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The lofts of Daniel Aerens of Drongen (right) one of the greatest long-distance fanciers ever to grace the sport!
The Starting Gun...And They're Up!
You often hear fanciers talk about the atmosphere in the Clubs of yesteryear and how, in the golden age of the pigeon sport, the pigeon Club was the epicentre for an atmosphere of competitive camaraderie, and everyone worked together so that racing ran like clockwork. The dreaded 'pigeon politics' was anathema to the majority and good old common sense was King! In Dorset a passionate band of fanatical fanciers who treasure these vital and valuable principals that have formed the cornerstone of pigeon racing for generations have established The Dorset Sportsmen’s Flying Club. The Club holds its races from the East coast race points of Littlehampton and Eastbourne. This is ideal for the all-important preparation of National and Classic racing. One only has to spend a small amount of time among the Club’s members to see that you are witnessing the genesis of a positive revolution in domestic Club racing; something I am sure many would argue that the pigeon sport within the United Kingdom has been crying out for in the recent years! The whole ethos of this Club is positive, offering something for everyone in terms of prizes and the members all work together to ensure the highest standard of racing possible. There is always a fantastic feeling at Sunday racing and marking. It’s often said within our sport that to be the best one must race against the best. Well the Dorset Sportsmen’s Flying Club already has within its ranks some of the County’s premier names in National and Classic racing. It thus becomes quite clear as to the high-level competition within the Club; what an excellent warm up for the National races! Such initiatives are a breath of fresh air and it is a clear indication that they are still looking to push the boundaries of sporting excellence, not for political or personal gain, but for the preservation, development and growth of our much-loved sport. This innovative example of modern pigeon racing is totally dedicated to serving its members and as such, aims to make racing as cost-effective as possible. Club members pay only 50p a bird for racing, so this perfectly suits the small team back garden loft which has always been the backbone of pigeon racing, not only in England but across the world. Anyone in the Dorset area looking for a new sporting challenge should look no further than the Dorset Sportsmen’s Flying Club – it really is the Club of the future!
There can be no doubt that the Central Southern Classic is one of the premier Clubs of its kind within the country and to take the top honours in a prestigious Club such as this is an achievement of which a fancier can, and indeed should, be justly proud! At the start of this article I spoke of how the newly formed Dorset Sportsman’s FC provides the perfect preparation for The National and Classic events. They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Well what better proof can there possibly be than the fact that a member of the Dorset Sportsmen’s FC has taken the coveted 1st Open Central Southern Classics in the opening race from Coutances on the 5th of May, with 2157 birds competing. The winner is Johnny Clapcott of Poole in Dorset. Well done John, on a fantastic performance. Anyone interested in racing with the Club should contact John Gerrard 'Mr Hartog' for further information. The Dorset Sportsmen's FC - where Champions are born and raced!
Well at long last we are down to the business of racing, and to be honest all I can say is Thank Goodness for that, because now our feathered friends are now back doing what Mother Nature intended. There is nothing in God's creation that pleases me more than a racing pigeon ranging the early morning skyline. In such moments I thank my lucky stars that the sport of pigeon racing has entered my life and enriched it in such a way that I never thought possible. When I began my obsession with what the great scribe and selector Piet Weerd called “the racehorse of the sky” (a term which I think is the perfect and most poetic description ever attributed to our winged warriors), I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the journey I would be taking on a daily basis. As we know, each day with pigeons is an enterprise of discovery; not only in terms of learning 'everything about pigeons'. This is something I don’t think even the Old Masters of our great game would profess to know because you can never know it all, and if you think you do that’s when the trouble starts - after all theTitanic was built by experts and we all know how that ended. This is getting deep I know, no pun intended, but it never hurts to look in the mirror and ask yourself “what did I do right yesterday, what did I get wrong, and most importantly how could I improve?” As we all know, that is how we learn, and I am learning the lesson that there is no bigger learning curve than the sport of pigeon racing. I am sure fanciers older and wiser than me will know exactly what I mean. For example, how many times have you read an article or book on how to keep and race pigeons, only then to visit a loft that throws everything completely out the proverbial window, which proves once again that we cannot know everything. That is what makes our sport so fascinating, because just as the fancier begins to think he or she has attained a degree of understanding of all things 'pigeon' they are thrown a 'curved ball' and as a result must go back to the drawing-board and learn all over again, that which they thought they knew! A prime example of this has occurred in our distance loft which is the home of two cocks that are now known as 'Ronnie and Reggie'. The two are are paired up to each other. I have never seen anything like it before but I am leaving them to it and just seeing if it helps in terms of motivation. I had heard of this happening but never seen it first-hand until now.
Each year prior to the start of racing we give the lofts a fresh coat of paint. It is something of a pre-season ritual, not too dissimilar to the one Dad has in cutting the lawn before racing. At the time of writing we have had three races and on the whole we are happy with our results, as in every race so far we have been holding our own. There is one negative side that seems to be affecting the fancy on an unprecedented scale this year, and that is the number of losses and fatalities due to the seemingly relentless raptors. Users of this site may have heard the podcast myself and Graham Walker took part in regarding the issue. The refusal of the RSPB to openly and fairly discuss the matter some might say gives a clear indication as to the organisation's blatant bias towards the welfare of raptors, at the expense of, and systematic extinction of, other birds such as songbirds etc. John Halstead of Gillingham in Dorset wrote an excellent article in the British Homing World on the 27thof April entitled 'The April Raptor Problem'. I would urge all fanciers to read this. I would also urge those within the sport's governing bodies to give the points he raises in the article serious consideration, in order to safeguard the future of our much-loved sport. I say this with the utmost respect to those in charge and without any 'political ambitions' of my own, for I am just an ordinary back garden fancier with a deep rooted passion for pigeon sport. If we don’t act now the problem will only continue to escalate .
