The splendidly unpredictably world of terrier racing in Yorkshire
What do you get if you cross a group of dog enthusiasts, a hundred-year-old sheep shearing machine and any number of terriers? Well, according to terrier race organiser John Aldridge, the answer is pure unbridled entertainment.
He ought to know, having taken up the pastime about five years ago, after being introduced to it almost by accident. Several years on, the self-employed builder, who recently turned 50, is one of only a handful of people organising such events in the North.
And he says the crowds love it.
“We do mostly village and agricultural shows and when the terrier racing comes on, you can have it three deep around the arena. People love it because it’s so unpredictable. Anything can happen.” And according to John, it usually does.
The idea is simple enough. The terriers are lined up in a series of starting traps (not unlike those used for greyhound racing), a lure is set and then the dogs are released. What follows is a frenzied, often chaotic dash down the course as the dogs, most of them at least, race hell-for-leather to catch the lure. The winning dogs have to pass through a small hole in a hay bale wall at the end of the course but not all of them make it that far, as John explains.
“You get some dogs who know exactly what they’re doing and they just fly out of the traps and down the course but then you get others that go off in different directions, some will go half way, then decide to have a sit down.
“We get a lot of people coming with their own dogs, they all know where the race is. Over the years, we’ve built up quite a following, so we have people who come regular. We can have up to 30 dogs on any one day.
“We run them in heats, out of traps, they chase a lure and at the other end there’s a wall made of straw with a hole in it. It’s the first two dogs through the hole who go onto the next round.
“Some go through together, races can be quite tight but on the other hand you get dogs who have never done it before and they just saunter down and potter about but that’s what makes it entertaining. It is different. People who have never seen it say that’s one of the funniest things they’ve ever seen and that’s down to the unpredictability of the dogs. After we have done the final, we have an open dog race open to any dogs. Now that’s chaos. You might have 30 dogs running all at once.
“Shows want things like this now, because it’s unpredictable. You can watch someone jump over a fence on a horse but once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it, whereas with terrier racing people know it’s going to be fun. It also gives people there a chance to get involved, they might have a dog and decide to enter it.”
During the summer months, John, wife Lynne and their gang of helpers - Carl Sanderson, Dougie Winder, Chris Waterhouse and Steve Gaunt - are kept busy, often racing three weekends in a row.
“We had a weekend off last week which was nice but then we do three weekends on the trot. We’re busy throughout the summer with a lot of village fairs and other events.
“We depend on people turning up with their dogs and having a go at entering. A few years ago we had one lady turn up with a terrier with pink ribbon in its hair and I took one look at it and thought that’s not going to do anything. It looked like a pampered pooch that just sits around all day.
“But when it came out of the traps, it flew like a rocket, still with the pink ribbon in its hair, which made for a comical sight.”
John and Lynne got into terrier racing about eight years ago, as one of their friends organised races.
John recalls: “It started at Broughton Games Show. A friend of mine called Simon Smith used to organise it. At that time, we didn’t have a dog, we’d just lost one. I said if we get another, we will get a terrier and enter these races.
“But then the racing stopped at Broughton and there wasn’t anything else around here.
“So, I decided I would set up on my own and get all the equipment necessary. Now we do most of the agricultural shows in the area. We start off with Otley Show and end up at Pately. In between we do Arthington, Weeton, Keighley, Asquith Show and various other small events local to Menston. We’ve done Guiseley ~Cricket Club for the first time this year and we’ve just done the Craven Arms at Appletreewick, which was oranised by Simon Smith.”
Perhaps another quirky feature of the event is how they power the lure.
John explains: “ The mechanism we use to wind the lure is a hand-driven sheep shearing machine that’s about 100-years-old. It was modified by a friend of mine, he put a spool on it to hold the line and then you just wind it like mad and it drags the lure along. I’ve seen some places use someone sat on a bike peddling… it’s a bit Heath Robinson but it’s very portable, it only takes two minutes to set up and then we’re off.”
John and Lynne own two terriers, Rocky, 10 and Spud, two but it’s Rocky who really took to the sport.
“He was unbeaten for a good six years,” says John, proudly. “He’s slowing down a bit now but he still races. Spud’s not quite got the hang of it yet.”
He says: “Terrier racing is quite popular in the Home Counties but as far as I’m aware me and Simon are the only ones doing it up here. As long as people want us back, we’ll keep doing it.”
Wife Lynne, 49, adds: “I get great pleasure out of hearing the crowds and explaining to new spectators how to enter there dogs then watching them get hooked just like we did. As soon as the dogs get to the showground, they know what’s happening.”
Terriers have long been used as hunting dogs - they have strong instincts to dig and chase things and are generally considered to be good natured
They can hunt above and below ground and were often used by farmers to control vermin
The word ‘terrier’ is derived from the Latin ‘terra’, which means ‘earth’
Dogs race down a track, the first through a hole in hay bales wins
Contact John on 07903 982 723
Email: [email protected]
Facebook : Wharfedale Terrier Racing