Dixie Plantation Proudly Hosts the Annual Continental Open Derby and All-Age Championship Field Trials
Field trialing is a competition to display a bird dog's ability to successfully point out the hiding places of quail. While riding on horseback dog handlers, judges, officials and a gallery of spectators follow the dogs that run along designated courses. The sport began in 1874 near Memphis, Tennessee with a group of nine men competing to settle the claims of who had the best birddog.
The Continental Field Trial Club is almost as old as the sport itself.. Their first meeting was held March 6, 1895 in Chicago with seventy-five charter members. In September of that year their first trial was held in Manitoba, Canada, where 19 derbies (a bird dog two years old or younger) and 24 all-age bird dogs were contenders.
Gerald Livingston, founder of Dixie Plantation, was inducted into the club in 1933 and within two years was elected its president. He was instrumental in bringing the trials to their present site of Dixie Plantation in 1937 where they have been held since.
The objective is for pointing dogs, at Dixie they are primarily English Pointers and Setters, to locate coveys of quail and point steady to wing and shot (freeze in that position as the handler flushes the birds and a blank shot is fired). The dogs are judged on their ability to find birds and their style and enthusiasm in doing so. In the Continental trials they run one-hour heats initially and those that qualify for call-backs run one hour and fifty minutes. This is a true test of stamina
The Continental Field Trials are two qualifying trials held back to back. (Winning in a qualifying trial entitles the dogs to compete in the National Field Trial Championship, the highest honor a bird dog can attain.) The Continental Open Derby Championship is run first, followed by the Continental Open AIIAge Championship. These trials are held the third Monday of January each year.
Dixie is the perfect location with over 9,000 acres of unequalled wild quail country which is groomed each year to enhance the venue. General William Bailey established a cotton plantation named “The Cedars” in the 1820’s This venture was dealt a serious blow by the arrival of the boll weevil. General Bailey sold out to a group from New York City in 1926 that planned to colonize the land with small farmers from Iowa. When this proved unworkable the group was bought out by one of their members, Gerald M. Livingston. Mr. Livingston renamed the property Dixie Plantation. Dixie consisted of 7500 acres at that time. Mr. Livingston continued to add to the property by purchasing adjoining land. At his death Mrs. Eleanor Livingston took control and at its peak Dixie Plantation consisted of over 18,000 acres about equally divided between Georgia and Florida.
Upon the death of Eleanor Livingston in 1978, ownership of the Florida side of Dixie Plantation passed to their daughter, Geraldine Livingston, who lived here and enjoyed it until her death in 1994. Miss Livingston was an avid field trial enthusiast. Through her generosity and forethought, the ownership of Dixie Plantation was left to the Geraldine C. M. Livingston Foundation with the understanding that it would be maintained as a wild life conservation area and used for her beloved field trials. Since acquiring the plantation the Foundation has placed over 9000 acres under a conservation easement which insures it will never be developed or sold.
The quail are fed year round and crops planted to enhance their natural habitat. Today the Continental Field Trials are recognized nationally as the premier wild quail trials in the country. Most field trial grounds now have to place commercially grown quail along the courses because wild quail are just not present in sufficient numbers to facilitate a trial. Even the National Championship, held at the Ames Plantation in Tennessee, must put out liberated quail.
Historically, the competition is fierce and the stakes are high. In a letter to the American Field Publishing Company dated March 25, 1895, it was stated “Purses of sufficient size were arranged to guarantee a satisfactory number of entries.” Minutes of the May 10, 1912 Continental Field Trial Club Board of Governors meeting noted that purses would be $1000 in both the Derby and the All-Age states ($500 to first, $300 to Second and $200 to third), an impressive amount in 1912. Today, the purse is still impressive. Handlers of the Open Derby Championship winner and Open AIIAge Championship winner receive $5000 and $12000 respectively. For the all-age event, a 24" X 36" original Oil Painting of the winning dog commissioned from one of America’s best wild life artists is awarded to the owner of the Continental All-Age Championship winner. In addition, the owners of the winners of both the All-Age and Derby Championships enjoy rotating trophies for the following year. The All-Age trophy will become the permanent property of an individual who has three winners. The Billy Lane family, in memory of Mr. Lane who contributed so much to these Continental trials, donated a beautiful punch bowl, tray and cups as the rotating trophy for the winner of the derby stake. There are also prizes given to the owners of the runner-ups in both trials.
The trial is held the third week in January and depending upon the number of dogs competing usually runs 14 - 16 days. Dixie Plantation is located between Monticello and Greenville Florida, north of County Road 146. To ride with the gallery that follows the competitors, guests must have a horse. The gaited Tennessee Walking Horse is the breed of choice of field trailers because of the smoothness of gait and the stamina of the horses. They must cover a lot of territory in a short period of time as the morning courses is approximately 19 miles long and the afternoon course is 16 miles.