Now that there is at long last an organisation within our area who’s race programme is an ideal education for the birds' later life as National and Classic candidates, I can, for the time being at least, see birds being given as many races with The Dorset Sportsmen’s FC as possible and then all being well whatever is left at the end of old bird racing will have at least learnt a thing or two, which can only be a positive step on the journey towards my dream of competing in the longer races .
Education, Education, Education, which I am learning is the name of the game in pigeon racing, and as such I know not all will make the grade, but at the end of the day I would rather have six pigeons in my loft that have had to use their little grey cells, as opposed to sixty that have followed the rest home! With this in mind, pigeon racing in the 21st Century is definitely a practice that requires a lot of patience, perseverance and psychological toughness. These characteristics must first be developed by the fancier and then cultured within the loft. It is not an easy task nor is it for the faint-hearted, but try, and above all KEEP CALM AND RACE PIGEONS! Life has taught me nothing is straightforward, nor do things in life come easy. If you want something, you have to work at it. I always keep these three points in my mind to help keep me motivated :
1. work hard and be disciplined
2. keep positive and have faith in your ability
3. persevere, you cannot fail if you don’t give up
Even the iconic fanciers that our sport has produced down the decades have encountered more than their share of set-backs on the road to success. After all, if it was easy every single pigeon in the loft would be a Champion, something that we all know is impossible. Yes, each loft has a certain percentage of 'good pigeons', but the 'real Cracks' as many of the top European lofts call them, only come along once in a while. André Roodhooft has it right when he says “there is more chaff than wheat”, which clearly shows that at times in pigeon racing the scales are not quite balanced in terms of satisfaction, which makes the times that we do get it right all the more memorable and enjoyable. Yes sometimes the journey is more important than the destination! If you keep moving forward you get there in the end!
We are at a crossroads in pigeon racing which is seeing more and more fanciers setting their sights on 'specialist races' and with advent of Clubs such as the Dorset Sportsmen’s FC, this trend is bound to continue, which can only be a positive step for the British fancy on the world stage. Let us keep sportsmanship alive and keep the sport of pigeon racing moving forward with passion and positivity. After all the future of the sport is only what we, the fanciers, make of it, so lets get on with enjoying it. I know I am, and that is what makes the racing aspect of our hobby so addictive as each every year men and women from all walks of life undertake the enterprise that we know as pigeon racing and will “boldly go where no fancier has gone before”, continually raising the benchmark of sporting excellence. Who knows, it could be you! Already the 2018 season has seen a member of a new sporting initiative from my locality engrave his name in the illustrious annuls of British pigeon racing history! Just think, somewhere in the world right now, the Barcelona and Tarbes winners are sat in their lofts unaware of the glory that awaits them. This then is pigeon racing, the sport where patience prevails!
During the winter period I find that I am 'champing at the bit' for racing to get going. To quell my eagerness I find myself devising elaborate systems for racing but in the end instead of spectacular results all I end up with is confusion, not to mention one massive migraine! Perhaps because as I am writing we are on the cusp of a new year and the time for making resolutions and striving to make 2018 a very good year, but even in these early days I am already working towards the resolution of pigeon racing in its simplest form.
When I started aged 12 my loft was a converted 8x6 garden shed that later had an aviary attached. In this loft old birds and young birds all mixed together, and looking back this was a bonus because I had to be strict on selection as space really was at a premium. However with the benefit of hindsight and knowing a little more now than I did back then (and it really is a little because any fancier if he is honest with himself and his peers cannot know it all) there is one thing I have learned and that Is that fanciers, myself included, can over-complicate things making it difficult not only for themselves but also for the pigeon, because they have fallen into the trap of overthinking, when maybe it would have been better to step back to watch and wait. Watching and waiting was the only option that was open to me as a twelve-year-old as I was as they say 'green around the gills'. My disability also means that I have always had to persevere in finding my way of doing things; focusing on making the best of what I have and what I can do. I remember a fancier friend telling me once that pigeons that are happy will race to the corner of a table. Now a 8x6 loft is a bit bigger than the corner of a table but keeping contentment in mind I was able to establish a close relationship with the pigeons. Before we go any further, please don’t think that I am an expert fancier because I am anything but. Like my Dad I am a passionate back-garden fancier with a small team of birds and as such I am always re-evaluating things so that we can improve our pigeons and ultimately enjoy our sport which we both love. During the winter months I have read and pondered over a lot of material and had conversations with many successful fanciers and I have concluded that for what I have in mind with the pigeons we need to strip it all right back down and build on the basic principles such as love of home. I know I have touched on some of these principles before in previous articles but I have watched and studied the marvellous modern day racing masters namely Daniel Aerens (who really is Mr Barcelona) and the sprint sensation Dirk Van Den Bulck. These are fanciers at opposite ends of the sporting scale in terms of the disciplines they practice and yet they have a simplistic approach to the sport that has seen both of them hit the headlines and the top of the results sheets in some of the strongest competitions in the world of pigeon racing. I think we are at a crucial time in the history of pigeon sport and there are a great many misconceptions that even veteran fanciers struggle with, so as a (still) young fancier I ask the question what about the novice? For them it must be navigating a minefield blind folded and with your shoe laces tied together; in other words almost impossible.
