tone not to your liking that's ok too. I ask questions and let the person I am interviewing answer them, without any editing or changes (other than typos). If you want to read another interview containing answers that may raise an eyebrow or two, check out interview with French pro trainer Xavier Thibault:

    P.S. thanks for the kind words regarding my book, the second volume is slow going at the moment, but I will soon pick up the pace.

  5. it is pitty that in the USA few years ago Britanies were orange setters docktailed. The breed has gone a lot to another direction as it is common with any breed in the states. Personaly i am not a fun. It is interesting to note that this year Greeks and Greek Britanies won far ahead from any other European team at the championship.Game grey partridges.

  6. Plan a Trip to France

    I've just come back from my first trip to France! And I loved it. We also went on a tour and it was wonderful. So good to meet all the provides and be able to communicate with them through the guide :)

  7. Love reading your blog, thanks for the share. Great article

  8. As an European and a hunter who currently lives in the US (Michigan)I must say the US has far richer woods and vast fields than any countries in Europe. And those fields are richer with birds and games as well.
    Americans are lucky with diversity of the upland-game and vast lands.

    Also, this french FT rules is not quite only french but rather European general. Everyone practices these rules under FCI except Germans I guess. They have their own trail systems, rather more versatile than FCI trail system. (this is the reason why German pointers bred in Germany are somewhat different than German pointers bred by Frenchmen)

    One thing I should agree with Mr. Kelly is that Americans, not all of them of course, love close-working dogs. By close-working dogs I mean dogs that ran between 30-60 yard range, which for us is just really narrow and indicates the inability of a dog to investigate the a vast area. Now I do understand that situation may different from place to place but generally this was my impression.
    In Europe a close-working search means 150-200 yards left and 150-200 yards right. Any breeds can participate in this division.
    And then there is the Big Search division. It's a thing to watch. Only two breeds can participate in this division; English Pointer and English Setter. The others are unable to perform a search in 400-600 yards on each sides. and only a few dogs with great speed, style nose and stamina can perform it. Those dogs are celebrities among their own breed.

    The mountain bird Mr. Kelly mentions is actually a type of grouse, which lives in Alps. Very fun and hard to hunt.

    The biggest different for me among the american field trails and FCI field trails is the grading of searching and pointing style of a dog. The Americans don't even grad their dogs in style, well what I know at least.
    Wherein in Europe if a dog does not show a typical style of its own breed it will have no future in breeding. Not having a typical style is as bad as it can get.

    1. I think the main difference in US vs European trials is the Euros are run exclusively in Wild birds, while the US is run almost exclusively on planted birds or at aames liberated/ managed. Yes there are northeast civet trials but the average winner is only getting 2-3 finds according to records.

    2. Pheasant is Americas most popular game bird and closer working dogs are favored as they are more productive.
      On Europe, as a continent it is similar sized to the US and once out of the cities, it is plenty game rich
      Germany is about the size of Arizona and harvests pheasant populations rivaling Nebraska and hog numbers close to that in Texas.

  9. As an European who lives in the US (Michigan) I may have to "add" something here.
    The above mentioned french FT rules are not just french rules but rather FCI field tail rules, which are practiced across the Europe. Only exception is Germany as they have their own trail and grading system, which puts more emphasis on versatile way of hunting and breeding. I think this could be the reason why a geram bred GSP (Kurzhaar) is different from a GSP bred in France and Italy.

    I may disagree about the hunting areas and lands in EU. EU is very very urbanized and it does not have as much open land and vastness as the US. Also the US has got more diverse upland game.

    The part I agree on is that some if not many Americans love close-working dogs even when it comes to hunting in a vast open fields. What I saw were dogs with a quite slow speed, running about 50-70 yards on each side. This kind of searching in failed would be a worst thing ever for meny French, Italian or even German hunters. We even have dogs that run 400-600 yards on each side with extraordinary speed. I am very sure Americans would love those types of dogs if they knew about them.

    And the other thing I don get is why the american field trail systems does not grade the style of the dog whether it is searching or pointing style?
    The style is greatest achievement of the breeders of certain breeds and just totally dismissing it seems wrong to me.

  10. Hi Craig
    I enjoy your blog s and I would like your input on this one relating to V dogs.... Thanks!

  11. I really enjoyed this article. I have had Brittanys for over 30 years now. I am one of the few "American Brittany" folk who have had the opportunity to observe trials in France as well as the French CEB National show competition. What is strange to me is that the majority of the EBs I see here in the US are super short ranged at 30 to 80 yards, while the dogs I watched in France ran 200 to 300 yards just like my current field trial "American Brittany", the 5 before him and the majority of the hunting and field trial dogs I know. I myself am not a fan of the All Age Brittany, however, I have seen hunting range and intensity improved in dual or show lines by adding the big runners to a pedigree. But I contend that the American field trial scene has not changed much since Alan Stuyvesant and others first imported EBs France in the 1930s. To learn more about the American French connection regarding EBs I recommend reading this letter to AKC from Stuyvesant in 1946:

    I personally would like to see more cross-over breeding of the types, I believe it can only serve to strengthen both or bring them both back to bred that was in the late 1940s.