Interview March 12, 2019 with:
Jenn and Legh Higgins of Twombly Setters at Coronation Kennels, Vermont
Thank you Jenn and Legh for taking the time to do the interview. Can you tell us a little about your occupation and any other hobbies or interests?
Legh: I am a retired retail specialist and property manager. I am interested in all aspects of motorcycling: dirt and road bikes, road racing and motocross, operating and announcing at a motocross track, troubleshooting and tuning engines and I ran a successful motorcycle shop in Burlington for many years.
Jenn: I am a retired speech-language pathologist. I worked for 30 years with preschoolers and kindergarteners in VT public schools. I also always worked with Legh in his businesses. I loved riding road bikes and enjoy growing vegetables as well as sewing and quilting.
How did you come to have rymans and how long have you had them?
Both of us grew up with bird dogs – Setters, Labs, German Shorthairs, Brittanys – and our lives have been entwined since we were children. We grew up about 1/4 mile apart on the same road. When we were kids, our dogs ran off together several times to the local campground for hot dogs and other foraged food! Legh started going out back to bird hunt when he was about 12, Jenn hunted and fished with her family as well. Legh’s grandfather, Earl Twombly, raised, hunted and showed English Setters and other sporting breeds at his Coronation Kennels in Waterbury, “back in the day.” Jenn’s father was friends with and a customer of Earl’s. Legh’s mother worked with his grandfather helping to care for and show dogs with him.
In the past we had a number of Labs and participated in Hunting tests including a dog that Legh trained and ran who was the first Master Hunter Retriever in the Lake Champlain Retriever Club. Legh’s mother always said, “Setters are different” and she planted the seed that someday we would try to revive Gramp’s line of Setters.
How many dogs do you own and what is your average number of litters a year?
Since marriage in 1982, we have had a total of 16 personal hunting dogs, having 1 to 9 dogs at any one time. Since we started breeding we have averaged 1 litter a year, although one year we had 2 litters born within 5 days of each other – 15 pups in all – which was pretty busy and crazy!
If you were to write a mission statement for your breeding program, what would it include?
We breed only health tested parents (OFA hips and elbows) and want pups who are affectionate and people-oriented. We strive for dogs with bird sense and early pointing instincts who are easy to handle and want to please. We try to uphold the appearance of Legh’s Grandad’s dogs with classic looking heads, plenty of bone, nicely ticked with excellent feathering, dark eyes and low-hung ears.
Where do you hunt and what is your favorite bird species to hunt?
We started with partridge and woodcock hunting in Vermont with some trips to nearby Quebec, New York and New Hampshire. Now that we are retired we travel with all the dogs a bit further including Maine and Michigan for grouse and woodcock.
Of the species you hunt, which one do you feel is the most valuable for evaluating your dogs abilities and why?
We feel that the last bird that we shot for a dog is the most important for evaluating a dog’s instincts and abilities. Every bird is important, and it’s always a goal to build on and ad to what a dog has seen, smelled and experienced.
Do you keep a journal or log of your hunts?
Not now when we have so many dogs to fit in. Back when we had just one hunting dog we did keep a journal about hunting as well as training activities – great memories to look back on.
Tell us a little about your training philosophy and approach to dog work on birds when hunting.
While we don’t have time to keep a hunting journal anymore, we do feel very strong about keep a training journal and keep one for each dog every time they are out for training. We train pups basic obedience commands and believe in training in “snapshots” – small parts of a whole, broken down so the dog can build up a moving picture successfully. We try to simulate actual hunting situations in training while keeping control (ropes, collars, physical setting of training area, etc.) Training is not testing! Set up for the dog’s success. We use e-collars to reinforce recall on everything – it’s no good to have a hunting dog take off after a porcupine or on a road – we need to be able to call them back from danger reliably. We do not overdrill or use constant repetition and spend more time focusing on non-instinctive behaviors – those that require training vs instinct.
Thank you again for your time! Respectfully submitted, Lynn Dee Galey.