An ounce of common sense in life and pigeon sport goes a long way. As any serious and logical fancier knows pigeons require 365 days a year attention because they are athletes and for all athletes it is a known fact that solid preparations are the building blocks to success and therefore we must work with our birds all year round to ensure they are fit for the task of breeding and racing. This means not just thinkingabout them on marking nights!
Reading as much pigeon-related literature I can lay my hands on, I find that in the modern era you seldom see books produced on the Natural system which is a shame in many ways because in my opinion it gives the impression that widowhood is the only way to race pigeons, but one 'secret' to pigeon racing is that the fancier must develop a system to suit their own personal circumstances and in return get the best performance out of their birds. If we look closely you will find that there are still fanciers who have a knack for natural in today’s highly contested competition. A case in point is the 2017 Barcelona International winner Leon Roks of Holland. He sent his pigeon 'Don Leo' which he had previously raced on widowhood on the nest in 2017 and duly won the prestigious Classic from Barcelona! Daniel Aerens not only won Barcelona with a hen in 2013 on the natural system racing to a small youngster but perhaps more impressive is the fact that the magnificent hen won 1st International Hen from Barcelona on her third visit ,once again proving that pigeons can not only compete but at times dominate when the going gets tough. Speaking of Daniel if you take the time to look at his record from International Barcelona you will see he is a true consul of 'old school' long distance racing. In many ways he has surpassed the previous generations of Barcelona specialists with an outstanding success rate of clocking in international racing. Daniel has only recently converted to the use of electronic clocking, so I think this offers somewhat conclusive evidence that the methods of clocking either by ETS or manually is irrelevant because the art of pigeon racing is found in getting the birds from the race point and to the trap and that aspect of our sport has not changed since fanciers literally ran to the post office with the race rubber.
The two manuals that are currently available (the other two come out later this year) are written for the benefit of both the Widowhood and the Natural fancier and having read them myself I can honestly say I wish these had been on the market years ago. Because apart from the fact that they are informative, they are written with common sense in mind. It is fantastic to see that despite being forced to part with his birds, a fancier of Matt's calibre has left the pigeon fancy a little richer by imparting some of his wisdom. What a great legacy to leave for future champions of pigeon racing! Well it's nearly time for that getaway, Blackpool, and we are all looking forward to a fantastic weekend. There’s something special about this pigeon show that always gives me a great deal of motivation for the coming racing season. The attitude and mindset that an individual has in life can have positive or negative implications depending on the human psyche of the individual, because it is this largely unknown aspect that drives us on!
Mind over matter is the order of the day in the great sport of pigeon racing, and it 's how we approach racing and breeding that will determine how much pleasure we get out of it. Yes, it is hard work at times, but they say that if you love what you do, you will never do a day’s work! The new year provides fanciers with the opportunity to rekindle their enthusiasm for the racing aspect of the sport. I have quickly learnt that it is not enough to have a team of motivated pigeons but we as fanciers must motivate ourselves in order that the pigeons can reach their full sporting potential. The only way this can be attained is by a fancier displaying a consistent level of commitment and determination from the first to the last race, because if we don’t you can bet your life the fancier down the road is, and he won't be far from the top of the result sheet on a Saturday! From a personal perspective, at a brief glance 2018 looks as though it is going to be a very exciting and educational year with lots of opportunities and experiences in the pipeline. Life is a wonderful thing and when you throw pigeons and the eclectic group of characters which make up the fancy fraternity into the mix then it really is a great adventure!
The social aspect to pigeon racing is key to its evolution and survival and the needs of the working man and the pensioner, novice and young fancier alike must not be neglected. To make this happen every fancier has a duty of care to ensure we all work together to promote what I shall call 'true pigeon racing' where every member is catered for, be they National-minded or Fed-orientated. Of course, not everyone will agree all the time but that as they say, variety is the spice of life!
In all decisions the welfare of the pigeons must be the top priority; anything else is subjective. Yes, dear reader, the future of the sport is in our hands -' power to the people'. Now before you all think I am running for office in a political campaign, remember running isn’t my thing. But, joking aside, if we don’t speak when we have the opportunity to then we only have ourselves to blame should things go wrong. The sport needs each and every fancier to do their bit in order to see that it continues to develop and thrives well into the 21st century.
After the Blackpool show it will be time to start moving things up a gear in preparation for the 2018 season, when fanciers across the pigeon racing world will have their heads in the clouds wishing waiting and hoping that 2018 will be their year! Whatever your objective is in the new season I wish you success but most importantly, enjoy your pigeons and keep in mind Rome wasn’t built in a day but over many centuries filled with arduous conquests. So it is in the exhilarating, and at times exasperating, world of racing pigeons where every second counts, marking the fine line between victory and defeat. That is the nature of all competitive sports and whatever the final result is it's part of the learning curve that every pigeon fancier goes through each and every year. Be they commoner, King (or Queen), Champion or novice as fanciers we are all equal because we never stop learning.
