A four-year-old girl has made history after showcasing her gundog handling abilities to judges across the country.
Ellie Close, from Oughtershaw, North Yorkshire, impressed judges enough to become the youngest person to ever qualify for the Great Wall Motor World Series Gundog Junior Handling Championship at Weston Park, Shropshire.
However, due to unfortunate circumstances, the youngster was unable to compete alongside the 16 other juniors, who ranged in age from eight to fifteen years old, because her dog Molly was in season.
Ellie’s mother, Louise Close, said: “It’s just sod’s law.
“She was very disappointed, as her dad had also qualified for the adult competition, but she understood why.”
Ellie received a rosette for her qualification and was recognised as the youngest person to ever qualify for the final.
The youngster, who only began training for gundog events in February last year, has so far competed in the qualification rounds of various game and country fair competitions at locations including Highclere Castle in Newbury, where Downton Abbey is filmed.
These competitions re-enact a shoot day for the dog, which requires competitors to send the dog off using a whistle and have the dog bring back the game to hand over to the handler.
Ellie’s finest performance was a second place finish at the Scottish Game Fair held at Scone Palace, Perth, where she had to walk her dog to the competition area on a piece of land across the River Tay and work the animal in a large area.
Her father, John Close, said he was immensely proud of his daughter, who he admits has surprised him with how quickly she has learnt how to handle gundogs.
Mr Close, who trains English Springer Spaniels on the family’s field, said his daughter has grown up around dogs.
“Ellie has been around the dogs since she was born,” he said. “Being out in the middle of fields and being dragged across gundog shows across the country. It is incredible to think that she is only four-years-old, as I have seen adults even struggle to control these dogs. She has even beat me at some of the competitions for fastest time. I haven’t actually had to teach her much either, I think she has watched me a lot over the years and began to copy me. It is like it is second nature to her.”
Mr Close runs Langstroth Gundogs, a boarding and training business demonstrating gundogs at shows. He also competes at adult gundog handling events across the UK while Ellie enters the junior events. The Close family are part of Team Spaniel, a group of eight families who camp and compete together in gundog competitions around the country.
Mrs Close said: “Ellie shows fantastic determination and commitment to the dogs. All the judges we have met have been really impressed with her handling. Ellie has already had a lot of success in a short space of time. Getting the dog to trust you is something that adult handlers can struggle with and this demonstrates the great connection between Ellie and Molly.
“We have six spaniels here and she has a fantastic bond with them. I say she is almost like the alpha male, the leader of the pack, as they all stop and look up to her when she enters the room.”
Although Ellie has found success with experienced four-year-old Springer Spaniel Molly, her parents have decided to give her one of Molly’s offspring. The new pup, Rosie, will now be trained to be a working gundog by Ellie herself and could be used in shows next year. Ellie has told her parents that her next achievement after training Rosie will be to pass on her knowledge to her baby sister Betsy, who was born in July.