Field Trials / Matches
“Early on, I let it be known that I would match my trial dogs against any dog over a day’s shooting…”
Leon Mortensen successfully bred, trained and handled three different breeds; English setters, Irish setters and English pointers. He started trialing in 1958 with Irish setters and won his first two New Zealand Championships in 1962 and 1963. He won the North Island Championship 15 times and the New Zealand Championship 10 times (in one of those wins his two dogs Wingfield Sioux and Wingfield Token were 1st equal). There is no doubt in my mind, that Leon would have been winning at top level wherever he would have gone. In his younger days he considered moving to USA and become a professional but he decided pursuing his career in medicine and keep the dogs as a hobby.
His dogs were HUNTERS, with a lot of natural ability, and in addition to that: polished to perfection. He simply didn’t allow his dogs to be slack, to do a short cast, to have untidy bird work or not to be committed to whatever he desired from them as a team.
His great strenght was his analytical skills, to measure each dog and to know exactly how much pressure he could or couldn’t put onto the dog. I have met some very few other people around the world, who have the very rare finger-tip feeling (which they hardly understand themselves) to make them great trainers/handlers. Leon on the other hand had the ability to analyze, every dog and every situation, and from a never-tiring dedication of training and preparing, followed his own formula to create better bird dogs.
“The strenghts of my own dogs are their gamefinding and setting ability combined with drive but a natural tendency to maintain frequent visual contact.” In those words Leon described his Wingfield setters in 1993. His book gives furthermore insight into his big quest to produce the optimal hunting dogs. In the early days he did not only trial the dogs, but let it be known that he would also run his dogs in a practical hunting match against any good hunting dog. This of course also further established his reputation with non-trialists who were serious hunters.
Leon Mortensen constantly kept himself up to date with what was going on in Europe and America. He visited several trials and breeders overseas. His wife Joy also had an extensive net of contacts. Seeing top dogs in other countries gave him valuable comparisons to his own dog material. Among the most memorable dogs he saw were the pointers FTCh Max Sparkfield of Dorvalstan (England), INT.FTCh Innistona Gift (Northern Ireland), the two dual champions Marnissa Moira & Marnissa Mogul (Australia) and the two American FTCh English setters Ghost’s Star and Jetrain. In addition to these also various Sharnberry setters in England and Grouse Ridge setters in America. After visiting Grouse Ridge breeder Dr Thomas Flanagan in 1977, and among other dogs saw Grouse Ridge Will, the two doctors corresponded with each other for years afterwards.
When Leon’s dogs were finished, trained and polished, they displayed all the talents and traits we wish for in a top bird dog. They were always handled in a quiet manner, leaving it to the dogs to deliver. And deliver they did, at all levels and different trial formats/birds. Joy and Leon had an amazing team of dogs going at any time. They were competitive sportspeople, but always fair and honest. As Leon’s life was decribed, he was: “the gentleman in pursuit of excellence”.