Right I’m off to finish packing my bag ready for a weekend of birds, booze and banter. Ah the life of a pigeon man (or as they say in the Midlands a 'pigeon bobber')...you can’t beat it! People often talk about the good old days when pigeon fanciers congregated in the bar on marking and clock checking nights well into the wee small hours, telling yarns and discussing the issues of the day or waiting with bated breath to see who’s got a good bird, or has the old timer in the corner got his favourite from over water again. Well folks, like life our sport is only what you make of it, so let’s make 2018 a good year with the pigeons not just in terms of results but social life. Blackpool is a great place to start isn’t it?
January 2018 - Thoughts for 2018; A Fresh Perspective
By my own admission I am something of a deep thinker and I’m prone to over-analysing situations. This is something I feel is born out of the fact that my brain works at one speed while my body can barely get into first gear!
Relativism and Positivity - A new theory for pigeon racing
Fanciers have always known that Pigeon racing is a sport with more layers than meets the eye. To the general public (and here I am referring to the minority that possess a basic understanding of our sport) we send a bird to 'point A' and it gets back to 'point B' and that’s it. As for the fancier, he or she knows that for their part there is a great deal more to contemplate and contend with; not only during the racing season but 365 days a year. Plus in the case of younger fanciers, work and family commitments. Ever since the first pigeon race was held fanciers have looked for ways of getting ahead of their competitors and this has led to the development of theories, or opinions as perhaps they would better be described, on what it is that denotes a 'good' pigeon from a 'bad' one and how to motivate them.
For most of us now, the breading season is in full swing and some may even have one or two early youngsters about, depending upon the time you paired. Some are in favour of breeding early as it allows the birds to go through a natural body moult and therefore eradicates the need for darkening, while others prefer to place their youngsters on the darkness. For every method there are pros and cons. For every theory, an advocate and nay-sayer in equal measure. I think the Dutch fancier and journalist Ad Schaerlaeckens had it right when he said, “ask ten fanciers the same questions and you will get ten different answers”. This is a prime example of pigeon racing relativism. Relativism is the belief that there's no absolute truth, only the truths that a individual or culture happen to believe. If you think this is wrong look at the forums on the internet and it most certainly is a case of 'one man’s meat is another man’s poison'. Healthy discussion and debate is a good thing because it broadens the mind and can deepen our understanding and when needed bring about a refreshing change. The problems occur, however, when we meet the closed-minded who do what they have always done and when things go wrong for the 100th time, instead of learning a valuable lesson and changing and moving forward, they prefer placing their heads firmly in the sand and starting the same process all over again, expecting a different outcome. Yes, mankind is a very complex and dangerous creature, but some more so than others, are they not? People who refuse to bend when the facts are staring them in face do not last long in our sport and the same can be said for the 'know it alls', who are only kidding themselves. The simple fact is that, for all the centuries that man has kept and raced pigeons and for all the knowledge he has allegedly acquired, time and time again it is the pigeon that has had the proverbial last laugh, which proves that we are not as clever as we think are! Just stop and think for a minute how many times a bird has taken our eye, only for it to fill our hearts with disappointment while its' overlooked loft mate has earned his perch and taken the prizes?
In pigeon racing there are variables that we must all put up with and accept, such as weather and wind direction on race days. These are factors that are firmly out of human control. In such circumstances all the fancier can do is ensure they have got the birds in the right shape and then the rest is up to them. This is why each of the selection theories that are in our sport are for the most part a form of relativism, as they are based on a fancier's own experiences of tried and (here is the most important thing) tested pigeons over several years. No two fanciers are the same. They may agree upon the same principals but because of environmental factors such as time constraints, work and family life, or even their own health, the principles are implemented to suit the fancier. In other words, they do what they can when they can. As a disabled person I find that I must adapt situations to suit what I can and cannot physically do, and my passion for pigeons and pigeon racing is no different. I have come to the conclusion that there are no absolutes in terms of the 'right way' to race, for the simple fact that the pigeon is a creature that is almost as diverse as the fanciers who care for them, so theories and fads are for the most part only a matter of opinion. Of course there are certain exceptions, but if there was one that reigned supreme then we would all produce a loft of champions each and every year and that is something that only happens in books because they deal with perfect scenarios. Geoff Kirkland, who is without doubt one of the sports greatest champions said so, and who am I to argue?
