Evolution of a Dog Show


  • March 20, 2019
  • by Jill Warren

FROM THE MARCH 2019 ISSUE OF SHOWSIGHT - CLICK TO SUBSCRIBE.

This is a saga of a series of events that evolved into a very successful and prestigious group of shows now known as the Winter Garden Specialties and the role Westminster Kennel Club played in the evolution of these shows.

The shows feature the three Setters—English, Irish, and Gordon (now we have four Setters with the addition of the Irish Red and White, but they are not part of this tradition). The English Setter Association of America’s (ESAA) Annual Specialty, which had never been held farther west than Chicago, was experiencing a decline in entries by the mid-1950’s as the era of the large breeding (such as the legendary Blue Bar) kennels ended.

Until in 1960, the ESAA, the Irish Setter Club of America, and the Gordon Setter Club of America came together in the same venue to form the Combined Setter Clubs of America, fondly known as The Combined. They scheduled their show just before Westminster Kennel Club in the New York area, and not only did their entries increase dramatically, but they also increased the number of Setter entries at Westminster. And so, a mutually beneficial though unofficial collaboration was born.

As a side note, Westminster had always been one of the three highlighted shows for English Setters every year, along with Morris and Essex and the annual ESA/ESAA show. One reason for the increase in entries at the Combined and Westminster was that in the 1960s, numerous new small breeders became involved and the numbers of English Setters in competition increased. Most of the important breeders were still located in the East at this point, so it was natural to hitch the Combined to Westminster (where the Annual ESAA Meeting had always been held.)

The Combined started at the Chelsea School in New York City in 1960 and then moved to the Benjamin Franklin School in 1961 because it was in need of a bigger venue, such was its initial success. From 1964-1977, the Combined was held at the Statler Hilton in 
New York City. Then it bounced around various venues in New York and New Jersey until it found a fairly long-lasting venue (1986-2001) in the gym of William Patterson College in Wayne, 
New Jersey.

Because the east coast location in winter was difficult for some to get to, especially those in the far West, and because of a desire for the National Specialty to be accessible to as many as possible, ESAA held its first rotating National Specialty in 1968 in Chagrin Falls Ohio, outside Cleveland. The National has rotated to different locations every year since then and has grown to be the most important national showcase for English Setters. But the Combined is a very, very close second.

By the time it got to the Wayne, New Jersey location, the Combined was thriving with huge entries in English, Gordon, and Irish Setters. It was so crowded that folks would line up at 5 am in order to be first in when the doors opened at 6 am to find a good grooming spot. Judging for each Setter breed lasted all day long. The Combined was always the week end 
before Westminster. Some went home after the Combined, but many stayed to show at the Garden, and the Combined became a premier showcase for the three Setter breeds recognized at the time. A win at the Combined was a very sweet and prestigious win indeed.

The scope of the Combined outgrew William Patterson College, and, in 2002, moved to the Meadowlands in Secaucus, New jersey, to join a cluster known as the Garden Specialties with the three Setters and several other breeds. This cluster grew in scope and stature because the venue was so convenient. It was only about 20 minutes from Newark Airport and in an area of several nice hotels and lots of grass for walking dogs. For those staying for the Garden, it was just a 25-minute drive into the City. The cluster stayed there until 2013 (except for 2010, when it was held at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale New York), when the Meadowlands venue was no longer affordable and available.

In 1995, English Setters had held their National Specialty at the Rye Brook Hilton and were pleased with the venue. In the search for a new venue for the Combined, ESAA member Kathy Cunningham-Roy and others remembered and checked out this venue and found that it would work. In fact, it was heaven sent. Starting in 2014, the Combined Setters have shown at this venue in Rye, New York, continuing the time-honored tradition of bringing Setters together the week end before Westminster. Several other breeds, including Vizslas, German Shorthair Pointers, Dachshunds, and Dobermans, that had been displaced by the disbanding of the Garden Specialties, joined the Setters at the Rye Brook Hilton for a fabulous week end of specialties, known as the Winter Garden Specialties (WGS). The Hilton is welcoming and very 
dog friendly.

Kathy Cunningham-Roy, President of WGS, who was instrumental in establishing the Winter Garden Specialties at the Rye Brook Hilton, says these shows would not be as successful without the strength of the officers—AnneMarie Kubacz, Maureen Day and Trudy Kawami—all of whom have been on board since WGS’s inception.

So many people work hard to make these shows happen. Each member club has a representative on the WGS Board of Directors.

The new home for the Combined Setters, Dachshunds, Dobermans, Shorthairs, and Vizslas has so many amenities. There are two huge ballrooms that have specialties scheduled from 8 am until late afternoon on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday before Westminster. There is a separate wing next to the ballrooms where the dogs and their owners/handlers stay in guest rooms, so they simply stroll down the hall to go to the show. The hotel is situated on a large parcel of land with plenty of room for walking dogs. There is ample indoor grooming space right next to the rings. The hotel has a very nice restaurant on site AND room service, always a plus. The town of Rye has many wonderful restaurants for those who want to venture off-site.

If you love one Setter, you likely love them all. Many owners and handlers have two or even three of the Setters, and those who have only one type of Setter inevitably love watching the others. This venue is a wonderful place to indulge in Setter love. The fact that everyone is housed under one roof allows for fellowship, making new friends, and reconnecting with old ones. The Winter Garden Specialties bring out many of the very best of all breeds exhibited, many of whom are on their way to Westminster.

A key difference between the Winter Garden specialties and Westminster is that there are sweepstakes and very large class entries at Winter Garden, whereas Westminster is mostly champions. The Winter Garden specialties are a great place to see a broad cross section of each Setter breed (and others), as well as a wide spectrum of ages from 6-month puppies to veterans and all ages in between. It is a rich educational experience for owners and breeders to check out families of Setters and potential stud dogs, and for potential judges of the three Setters to have lots of examples of the breeds to study as well as numerous mentors. It’s like having three almost-Nationals in one place.

From its beginnings at a school in Manhattan in 1960, the Combined Setter Specialties have grown and thrived. Being held the week end before Westminster has been key to their continued success and importance. Because of the connection, the show has drawn Setters from all over the United States and Canada and even a few from overseas. Their current home at a large, elegant hotel in a suburb in New York allows the tradition of Setter Solidarity to continue and thrive.

Thanks to ESAA Historian Prof. Carl Sillman and Winter Garden President Kathy Cunningham-Roy for the background they provided for this article. 

about the author

Jill Warren has been breeding and exhibiting English Setters under the Esthete prefix for almost 30 years. Her dogs have earned numerous Bests in Show, Bests in Specialty, and other conformation awards as well as titles in hunting, agility, obedience, and rally. She is an AKC judge approved for the Sporting group.

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