We got our first Netherland dwarf in 1971, My dad purchased him at a local show as a replacement for my pet rabbit that died. We named him 'Scuffle'. He was a REW and he lived to a ripe old age of 12. When I was told that he was a pedigree rabbit, I took a lot of interest and found out from the library all about how to care for them. It didn't take me long to discover that 'show' rabbits existed which in turn made me search for a local club. Back in those days, local clubs held box shows and advertised virtually everywhere including newsagents shop windows. Also, one could buy or order the Fur & Feather magazine from newsagents. This made it so much easier to learn about and get involved with rabbits and cavies. It wasn’t very long before my dad took my brother and I along to the 'Greenwich Club' in Eltham, London to take a look at one of these box show. It was amazing, to see all these different breeds and to speak to their owners who very kindly took a lot of time to show us their stock. On the way home we realised WE HAD THE BUG!
As one does, we all start out with not such good stock and gradually improve along the way. Likewise so does one's knowledge and still to-date, I apply some of the basics I learnt nearly 30 years ago! One thing I have always appreciated was the fact that so many older gents whatever their chosen breed, took the time and trouble to educate me on how to become a stockman (not that I recognised that at the time), even down to home visits to see my new litters and passing on tips on how to keep them alive and how to feed and wean them - some of these invaluable tips are just never found in books.
I still carried on exhibiting and in time my stock improved and the successes were more frequent, which, to be fair maintained my interest 'that' side of the table. I had my first Best in Show win in 1975 with a Marten Sable, it was in Ely, Cambridgeshire and I even got in the local paper! It was the clubs first ever show and they invited the press along. The taste of my first ever best in show had to linger till about 1980 when I started breeding some lovely REWs from the stock I had obtained from non other than Mr. Dwarf himself Brian Rideout. I have been very fortunate really over the years regarding good advice but I have to say that Brian was my mentor, not allowing me to get away with much and his remarks about my stock however harsh were fair and constructive. I took his advice on board and used it in the breeding pen - just like he told me to do! Still to this day, I ask for his opinion.
I thoroughly enjoy the breeding side of my Dwarfs. Admittedly, it can be very frustrating at times as there are so many factors one has to deal with raising youngsters. How many times will the best one in the litter die? - It happens to us all eh?
As the years passed by, I developed an urge to start judging and thankfully box shows were still around and what better place to start! Oh what fun it was in those days! Breeders bringing out whole litters of Dutch, Rexes, Lops etc and everyone knew whose rabbits were who's and nobody cared who won or lost. The hall was buzzing with everyone taking interest in each others stock examining and comparing litters. The judging wasn't that straightforward either, I was never afraid to ask a question to the owner whilst judging and quite often I'd be educated by them during the judging process. Looking back, I think those box shows were very educational in terms of becoming a successful judge, I can honestly say that to this day, my final decisions whilst judging have never once been influenced by anyone standing close to the table or stewarding their own rabbit, I was taught from an early age to judge the rabbit and not the owner! Something I have always remembered and I'm sure others have respected me for that. I am glad that I was part of the circuit in those days.
It took me a few years of judging box shows and 1* shows to learn and become efficient to judge more than just a 'local' show. That meant trying to get elected onto the panel of my specialist Regional club 'The Southern Dwarf Club'. Although there was some stiff competition to be elected, it came after about two years of trying and apart from being a bag of nerves on the day, there was no looking back, and I went onto regularly judge for them. Then of course, came bigger targets.........It was time to put my name on the National Dwarf Club list! This was by no means an easy thing to crack, it took me about 6 years to retain a regular spot on their panel, let alone be elected to judge a stock show! But with time, I progressed up the rankings and finally obtained 'TOP JUDGE' in 1999 and have been in the top 6 ever since. It was during this period that I was nominated to judge at the UKs top 5* shows THREE times! Those are treasured memories........ In 2000 I was elected to judge this countries one and only 6* show in Stafford to mark the Millennium, yet another memory that will always be treasured.
As life goes on, it brings about changes to one's circumstances and having two children (Thomas 18 and Alice 16), weekends are somewhat valuable with supporting them with their chosen interests and I had to get my priorities into perspective. When the children were younger, I withdrew from the fancy a little as I wanted to spend lots of time with them at this important time in their lives. Although I was still judging, I seldom exhibited, although my breeding programs were still going to plan and the quality was maintained. I felt it was time I had to take stock of my priorities and available spare time and make some decisions as to how I could sensibly rationalise my commitments. The key factor in the decision-making process, was that due to my long term passion with the "Netherland Dwarf" it was important to me to retain the ability to continue breeding and showing when I felt it was appropriate, however, as it had got to a stage where I felt awkward turning down judging engagements, I figured it would be sensible to stand down from judging while the children were growing up and concentrate my efforts and any spare time on the breeding and occasional exhibiting.
In 2003 I decided to quit judging after many years at the top with my final judging engagement being London Championship Show. I felt that I'd served my time behind the judging table having officiated at most of the premier shows, and thought it would be best if I quit whilst at the top of my judging career. My interest in the Netherland Dwarf never faded, although work commitments and other interests outside of rabbits meant I didn't show that often during that time. I did always try to attend the stock shows.
It was during 2009 that I decided to start judging again and I am now a regular judge at several shows across the country. Although my judging commitments are not as regular as they have been in the past, I am selective about the judging engagements that I take on.
My other main interest is football. I'm a life long Chelsea supporter (don't let that put you off) along with my elder sister........with my dad supporting Crystal Palace, my brother supporting Charlton, and my mum with her Ireland shirt on. The banter around the dinner table at family gatherings is somewhat humorous! You'll notice that I name my dwarfs after Chelsea players. I also like to look after myself and go to the gym several times a week. I never listen to anyone who tells me I'm too old to do sport........Even Brian Rideout!
Although the rest of my family don't keep rabbits anymore, they show a lot of interest in my stock and are excited upon my return from shows to hear how I got on (I tell them when I lose as well as when I win). My two children absolutely love the spring and summer months in the rabbitry, they show so much enthusiasm with every nest I show them, and as the weeks pass, they watch them all grow up, picking out their favourite one. Their dad (me) has to come up with yet another excuse as to why we can't keep 'that' particular one.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading about how I became interested in my rabbits. If you are interested, why not visit my other pages on this website.