In no time at all the baskets will be dusted off, clocks set and racing will be underway for another year, and the theory of pigeon racing relativism will be tried and tested. Yes, the continual learning curve of the pigeon fancier is a steep yet worthwhile climb. It seems to me that in pigeon racing today for all the advances that have been made, we have to some extent let the most important aspect of our underrated sport fall by the wayside – enjoyment! On my recent visit to Ireland I saw firsthand how vital enjoyment is for success in this game. I spoke with 'The Boss' Sheldon Leonard, and Yannick De Ridder of Flanders Collection who race as Leonard and De Ridder, and many other world class Irish fanciers who all have a passionate and positive attitude towards the pigeon sport that many would do well to learn from. There is a school of thought among some animal experts that animals can detect the mood of their human handlers and I for one believe this to be correct. So in this respect it pays to have a positive attitude towards the sport, and your pigeons, because if we as fanciers are motivated then providing the birds are bred for the task the fancier has in mind then he should expect to hold his or her own in the races. But if any of these key components are lacking in any way then one will end up among the 'also rans' and at this point questions of both fancier and pigeon must be asked. It is a process of constant evaluation and a test of will and wits but above all it must remain enjoyable, because pigeon racing is about far more than winning races. Were it not, me and a great deal of fanciers who are and have been more successful than I am ever likely to be, would have walked away from pigeon racing never to return. As any true fancier will tell you, once you begin a 'love affair' with this life-changing sport and our feathered friends, walking away is impossible because pigeon and fancier can and do connect on an almost spiritual level that goes far beyond the elation and adrenalin of race days. Yes, pigeon racing, at its heart, is far much more than a sport. It is a way of life and once you're hooked all you can do is enjoy a ride, that like life, has far more ups and downs than any theme park roller-coaster! As I continue this article we have just started the process of getting ourselves and the birds into routine after a long winter. I love this time of year as there is nothing better than being outside seeing nature in its full glory and hearing the sound of wings beating and hearts racing as our racehorses of the sky take to the air once more. What a privilege it is to be part of this soul-consuming union between man and beast which is all part of the majesty, grace and heart of our ancient sport which has drawn men and woman from all four corners of the earth. A friend of mine called into the house for a chat the other day and because I, like every other pigeon fancier, love talking about my great passion he asked if he could see the pigeons, so off we went to the loft and since that time he is round at every available opportunity and always has lots of questions. I showed him inside my loft and after a short time he looked at me and said “I can see why pigeon racing has you hooked, I think its amazing”. This got me thinking that if we were all willing to show the many positive aspects of our hobby and not give so much thought to the negatives, such as jealousy, then I am certain two things would happen. 1. The fanciers we already have would enjoy the sport a lot more and 2. If we could do this then maybe, just maybe, we could get a few new faces down at the Club houses. After all, a little encouragement and a positive attitude goes a long way, because life and pigeon racing are both only what you make of them.
A new racing season is just on the horizon and is getting closer by the day. I always look forward to the new season because there is plenty that needs doing and that all helps keep me motivated and focused which, as we know, are two of the most important factors any sportsperson or athlete can have, so why should the pigeon fancier be any different ? Yes it is hard work at times, but as Sheldon said to me “if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life”. So before worrying about success at any level, I am determined that the main objective of 2018 is that of enjoying the sport and surrounding myself with like-minded positive pigeon fanciers who love the sport for what it is and who’s passion pushes them towards success. I'm staying away from the nay-sayers and the 'pigeon politics', focusing instead on the basket and the birds, not the ballot box. Ours is a sport rooted in the traditions of the working classes and yet has an appeal to men and woman of every ilk because we are all pigeon fanciers at heart and I hope and pray that it remains what it has always been; a sport for all!
Let's hope that the 2018 racing season goes down in the annals as being a positive and prosperous year for us all - from the fancier who is just content to see his pigeons return home regardless of position on the results sheet, to those with their sights set on the National and International races. It matters not what you do as long as you enjoy it and if you don’t enjoy it then your definately doing something wrong! A wise man once said; “What good is it to gain the world and lose your soul.” According to some schools of thought, joy and peace come from within or from the soul. In my opinion a similar concept applies to pigeon racing because what good is it worrying about what others say and do in their lofts and with their birds, because while your focusing on this you cannot be focused on your own birds and giving them 100% of your attention. I know from personal experience how hard this can be, particularly when negative individuals start backbiting, but if we just focus on the pigeons and what it is about them that makes us happy and do our best for them than as fanciers we will all be better off.
So, my friends, may the new racing year be everything you hope for. I wish you all many winners but most of all enjoy your pigeons and avoid negative people because, in the words of Albert Einstein, they only provide a problem for every solution.
The Start of National Racing
We are all entitled to an opinion. It's part and parcel of being a member of humanity and if the two absolute certainties in this world are death and taxes, you can also bet on someone having an opinion on either your health or how much money you owe! The same can be said of the pigeon sport, as each and everyone of us has our own views on all aspects of the game. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life and since I became hooked on racing pigeons my life certainly has spiced up. I often sit and think what would I do without pigeons? Then I take a good pull on my pint of beer or gulp of Jack Daniels, purely for medicinal reasons of course, pull myself together and get back in the loft. Yes my friends, racing pigeons is in my DNA. Now I come to the crux of the matter. In the sport of pigeon racing there are no hard and fast rules. What is it they say? Ask a fancier ten questions and you get ten answers. This is because we are all human and all have, and are entitled to, our own opinion.
I have always had an inquisitive mind that, unlike the rest of me, works at the proverbial 'ninety miles an hour'. This makes the pigeon sport a perfect hobby for me as there is always plenty to engage the all-important little grey cells. We all know that ours is a sport filled with many fads and theories, which if looked at with an open mind, all form what some fanciers often refer to as the 'pigeon racing jigsaw'. My own opinion, for what it is worth, is this: you cannot discount any theory, but at the same time you cannot rely on just one to get you where you want to go. Think of it this way: you can have the finest car that on the surface meets all your needs, however without an engine it is of no use. And so it is with our feathered friend, the racing pigeon. I recently purchased a copy of Eye Sign MasterClass with Nigel Llewellyn. At long last there is an eye sign DVD on the market that doesn’t require a PhD in pigeon racing to understand it. Someone asked me what I picked up from the film and amongst other things the first that jumped out at me is the fact that you can make any theory as simple or complicated as you wish to make it, and I for one loved Nigel’s simplistic approach to what, from a layman’s perspective, can be a complex and at times controversial subject. I shall most definitely be watching it again with my notepad at the ready.
