My first association with SARDA was at a Mountain Rescue Conference (MRC) held at Eskdale Outward Bound in 1972. At that time, I had an Irish Setter called ‘Jan’ – she was quite a steady dog for an Irish Setter. So I started training her, and on the first SARDA England course held at the Kings Head, Thirlmere in January 1973 we attained A5M grade. I remember watching Jim Coyle work with his dog Rock in a blizzard among the crags above the Kings Head. The casualty was buried in snow up a gully, the exact location was a little unclear, and it was a great relief to everyone when Jim and Rock came up trumps; Jim became a very proud C Grade Dog Handler – with an M for Mountaineer of course.
Dog training was mostly done at nights with the help of our faithful bodies. It was necessary to train at least once a week, and more often if possible. Each January, a four day course was held to test and grade the dogs. I became Training Officer in the late 70s and started running weekend courses throughout England, which helped to develop and maintain standards. Assessors (elected from the more experienced dog handlers within the Association) have always been responsible for developing and maintaining standards within the Association. Assessors meetings are held at the end of each day’s training, where records are made of each dog and handler’s progress.
One of the outstanding early members of the Association was Dave Riley. He was a body when I started my training in 1972. In 1974 Dave was graded with his dog, Bryn; she was outstanding. Some SARDA members said that Dave had been lucky to get such a good dog, but this is a misconception. Yes, she was a good dog, but I would say that the main contributing factor was a tremendous amount of time Dave spent training.