A RUSSIAN EXPERIENCE



In 2008 Mila Pantaleeva from Russia came here to judge the Hound Club of East Anglia Open show. She was invited by Gay Slater, with whom she stayed after the show, and Gay brought her to visit me and see my 4 week old D litter pups. Mila took some photos of the dogs which she subsequently placed on a Russian forum on the internet. This resulted in some comments about the dogs, then about me. Hadn’t I judged in Moscow some years ago? They remembered me as ‘strict but fair’ (!) and decided they would like me to judge there again.

Mila set the wheels in motion and then the arrangements were taken over by two sisters, Lena and Irina. They were friends of Tanya Prokhorova, who some of you may remember from her time in England. Tanya is now married to a Dane and living in Denmark, and she was the translator for all the arrangements concerning my trip. She also managed to join me in Moscow for the first few days.

The show was to be held on the first weekend in December. I was a little apprehensive about the weather, my previous visit to Moscow in 1999 having been in May, but global warming meant that it was not as cold as I feared. Lena met me at Domodedovo airport and I was then whisked off for a magical drive through Moscow at night. Many of the buildings were decorated for Christmas which added to the effect, but the traffic was horrendous.

Finally we reached the flat where I would be staying. It was in one of the many grim 60s blocks which abound in the city, but very comfortable inside. I was glad to see Tanya arrive half an hour later, having flown into the other Moscow airport. At last we had an interpreter! Coffee with bread, cheese and meat was quickly produced, but Tanya warned me not to eat too much as Lena had also sent out for a meal, which was much enjoyed.

The following morning Lena, Tanya and I set off for the large weekend Izmailovsky market. Gay Slater had recommended that I go there on my previous visit to search for Borzoi items, but the trip of a lifetime to Perchino meant that this was impossible on that occasion. The journey on the underground was an experience in itself, with the beautiful ornate stations, all scrupulously clean as were the very frequent trains. The market was huge and held outside although all the stalls were covered. The stallholders appeared impervious to the cold. It was a fascinating place with many treasures for sale, including a number of the beautiful Russian decorated boxes, but none featuring a Borzoi. We did find several Borzoi items but they were all ones I already owned, although one exquisite Rosenthal porcelain was in a larger size than I had previously seen. Tanya bought a couple of items and then we headed back to Red Square for lunch.

After our meal we admired the beauty of Red Square and the famous St.Basil’s Cathedral. Tanya insisted I had my photo taken with ‘Lenin’ and ‘Tsar Nicholas II’, who were only too happy to pose. Back to the flat for a brief rest and then a real treat, ‘The Nutcracker’ at the Bolshoi. Pure magic.




Lena was a little late collecting us for the show the next morning, so judging started late, but this was Russian time so no-one seemed to care. First job as usual under the FCI system was to sign the mounds of paperwork. I appreciated having a short name!

There were 76 Borzois entered. Although the show was arranged by the Borzoi Club and had a separate catalogue, it took place in a hall with many other breed events. The ring was very small and the floor was horribly slippery, so some dogs were most unhappy on the move. It was impossible to make a proper assessment of movement. The best I could do was to run three or four dogs around together and then concentrate on down and back movement. Convincing the exhibitors to perform a triangle was impossible and they made very poor use of the ring. Photos of some of the dogs can be seen here.

There were some very promising puppies and juniors and the standard of the adults was generally good. Temperaments were excellent with only one dog a little reluctant for me to look at his mouth. One young dog obviously had no idea that he was supposed to be aloof and dignified, but wanted to play every time I went near him. He behaved well enough to win his class and I did consider him for best dog, but felt he still needed to mature in both body and mind!

I was pleased to find that the hounds were mainly unexaggerated and very functional. Heads were good with dark eyes and veining well in evidence. Teeth were superb and almost all were sparkling clean. No misplaced tight canines here, and the incisors were large and well placed in strong lower jaws. Without actually counting every tooth, most appeared to have full dentition; certainly no large gaps were visible. Necks, toplines, length of loin and fallaway were all good and the majority had deep chests with correct forechests and well sprung ribs. I was pleased to see that there were only a couple who were over or under angulated behind. The most prevalent fault, the same the world over, was an upright upper arm. There were also quite a few with poor feet, which surprised me, but I was told afterwards that some of this was the result of hunting accidents. Movement coming and going was reasonable, but it was frustrating not to be able to assess side gait properly. On the whole the exhibitors do not handle their dogs very well and so some fail to get the best out of them. A couple of exhibitors told me proudly that their dogs were more used to hunting. Presentation was reasonable but I did find a few knots.

Judging is a little slow under this system as every dog has to have an individual critique and a grade. I dictated these to Tanya who translated them into Russian for the scribe. I never give a very large number of excellents and this makes the job easier, as only those with this grade return to the ring at the end of the class to be placed. The judge then has to decide if any of those placed deserve a Ch. grading as well. As on my previous visit, I was expected to work straight through and finish the entry with no break, with just some water available.

At the end of the regular classes came child handling and brace, teams and breeders’ groups, which made an impressive sight. When my final four winners (best dog, bitch, junior and veteran) entered the ring for BOB I was very pleased with them and felt they made an impressive line-up. I later learned that the three younger ones had all been recently acquired by their owners from unsatisfactory homes, so were winning well for the first time and were a great credit to them. BOB was a beautiful sound self black dog, but I really lost my heart to the junior, an exquisite self gold bitch who just needed more time to mature.