I talked at the beginning of this article about human nature. Well I think one of the great weaknesses of our nature is that we are, more often than not, too quick to dismiss ideas. This is most definitely the case within certain areas of the sport of pigeon racing. Fanciers have a tendency to dismiss ideas such as eye sign theory and innovations, preferring by and large to stick with the status quo. The problem with such an outlook is that if we are not careful we do not progress. If we don’t progress we don’t learn and if we don’t learn we don’t achieve. If we don’t achieve we become disinterested and as a result become demotivated and in a competitive sport such as this, motivation for both the fancier and the pigeon is everything. It is the ultimate example of a sporting symbiotic relationship because both fancier and pigeon rely on one another to stay motivated and as such we should try our utmost not to rule out any idea that could give us an important competitive advantage. As Shakespeare said: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy". In simple terms this quote means that there is far more out there than our present understanding.
I have often said in previous articles that it is important to remember that like us the pigeon is a living, breathing and sentient organism and therefore we must treat it as such and continue to explore all aspects of one of the most fascinating creatures in God's creation. It is only then that we can even begin to fully comprehend what it is that makes them tick and leads to particular birds becoming champions while others fall by the wayside.
As the 2018 season has now drawn to its close, let us turn our thoughts to 2019 and make this the season in which fanciers “boldly go where no man has gone before”! Ok, I know this is a 'Star Trek' concept, but each season gone by provides us with an opportunity to learn from our mistakes, because no matter how successful a fancier may be we are human and therefore we all make mistakes. Whether we admit to them or not is an entirely different matter, but we must definitely learn from them and in doing so, set about pushing the boundaries of sporting excellence.
At the time of writing, our main focus is getting our birds through the moult. This is one of the most physically demanding times in the life of a pigeon and as such we are trying to do all we can to ensure our birds are in top physical health. The Belgian fanciers have a saying: “You win your prizes in the winter”. In other words it is what we do at this stage of the year that helps, to an extent, to determine our success in the racing season ahead. Hereto, selection plays a vital part and any bird, regardless of origin, that is found wanting in any way is better off being removed from the loft. This is something that all fanciers must do, but it is of particular importance to the small-team or back garden fancier for whom space, and at times money, is at a premium. Bad pigeons eat just as much corn as the good ones, but at least the good ones pull their weight whereas the bad ones just pile it on.
Once the moult has been completed, Dad and I will take a good look at the lofts and see what improvements need to be made. In the natural loft I am giving serious thought to repainting the interior a light green. This was the colour of my very first loft when I came into the pigeon sport, aged twelve, and is also the same as the inside of our main young bird loft. We have, in the past, found that this colour is very calming and is also pleasing to the eye and as I am keen to foster within the distance loft an atmosphere of calm and contentment, then I definitely think it is a positive step forward making this change. Speaking of positive steps; a few weeks ago now I had a very interesting conversation with Geoff Cooper of Peasedown St John. Geoff and Catherine have always been very supportive of me during my time in the sport, and if you ask me they rightly deserve to be called 'Mr and Mrs International', as their astonishing record of racing success on the International stage speaks for itself. In January, at the Blackpool Show, Geoff said for me to send him two rings which I did and a short time after, two cracking young cocks birds arrived, both of whom have been raced. They were always among the first birds to arrive back at the loft. They are now maturing nicely. During our telephone conversation I took the opportunity to discuss with Geoff whether or not it was possible to compete in National and Classic racing without Club racing, particularly in relation to a small-team flyer who maybe does not have the time to compete in weekly racing. I must admit the positive response I got to my question gave me a lot to think about and has once again reaffirmed my belief that at times we can have a tendency to over-complicate pigeon racing. I mean, just take a look at the amount of products that are available nowadays. It's no wonder some fanciers get confused as there just aren't enough hours in the day. Let me make it crystal clear before anyone shoots me down. I am not against medication when it's needed but blind treatment is never a good thing because Mother Nature has a habit of biting back. Look at the number of so-called 'Super Bugs' that we humans can get, then think back to the pigeon sport and the huge amount of health issues racing pigeons encounter nowadays. I for one am sure there is a link to the overuse of medication, which over a prolonged period is responsible for weakening the species. When Pigeon King were filming the 'Irish Gold' DVD I think back to my interview with Yannick Deridder, who has one of the greatest minds, I think, that the sport has seen for centuries. When I asked him if there is any product on the market that can turn a bad pigeon into a good one, the answer of course was a resounding and definitive “no”. Yet some people, despite being told the contrary from fanciers at the very top of their game, still continue to 'pop the pills'. Oh well, to each his own I suppose! See it is as I said at the very beginning; all a matter of opinion. That being said when we are told something by a very successful fancier then surely we should take note, otherwise we will never grow and learn ?
