'Olympics for Bird Dogs': Trainer Credits Dogs for Helping to Heal His Heart

They call it the "Olympics for bird dogs.” It’s the annual National Bird Dog Field Trials, which are held at Ames Plantation in Tennessee —but it’s more than just a competition, it’s a lifestyle with amazing heart and zeal, as this true-life story aptly illustrates. 

Steve Hurdle is one trainer who is so invested in his dogs that he literally credits training them with saving his life. In 2006, Hurdle won the Field Trial event—but things took a decidedly tragic turn. Minutes after learning he’d won, he collapsed from what was later diagnosed as an aortic aneurism.

“I went down to my knees and I couldn’t get up…it scared me to death,” he noted, adding that he thought for sure he was going to die. The paramedics that came to help weren’t any more optimistic, predicting that Hurdle probably wouldn’t pull through.

After hours of surgery and 44 pints of blood, a miracle occurred: Hurdle survived. Still having a long road to full recovery, he turned to his dogs to assist with the healing process. There, the magic happened: Once back to training, he regained his health and went on to win another Field Trial two years ago, with his dog Connor’s Button.

“He’s a freak of nature,” Hurdle notes, explaining that although he helps the dogs to reach their full potential, they are mostly bred to be champions. “We’re blessed with these dogs."

This year, 40 dogs are competing in the 115th running of the event. They’re judged by careful observation of their work in the fields, tracking quail. Considerable endurance is required of the animals; they must complete a three-hour run which could be compared to a “marathon for dogs.”

Hurdle is running five dogs in the event this season. “I love this game, I love it more than I probably ought to,” Hurdle smiles. It’s no surprise that he feels this way about his champions — who actually saved his life.

To learn more about the National Bird Dog Field Trials, visit here.