Judging over, there was time for a quick snack at ringside and then it was off to a nearby restaurant for a meal, followed by a sound sleep.

Monday morning saw Tanya and I trawling the antique shops in the pedestrian area, as I had done on my previous visit, with Lena joining us later. I did find one unusual Borzoi made in traditional blue Russian Gjel pottery. At the very last shop we found two huge bronzes. One was of a hunter with horse and Borzois, priced around £20,000! The other was a wonderful group of three Borzois, unpriced as it had only just arrived. The owner was kind enough to allow us to photograph them both.




Earlier we had noticed a restaurant with a fantastic hunting mural on the wall outside. A good 50 feet long, it featured mounted Cossacks, Borzois, wolves and bears and was most impressive. We just had to eat there, but sadly the waiter couldn’t tell us any more about the mural. It had just been commissioned from a local artist because the restaurant owner deemed it appropriate.




Up until now there had just been a very light powdering of snow, which we considered suitably festive. However, we came out of the restaurant to find more than 2 inches had fallen. Luckily there was little more to come so it caused minimal disruption, the city being so used to dealing with it.




Back to the flat then after buying the most wonderful pavlova from a delicatessen. Russian cakes are to die for and my waistline would have suffered severely had I stayed much longer. Some of the exhibitors from the show then arrived, and nine of us enjoyed tea and pavlova while we had a discussion, with Tanya acting as interpreter. Apparently most exhibitors were happy with my judging, according to comments here and on the internet forum. From a book containing thousands of photos of Borzois, many of them hunting, I had picked out a dog and a bitch that I really liked. This caused some mirth as the dog turned out to be the grandsire of my best bitch, and the bitch was bred by the most senior breeder present, a very experienced and respected hunter.




One interesting subject to come up was that of teeth. I asked why they were all so immaculate, given that everyone fed differently and the owners didn’t clean their dogs’ teeth. They thought it was either due to genetics or the water supply. Interesting theories.

A more detailed report of this discussion can be seen in A Russian Forum.

On Tuesday morning Tanya had to leave, so my interpreter was gone. This day saw a highlight of my visit and the fulfillment of a longheld dream, namely a trip to Ryazan, the town whose name I took for my kennel. For this I had my own English speaking guide and a driver. It was a three hour trip, first through the Moscow traffic, then the suburbs, with datchas giving way to farmers’ houses and tracts of forest and open land. On the outskirts of Ryazan we passed the most beautiful little church, and the driver managed an abrupt stop for a photo. Then the town sign hove into view, a familiar sight as Gay Slater brought me back a little banner featuring it when she made the trip some years ago. The town turned out to be much nicer and larger than I had imagined, with quite extensive suburbs. There was the customary mix of very beautiful and more utilitarian buildings. The centre featured an imposing statue of Oleg of Ryazan on horseback, and there was also one of Lenin in the nearby square named after him. The Kremlin was wonderful, with a beautiful cathedral and other buildings, all being renovated. Although there was very litle snow it was bitterly cold, so photos were taken with some difficulty. I bought a souvenir plate from a nearby stall and after a quick trip to the ubiquitous McDonalds we started the long journey back. In the suburbs were a long line of interesting-looking roadside stalls and again the obliging driver screeched to a halt. The stalls contained many wonderful items made from clay. There were some almost lifesize dogs, and I asked the guide to tell the owner he should make a Borzoi! Just as well there wasn’t one as I would never have got it home. There were huge vases, farm animals and a donkey so realistic I had to stroke it. I bought an attractive small dish as a memento. After another enthralling trip through Moscow by night it was back to the flat for a meal cooked by Lena.




On Wednesday Lena took me to the travel agency from where I had a tour of Moscow, with the same driver but a different guide to point out all the landmarks. We visited the beautiful St. Saviour’s Cathedral, quite recently rebuilt although it looks ancient, admired the view of Moscow from the hills above the city and revisited the pedestrian area. Back at the flat there were five of us for a meal, including, oh joy!, a student who spoke English.




Thursday saw a visit to an exhibition of Borzoi art. This included some very realistic stuffed animals, a Russian hare, an albino fox and a wolf. The latter truly looked a most substantial and fearsome creature, and it really brought home the courage and skill the Borzoi would need to tackle such an adversary.

There were many wonderful paintings and exquisite bronzes on display, some of the latter the work of Marina Ostrovskaya and her daughter. There was also a case displaying the beautiful and so realistic work of Nicolaj Abramovich, some of which I had available for sale in England recently. Small pieces by other local sculptors were also on show so I immediately asked if any of these were for sale. Lena went to enquire and returned armed with phone numbers. One artist was not at home, but hopefully I can obtain some of his work at a later date. The other sculptor arranged to meet us at an underground station, and arrived with three Borzoi models, all of which I bought. She showed photos of her work, featuring other dog breeds and horses, all incredibly lifelike.

We then met up with Masha Zarnova, whom many of you know, and she took me for a meal at an excellent Italian restaurant, then back to the flat afterwards. It was then a struggle to pack all my treasures safely for the journey home the next day. This passed without incident except for my one senior moment, when I managed to leave my handbag in the taxi because I was so obsessed with the fragile hand luggage. Thanks to the modern miracle of mobile phones the driver soon returned with it. It was sad to say goodbye to Lena, but Tanya and I hope that she and her sister will be our guests at the World Show in Denmark next year, so that we can begin to repay some of their wonderful hospitality.


JEAN CLARE


European Borzoi no. 51 April-June 2010

 

 

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