After giving it a serious and considerable amount of thought me and Dad have decided to try a new approach this winter, where exercise is concerned. In previous years, once the racing season had finished the pigeons were 'confined to barracks' until the time came for us to think about preparing for the new racing season. This year, however, we have elected to let the birds out (weather permitting) in an effort, not only to help keep the muscles as supple as possible, but also to improve lung capacity. This is a 'must' for any athlete, which of course is exactly what the racing pigeon is, and reason dictates that the more oxygenated blood gets to the relevant muscles, the better the performance. From a personal perspective I hope this approach will help when it comes to next season, as for obvious reasons I don’t drive and therefore Dad takes the pigeons training by car. So I hope in some ways that this 'new method' will help in terms of reducing the work load. Not only this, but also help to bring the pigeons back to a more natural state. This is something which (and I am sure older and more experienced fanciers than myself would concur) has been lost in recent years!
I think a desire to get back to a more natural approach to pigeon racing helps to explain my admiration for the fanciers of yesteryear. I am definitely convinced they still have a great deal of very valuable lessons to teach the modern generation which, if looked at with an all-important open mind, could go a long way in helping us to enhance and enjoy this great sport of ours all the more. At the end of the day, this is what the sport of pigeon racing should be all about.
Within our own shores the record books are littered with many fanciers who owe their success to racing naturally; from the legendry Alf Baker to Matt Rakes to name only a couple.
Speaking of Matt Rakes the modern master of the natural system, he and Graham Walker have collaborated on an informative book series entitled The Complete Pigeon Racing Year which comes in four volumes or 'manuals'.
Chris Williams from Weymouth joined us as scribe in 2017. He will continue to give us his news and views throughout this year. Chris has written pieces for many years for British Homing World magazine 'From the Chair' and we are very pleased to have him on board.
Chris also appears in our Autumn 2018 DVD, 'From the Chair'... watch the promo clip now...
Opinions in Pigeon Racing and Looking Ahead - October 2018
I am sitting down to start writing this article on the 25th of May and at the time of writing it is only a short time before the Messac National race with the National Flying Club. For our birds, this event will mark their first Channel crossing, as up until now we have kept them inland racing with The Dorset Sportsmen’s Flying Club to prepare the racers for the Classic and National events. It is something of a great 'misconception' that Weymouth serves as an ideal location for competing in the National races, but like every fancier in the country we pay our money and take our chances, after all you have got to be in it to win it, and as my Mum is always saying to me “They aren’t there to be looked at” and, as it tells us in the book of Exodus "Honour thy father and thy mother" in the fourth commandment, then who am I to argue with such sound matriarchal advice? After all 'mother knows best'! I love everything about the sport of pigeon racing but participating in the continental races at any level to my mind has always possessed something of a magical quality about it, for it is in events such as these that legends are born! The more I read about the fanciers who excel at this type of racing the more I realise that this type of pigeon racing is a totally different experience to that of domestic Club or Federation racing. In comparison to the majority of fanciers, within the United Kingdom, certainly, I am a relatively young fancier with much to learn in regard to this type of racing, but each journey begins with a single step and given the fact that the majority of the candidates we have selected for this race stem from a lineage who are deemed capable of conquering the Catalonian capital of Barcelona, then reason dictates that they should easily handle this first attempt over the water. The distance is in the region of 196 miles to our lofts. Let me make it clear here and now that I am not looking for a win, although that would be very nice indeed, but the objective at this stage is for the pigeons to show us both that they can handle the Channel, for only then shall we be able to ascertain if the birds have the necessary qualities we can build upon in order to ensure we start to cultivate a type of bird that will meet the standard to which we strive. Therefore in many ways this first Channel crossing is as much about selection as it is about education.
It is now Sunday the 27th of May and the birds are out for their early morning exercise around the loft. They are exercising brilliantly across the morning skyline. As I said earlier I still have much to learn, but already this season I have learnt a valuable lesson, as I now stay away from the loft while the birds range the sky and they only see me again when it's time for them to come inside again. I remember Dave Allen advocated this practice in his excellent book entitled 'The Widowhood Year'; a book that is as relevant to the pigeon fancy today as it was when it was first printed. I admit that when Dad used to tell me to stay away from the loft when the birds were out because the pigeons fly better, I thought that he was just being awkward, as parents sometimes can be, but thanks to my through-the-floor lift breaking a few weeks ago, I was unable to get downstairs, leaving Dad to take care of the birds. He kept on telling me how well they flew as he watched from our conservatory and so from now on when the birds are in the air I can be found sat in the conservatory observing the pigeons and since I have been doing this I have noticed a considerable improvement as to the quality of exercise the birds have been putting in and as a result I think its fair to say that that is a lesson well and truly learnt! For the next few days prior to marking we will closely observe the forecast and then the birds' feed will be gradually built up accordingly for the task at hand. We have also done all we can to ensure that the birds nasal tracts and passages are clear so that the pigeons can take on the maximum amount of oxygen into their bloodstream, which in turn will mean the pigeons will be able to perform to the best of their ability. We woke Thursday morning and travelled to the new marking station at Bridgewater. I must say a massive 'well done' to all the hardworking team; such individuals are a great Godsend to our sport. Once the birds are in the race crates we, as fanciers, can do no more besides watching and waiting as the nervous tension continues to mount. During this time, in my mind’s eye I visualise our twelve entrants as they travel to the race point and journey homewards. We have done our part and now it's down to the pigeons and their 'will to win'.
In the pigeon sport there are many factors beyond our control and once the birds are in the air we can only wait as the race unfolds. I said at the start of this article that I wasn’t looking for the distance cocks to take any prizes, but I will be looking for them to show at least some sign of good things to come. Any that are found wanting in any way shall, without hesitation and regardless of origin and expense, be removed. Both my Dad and I are of one mind on this matter because we have never have held the desire to be 'mob flyers', because for us such a thing is a backward step. Whenever I think of our objective to cultivate a small team of quality pigeons, I am reminded of the words of the French philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778) who said “God is not on the side of the big battalions but on the side of those who shoot best”, so in other words it's about quality and not quantity and the only way to see if a pigeon fancier has quality pigeons is to race them. I love the build-up to the big races. My senses become heightened and my healthy appetite goes well and truly out the window. Such things have been a part and parcel of pigeon racing since fanciers literally ran to the post office with their race rubbers; an aspect that for obvious reasons I am glad has been consigned to history, as running never was my strong point!
Well it's now Friday 1st of June and we are all on countdown until the birds are liberated . Just think that by this time tomorrow, a fancier in Great Britain will have achieved what for many within the sport is a lifetime's ambition. Our fist water crossing of the 2018 season has proved to be a hard slog to say the least and at the time of writing we stand at 12th Section, so it's fair to say that there most definitely is room for improvement. The objective now is to get the pigeons in a nesting cycle for the next NFC event from Ancenis on the 16th June, at 233 miles to our lofts, and then into Tarbes, which is in the region of 500 miles to our lofts. In life, and in the pigeon sport, we must always look for the positives in every situation and one that springs to mind on this occasion is at that least we now know our distance birds have the capability of crossing the water. I was particularly impressed with three cocks from our Daniel Aerens lines which go back to Daniel's Barcelona International winner. This 'Band of Brothers' has now been given the name Easy Company in honour of the U.S 101st Airborne Division, who fought with distinction during World War II at the battle of Carentan. This battle, along with the siege at Bastogne, was one of the most bloodiest of the entire war. The 'Band of Brothers' has now had every race on the program and I have high hopes for them at the 500 mile mark. On Saturday night the hens were introduced into the loft. The birds will now go out once a day at 5pm until they are all paired and settled properly within the loft environment.
Pigeon racing is as much about personal satisfaction as it is about attaining top level performances, and I for one am quite satisfied how our birds handled their fist encounter with the Channel. It is, as Dad said to me just this morning, the first hurdle out of the way, and we now have something to build upon in the not too distant future .
I have said it before and will do so again without apology: This great sport of ours is not a hobby but a way of life. The 'pigeon bug' seeps into every inch of the human psyche. This has always been the case, but racing from 'over the water', as the revered old-hands of yesteryear used to call it, has a totally different feel to it, and what a feeling it is, seeing a race bird appear on the horizon and drop like a stone after hours on the wing. Such a sight is the only thing which causes my heart rate to accelerate rapidly above its steady normal rhythm!
Pigeons always surprise us and it is exactly for this reason that we cannot know everything about them. On Sunday evening we were having a bite to eat in the garden when dad spotted the blue pied Aerens cock in the distance. Quick as a flash he hit the landing board and was in the loft. Later on that same evening a blue cock that has been AWOL a number of weeks returned, minus a little bodyweight, but other than that perfectly sound. He will now be given another chance to redeem himself, as even the greatest of racing pigeons can make a mistake, but the real champion specimens learn from such errors and nine out of ten times are all the better for it!
Thus far I am really enjoying the 2018 racing season, which hasn’t been easy due to losses and such, but which has definitely helped me to reconnect with the pigeons and get them into a proper routine and rhythm of racing. Also, racing in The Dorset Sportsmen’s Flying Club has helped to rekindle sportsmanship within the sport which has seen a resurgence of enthusiasm from the local pigeon fancying fraternity. This has of course been aided by the fact that even in the relatively early stages of the season the Club's membership has enjoyed success at National and Classic racing, something which I am sure we shall see more of, not only in the later stages of 2018, but also in the seasons ahead. This will, in turn, ultimately lead to a growth within the Club's membership which can already proudly boast some of Dorset’s premier pigeon fanciers among them. At this stage of the season our focus has now shifted totally toward National racing and if my memory serves me correctly it is now roughly two weeks before the next water race and if all goes according to plan the birds shall be on eggs for their next outing, which we hope will provide them with the necessary motivation. Since we started racing we have not trained with the car, as to do so in our area with only a small team of racers is nothing short of foolishness as the local raptors would have a field day. To counteract this problem around the loft, the use of a flag is implemented, and the birds respond very well to this method.
On Saturday the 16th of June, as part of the Tarbes preparation process, we sent a small team of candidates to Ancenis with the NFC at a distance of 233 miles to our loft. The race proved to be a testing one. We timed a two year old Aerens cock bird and at the time of writing we are 10th Section. Our next task is to prepare the pigeons for the Tarbes Grand National. This will be the ultimate test for our pigeons and the question is: Will they do it? Well, there is only one way we shall ever find out...send them and see.
Enjoy your pigeons !
Right: Some of our National team containing the premiere bloodlines of Daniel Aeren's, via Flanders Breeding Ireland (F.B.I)
Far right: The Bridgewater Marking Station
Left: The original Easy Company 101ST airborne division from WW2; one of the toughest fighting units of the war 1939-45.